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Re-politicising transnationalism: migrant women and migrant politics between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore

(Research project of Loïs BASTIDE, affiliated researcher at IRASEC)


In Southeast Asia, millions of foreign workers from the region (Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia) occupy the lower strata of domestic labour markets in Malaysia, Thailand, or Singapore. This transnational labour system plays a structuring economic role within ASEAN, in destination as much as in labour-exporting countries. These migrations also have a profound social and political impact across the region. The research project seeks to investigate the political dimension of these contemporary mobilities through the empirical case of Indonesian migrant women - Indonesia being one of the main regional labour exporting countries in absolute terms. With fieldworks located in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, we intend to capture this political process at three different scales :

  • First, at the level of the individual migration entails political subjectivation processes and the development of new practices, often subversive of dominant social orders, in countries of origin as in destination countries.
  • Second, political subjectivation makes way to the articulation of new claims, based on migration experiences. These claims are often publicized by means of local, national or transnational collective mobilisations, with the help of a set of more legitimate institutional actors, such as NGOs, international organizations, workers unions, or political parties.
  • Third, these mobilizations structure new “public arenas” at the local, national and transnational scales, where civil society, public authorities and migrant workers interact, around the issue of transnational labour migration.

By looking at these three different “layers”, we investigate the political dimension of regional labour migrations as a sited process of reciprocal alteration between (1) migrants’ subjectivation processes and emerging practices ; (2) collective mobilisations carried by coalitions of actors – migrant workers, sometimes of different nationalities, government agencies, NGOs, political parties, trade unions, IOs etc. ; (3) public arenas ; and (4) policy-making.