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Reviewed by:
  • Migrant Encounters, Intimate Labor, the State, and Mobility across Asia ed. by Sara L. Friedman, Pardis Mahdavi
  • Jingyi Song
Friedman, Sara L., and Pardis Mahdavi, eds. Migrant Encounters, Intimate Labor, the State, and Mobility across Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

Over the past few decades, the study of migrant workers, especially those who are engaged in domestic services across international borders in Asia, has yielded a rich and provocative body of research and publication. The field of migrant studies has emerged as a strong multi-disciplinary area of scholarship in history, sociology, and anthropology, yet its subject often remains contested. Is it concerned with the life and experience of migrant workers, some of whom became sex workers after entering a country they were not familiar with, or is it concerned with social and political conditions that, in many ways, forced them into an unexpected struggle for survival? When one studies migrant workers does one investigate the desires of a nation or state to send or to receive them? How do migrant workers adapt to various difficult situations to fulfill their varied goals? The appearance of Migrant Encounters, Intimate Labor, the State, and Mobility across Asia is well-timed to shed new light on the scholarly discussions focusing on the expectations, the journeys and struggles of intimate laborers, a large part of the migrant workers, and the states’ policies that shape and reshape the migration across the Asian continent.

The book is divided into three major parts, containing essays by twelve scholars who tackle a broad variety of questions and issues. The first section explores the formation [End Page 221] of multi-cultural families challenging the traditional ideas of marriage and intimacy, while analyzing the emergence of the commoditized vision of a cross-border marriage. In Chapter 1, Hyun Mee Kim discusses the formation of multi-cultural families in Korea encouraged by the government policy as a means to solve the declining population, which has become an additional economic benefit bringing transnational flow of money to families. In Chapter 2, Pilippo Osella offers a scholarly understanding of the changing social and cultural values concerning morality or immorality while exploring the decades of migration from Kerala in South India to the Gulf regions. Osella contends that “moral inconsistency and indeterminacy are conditions of everyday life” as a consequence of global migration.

The second section of the book investigates how national migration policies of Asian countries constantly affect, shape and reshape the ways of migration and the life of migrants. The authors in this section also address the tactics of migrants’ contest for the legal statuses available to them through reproductive capacities and intimate choices. In Chapter 3, Mahavi examines the frustration of migrants, especially those who became mothers without legal status and its effect on their children who became stateless as a consequence of the restrictive nationality and citizenship laws in the Persian Gulf countries. Manavi states that “life hasn’t been easy” for those who have no passport for travel, no working papers to get a job and no chance to get married without legal status. Despite the frustrations and obstacles to substantiate the legitimacy of their existence, migrant workers have struggled to reach their goals to legally establish themselves in the receiving countries. While Nicole Constable demonstrates the strategies of pregnant foreign [End Page 222] domestic workers to seek legal status in Hong Kong under international protection laws in Chapter 4, Nobue Suzuki documents the successful challenges of women migrant workers to have legal citizenship granted for their children with Japanese fathers in Chapter 5.

The last section of the book provides rich resources to demonstrate the restrictive states’ policies to regulate domestic migrant workers yet falling short of the goal of control. Meanwhile the scholars in this section recognize the efforts of migrant workers to get out of the dilemmas they are trapped in because of the governments’ failures to capture the complexities of transnational intimacies. In chapter 6, Mark Johnson and Christoph Wilcke discuss the exploitation of employees by the unregulated and abusive power of employers in the Arab nations due to the gendered cultural concept in the system. In Chapter 7, by Hisao...


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pp. 221-224
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