While at IIAS, Liberty Chee will be completing her book manuscript “Merchants of Migrant Domestic Labour: Recruitment Agencies and Neoliberal Migration Governance in Southeast Asia”. This book examines recruitment and employment agencies from the interdisciplinary lenses of everyday political economy, migration studies and power in global governance. It looks into why these actors play such a key role in domestic worker migration and examine their relations with employers, workers and state apparatuses. The book argues that these relations comprise neoliberal migration governance – a governmental rationality that cedes authority to the market. This approach aims to flesh out the market authority and market logics of these non-state actors in their everyday activities. Crucially, it focuses on their functions as entities whose primary business is the commodification and exchange of human capital. This very specific process of human capital formation is gendered, reproducing norms necessary to commodify domestic work.
This mode of governance creates market value which not only benefits these businesses but also state actors in in what are essentially public-private partnerships. Migration bureaucracies' regulatory functions, where they exist, are caught between competing and often fully contradictory demands. On the one hand they are expected to provide a modicum of welfare and protection to migrants. On the other hand, they are also expected to guarantee the viability of these actors as businesses even as they try to formalize and regulate them. This contradiction is difficult to resolve when, at the core of market governance lies not only purported efficiency (i.e. the most value for the least resources and effort), but that these markets need to be deregulated for continued expansion and growth.
This project is important because Southeast Asia has been an important source of norms and practices in domestic worker migration, which have been widely adopted by other migrant-sending and receiving countries in South Asia, the Middle East, and more recently Africa.