‘Ideal’ Migrant Subjects: Domestic Service in Globalization.

Handapangoda Wasana (Head) / Aulenbacher Brigitte (Mentor)
Lise Meitner-Grant
Project M 2724-G
Ideal’ Migrant Subjects: Domestic Service in Globalization
Applicant: Wasana Sampath Handapangoda
Co-applicant: Brigitte Aulenbacher
Funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF
159.340 €

‘Ideal’ Migrant Subjects: Domestic Service in Globalization

Project content: This project will examine and understand the processes, reasons, and consequences of forming ideal migrant subjects in the global care market based on the migration of women in Sri Lanka to the Middle East as domestic workers. In doing so, it will look at the wider societal practices engaged in the discourse of ideal migrant subjects, including employers, recruiters, brokers, state and non-state agencies, and migrant domestic workers themselves, who attach varying and often overlapping and competing meanings and uses to transnational domestic work.

Research questions: Three research questions are attempted: Who are ideal migrant subjects? How are they created and on what basis? What are the economic, social, cultural, and political implications of ideal migrant subjects?

Methods: This project will use post-structuralist, ethnographic fieldwork method, which acknowledges that people structure, describe, and give meaning to their lives through narratives over which they hold power. Thus, taking an interpretive and participatory approach to exploring the phenomenon of ideal migrant subjects, this project will examine migration of Sri Lankan domestic workers to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a popular transnational route for Sri Lankan domestic workers in the global care market. Through the integration of different actors engaged in the discourse, a participant text of both the subject and subjectivities will be created.

Originality and innovation: First, this rests with the context of research chosen. Given the social, cultural, and political contexts, the Middle East represents a distinct regime of domestic care, which contrasts with those existing in the Global North and newly industrialized Asia. Exploring the Middle Eastern care regime, which is theoretically and politically demanding, will allow for an understanding of the localized dynamics of globalization in forming ideal migrant subjects. Second, by integrating intermediate collectives—social groups that defy straightforward racial categorization: nonwhite/nonblack, but brown—and thus brownness as a racial construct, this project will contribute to mainstream scholarship on race and its intersections with other forms of social inequality in producing ideal migrant subjects. Third, this project will bring together and examine the wider societal practices engaged in the discourse of migrant subjects and thus the complex power relations and power dynamics played out in the global market in creating ideal migrant subjects. Finally, this project will collaborate with an ongoing FWF-project, “Decent Care Work? Transnational Home Care Arrangements”, headed by this project’s mentor, which is part of a D-A-CH-collaboration with partner projects in Frankfurt and Zurich addressing similar questions. This will result in an exchange between the two care regimes in the discourse of migrant subjects.

Applicant and head: Dr. Wasana Handapangoda
Co-applicant and mentor: Prof. Dr. Brigitte Aulenbacher
Johannes Kepler University Linz, Institute of Sociology, Department for the Theory of Society and Social Analyses, Altenberger Str. 69, 4040 Linz, Austria
Funding: Austrian Science Fund FWF, Project M 2724-G, 11/2019-10/2021