CfP: Gender Perspectives on Colonial Inter-Asian Labour Migration

Call for applications, deadline 20 October 2016

Asian labour has played a foundational role in building the modern world of global capitalism around the world. While migration of Asian labour under various Empires to Caribbean, Africa, North America have attracted substantial scholarly attention, the labour networks and histories of Asian labour migration within Asia, past and present, have only begun to attract attention in the recent years. Inspiring work by historians of Indian Ocean Studies have deepened our knowledge on how Asian labour and slaves were circulated within the Indian Ocean region, and how these labour migration networks shaped the larger working of Empires. While labour migration has emerged as a central focus in the colonial history of the Indian Ocean, little of the existing scholarship has addressed the crucial role, which gender played in determining labour migration and network patterns. Gender-based roles and concerns have surfaced in these studies, but they have not been the focus of attention. On the other hand, postcolonial gender historians have inspired our understanding of how gender has been constitutive for imperial projects, but gender as an influence in labour migration has not been the focus of attention for these studies. This conference aims to contribute thus to the two fields of study mentioned above– Indian Ocean Labour Studies, and Gender and Empire, by focusing on the protean ways in which gender and colonialism mutually constituted and changed labour migration experiences and relationships.

This conference will examine the crucial role gender played in – framing colonial labour migration policies, labour expectations, or even in the creation of certain sites of ‘empowerment’, contradiction and resistance, which offered fleeting agency to some labourers. The conference will focus on the history of Asian migrant labourers, which include but are not limited to – wage labourers, domestic labourers/workers, “non-labour” migrants. The conference aims to re-visit and (re) conceptualize colonial labour migration networks and migrant labour experiences using gendered lenses of inquiry. It looks forward to revealing connections between gender, colonial policies concerning labour migration, the importance of various ‘spaces’ within migrant labour communities and construction of insidious stereotypes regarding migrant labour communities. Through inter-disciplinary panels, this conference aims to: First, create a dialogue between colonial pasts shared by Asian societies and second investigate how colonial legacies continue to influence present trends of labour migration and labour experiences. In doing so, the conference envisions a worthwhile contribution to the burgeoning field of inter-Asian studies and to create an alternative to the Eurocentric perspective of Asian labour.

Interested scholars are invited to submit abstracts addressing connections between GenderMigration and one/more (but not limited to) of the following themes:

  • Labour migration policies
  • Trans-colonial labour politics
  • Issues of identity and sexuality
  • Migrant communities and ‘spaces’
  • Colonial law and punishment
  • Relations amongst colonial labour migrants


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum), keywords and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 20 October 2016. Please send all proposals, using the provided proposal template to Successful applicants will be notified by late November 2016 and will be required to send in a completed draft paper (approximately 8,000 words) by 6 January 2017. Partial or full funding may be granted to successful applicants.


There will be publication opportunities for papers (selected from the presentations made at the conference) for a special issue volume in a relevant journal.


Dr Arunima DATTA
Asia Research Institute, and South Asian Studies Program
National University of Singapore
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