On Being Moved: Affect and Politics in Women’s Narratives of Southeast Asian Migration


Carlos M. Piocos III

PhD defended at: 

Hong Kong



This dissertation studies the complex interplay of emotions and discourses in stories of Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Rather than conceptualizing affect as either symptom of subjection or sign of agency in migrant women’s subjectivity, my research project examines how emotions expressed in fiction and films of Filipina and Indonesian migrant women not only reflect but are also responses to the underlying conditions that describe and prescribe their role in their homeland and host countries. This research project intervenes into migration debates through emotion and affectivity studies by looking at affect as expressions of condition and capacity. In my study, the emotions in these literary and visual narratives illustrate not just how migrant women are affected but also how they affect prevailing discourses on labor diaspora. I frame my discussion through two concepts of affectivity: Raymond William’s structure of feelings to explain how their emotions are produced by structural conditions of migration and Sara Ahmed’s affective economy to examine how these feelings are reproduced and circulated as discourses to support or challenge those structural conditions. Using this framework, my dissertation tracks the tropes of displacement, suffering, sacrifice and grief in literary and visual narratives of Filipina and Indonesian migrant women to demonstrate how emotions both sustain and subvert national, cultural and gendered discourses that interpellate their roles as migrant women workers. The first chapter problematizes the inherent contradictions of social exclusion in intimate women’s work inside private and public spaces of their host countries through the politics of hospitality in my reading of two films set in Singapore and Hong Kong, Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo (2013) and Lola Amarla’s Minggu Pagi di Victoria Park (‘Sunday Morning at Victoria Park,’ 2010). The second chapter focuses on the affects of shame and patience to discuss the politics of suffering in two short story collections of Indonesian domestic workers: Forum Lingkar Pena Hong Kong’s Menaklukkan Ketakutan di Ranah Rantau (‘Overcoming Fear in Foreign Shores,’ 2013) and BMI Singapura’s Ketika Pena BMI Menari (‘When Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Pens Dance,’ 2012). The third chapter analyzes the notion of sacrifice as a form of affective economy by looking at how ideas of suffering for the greater good is central to the Philippine state’s rhetoric of migration for development. I analyze how the discourse of sacrifice is reproduced, circulated and challenged in two films on Filipina domestic workers: Rory Quintos’ Anak (‘Child,’ 2000) and Mes de Guzman’s Balikbayan Box (2006). In the last chapter, I examine the political effects of mourning over migrant women’s death in my reading of three texts: Joel Lamangan’s The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995), Jose Dalisay’s Soledad’s Sister (2008) and Rida Fitria’s Sebongkah Tanah Retak (‘A Lump of Cracked Land,’ 2010). These film and novels demonstrate how social activism borne out of grief not only transforms national community and but also transcends national boundaries among Filipina and Indonesian migrant women.

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International Insitute for Asian Studies