Love’s Labour’s Cost?
Asian Migration, Intimate Labour and the Politics of Gender
This conference is organised by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and supported by Gender, Migration and the Work of Care Project at Center for Global Social Policy, University of Toronto, Canada.

DATE : 3-4 December 2018

VENUE : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
               ARI Seminar Room, AS8 Level 4
              10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260


Disrupting the hypermasculine framing of migration as smooth, undifferentiated circulations of capital worldwide requires scholars to repopulate our geographies of imagination with people—the intimate, fleshy, and quotidian day-to-day experiences of migrants. Contemporary Asian migration is often characterized by the movement of people both within and across nation-state borders for the sake of labour and for love. Some migrants move in order to fill the demand for corporeal and intimate labour in sectors that require “the work of tending” (Boris & Parreñas, 2010)—as nannies, nurses, hospitality workers, caregivers, serving staff, domestic workers, and beauty salon staff. Other migrants seek to pursue romance, enter into marriage, and form, support, and sustain new families, hence fostering or refashioning relational ethics of care in the enactment of intimate labour in less explicitly remunerated and more loosely organized ways. This workshop acknowledges the multiple and simultaneous subjectivities of migrants—nurses who are also mothers and lovers, foreign brides who moonlight in informal sectors, beer sellers who may concomitantly be students, sex workers, and filial family members, and construction workers who are sons engaging in acts of transnational filial piety.

Intimate labour generally entails an element of touch, although mediated intimacies that resonate across physical distances are also increasingly recognized (Attwood, Hakim, & Winch, 2017); it often encodes some form of inalienability, reciprocity, and mutuality (Lynch, 2007); and characterizes the ways in which love, affect, service, and care accrue various forms of value, both economic and otherwise (Kim, 2015; Yeoh, Chee, & Vu, 2014).  In order to fully understand the processes of global restructuring—including broader patterns of gender and family relations, the rise of intimate industries (Parreñas, Thai, & Silvey, 2016), and the transnational organization of work—the intimate as a site of analysis is critical (Chang & Ling, 2010), particularly since the commodification of intimacy is now at a scale and scope that is historically unprecedented (Parreñas et al., 2016). The intimate and the global constitute and relate to one another (Choo, 2016): while these scales should not be collapsed, they should be reflexively recognized as “epistemological assertions to know the same world” instead of as pre-given and inherent categorizations (Mountz & Hyndman, 2006, p. 447).  The term “intimate labor” is analytically distinct from broader understandings of reproductive labour, emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983), and affective labour (Mankekar & Gupta, 2016), although it often encompasses elements of all three theoretical foci.

Intimate labour is also feminized (and often classed): the maintenance, tending, and nurturance of the body as well as the heart is seen as women’s work, whether such labour is explicitly remunerated or not. However, in addition to engendering encounters that may act to shore up or destabilize the boundaries of socioeconomic class,  intimate labour often serves to replicate gendered binaries, it can also be the site for a relational refashioning of masculinities and femininities, particularly through the contestation of identity politics in the wake of shifts wrought by changes in broader patterns of migration within Asia and beyond (Yeoh, 2016). The reinforcing and/or refiguring of gendered identities are often intertwined with and expressed through intimate forms of labour carried out in emotionally taxing, mutually constitutive, and relational ways (Ward, 2010), with the body itself potentially dissolving as a bounded and discrete entity through the relational ethics of intercorporeality (Fritsch, 2010).

To extend existing feminist theories about migration, labour, value, gender, and intimacy, this workshop calls for papers that commingle the intimate labour that people enact across the apparent divisions of their public and private lives, instead of analyzing migration in terms of separate and hostile domains of work and love, or money and affection (Zelizer, 2009). It is especially interested in work in migratory contexts that percolates around the relational fashioning of masculine and feminine subjectivities as examined through the lens of intimate labour, especially if such work takes into account intersectional dynamics such as age, generation, ethnicity, nationality, class, and race. Questions to be addressed include but are not limited to the following:

  • How can our understandings of “intimate labour” be sharpened through an analytical focus on the ways that it interweaves conventionally distinguished categories of work and love, or labour migration and marriage migration?
  • What is the value of reading the “intimate” into existing sectors of service-oriented migrant labour?
  • How can notions of “intimate labour” interrogate our ideas of migrant labour, value and exchange, particularly at the intersections of emotion, affect, love, capital, and money?
  • How are masculinities, femininities, sexualities, and class disparities repositioned, fashioned, and challenged at the site of migrants’ “intimate labour(s)”? How can the idea of “intimate labour” help us to re-examine ideas of performance, embodiment, and authenticity?
  • How can a focus on the relationality of care, intimacy and love be used to productively sharpen our conceptualization of migrant’s “intimate labour”?
  • How do mediated intimacies, info-communication technologies and other technologies that foster simultaneity and immediacy across distance reshaped what constitutes “intimate labor”? What is the effect of introducing technologies that act as assistive devices or tools in the intercorporeal work of care?
  • How can a focus on “intimate labours” reconfigure our notions of the ethics of care migration

Paper abstracts should be submitted by 15 August 2018. Submissions should include a title, an abstract of 250-350 words (with sufficient details of the significance of the research question(s), conceptual framing, methodological route and key findings), a brief biography (maximum of 100 words) including name, institutional affiliation, and email contact. Draft papers of 6,000 to 7,000 words are due on 5 November 2018.

Please note that only previously unpublished papers or those not already committed elsewhere can be accepted. The organisers plan to publish a special issue or edited volume with selected papers presented in this conference. By participating in the conference you agree to participate in the future publication plans (usually a journal special issue) if your paper is selected for inclusion.

The organisers will provide hotel accommodation for three nights and/or a contribution towards airfare for accepted paper participants (one author per paper). Please submit your abstract, using the provided paper proposal form to Ms Kellynn Wee at and Ms Sharon Ong at by 15 August 2018. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by end-August 2018.

Dr Theodora Lam
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
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Prof Ito Peng
Centre for Global Social Policy, University of Toronto, Canada
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Prof Denise Spitzer
School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Canada
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Ms Kellynn Wee
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
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