Faculty Publications: Born Out of Place | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
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Faculty Publications: Born Out of Place

Nicole Constable

Professor of Anthropology and Director, Asian Studies Center

My latest book, Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor, has been co-published by the University of California Press and Hong Kong University Press, and will have an official launch in Hong Kong in June 2014.  This book builds on my earlier work among migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong (Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Migrant Workers, Cornell University Press 2007), and turns specifically to the issue of migrant motherhood, sexuality, and women’s bodies. The critical problem, I argue, is that immigration rules and employment regulations define temporary migrant workers solely as only workers, who are there for the sole benefit of their local-citizen employers. But they are not and never can be only workers; they are always people too. Women migrant workers who get pregnant and have babies in Hong Kong vividly illustrate the fundamental problems and global inequalities embedded in the assumption that they are “just workers.”

As described in the book, Hong Kong is an Asian world city, a meeting place for migrant domestic workers, and traders, refugees, asylum seekers, tourists, businessmen, and local residents. Based on in-depth ethnographic research and interviews I conducted in 2011 and 2012, this book tells the stories of Indonesian and Filipino migrant women, their South Asian, African, Chinese, and Western expatriate partners, and their Hong Kong–born babies. The main focus is on the often painful and poignant struggles of women as they consider abortion, adoption, keeping a child, remaining in Hong Kong as “illegal” overstayers, or returning home as single mothers. This ethnography provides insight into global problems of mobility, family, gender, and citizenship, and points to the consequences, creative responses, melodramas, inequalities, and tragedies of labor and migration policies.

 

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