Labor Regimes of Indenture – A Global Overview of Migrant Domestic Work

Lecture | February 6 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 554 Barrows Hall

 Rhacel Parreñas, University of Southern California

 Department of Ethnic Studies, Center for Race and Gender, Institute for Labor Relations and Employment

Across the globe, migrant domestic workers are unfree workers whose legal residency is contingent on their continued employment as a live-in worker with a designated sponsor. This talk examines the politics of their indenture. Providing a macro and micro perspective, it begins with a global overview of the incorporation of migrant domestic workers as indentured workers in key host countries in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, explains the cultural logic that undergirds their indenture, and then describes the conditions of domestic work in the ‘worst destination’ of the United Arab Emirates, where absconding is illegal and quitting one’s job requires a sponsor’s permission. This talk foregrounds the indenture of domestic workers so as to interrogate dominant paradigms for thinking about contemporary unfreedoms; from human trafficking to slavery, identifies them to primarily follow Kantian and Marxian notions of unfreedom; and then addresses the limits of these liberal theories of unfreedom in explaining the indenture of domestic workers in the UAE.

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas received her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley in 1998. She is Professor of Sociology and Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Southern California. Her research engages the fields of economic sociology, sociology of labor, gender, and international migration. She is currently writing a book on the "unfree labor" of Southeast Asian migrant domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates. Prof. Parreñas has written five monographs and numerous peer reviewed journal articles including in Gender & Society, Feminist Studies, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, International Migration Review, and Global Networks. She has received fellowship invitations from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. She was recently awarded the 2019 ASA Jessie Bernard Award, in recognition of "significant cumulative work done throughout a professional career" that "has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society."