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Gendered Moral Economies of Transnational Migration: Mobilizing Shame and Faith in Migrant-Origin Villages of Central Java, Indonesia

Chan, Zi Lin Carol (2017) Gendered Moral Economies of Transnational Migration: Mobilizing Shame and Faith in Migrant-Origin Villages of Central Java, Indonesia. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Despite everyday public and private stories of the injuries and deaths of Indonesian labor migrants, hundreds of thousands continue to migrate annually. These transnational movements are shaped by international and national discourses and policies, framing migration in terms of economic development or human trafficking. This dissertation describes how such broad discursive and structural processes shape the subjectivities of those in migrant-origin villages. Departing from scholarly attention to migrants’ experiences in destination countries, I argue that precarious labor migration is practically and financially sustained, tolerated, or encouraged in Central Javanese migrant-origin villages through gendered and moral discourses, despite the high risks and costs to villagers in terms of finance, health, and mortality.

Based on participant observation and interviews conducted between 2012 and 2015 in Cilacap and Yogyakarta, I make three main points. First, migrant/non-migrant categories are messier and more complicated than they first appear. Second, whether migrations are considered “good” or “bad” varies according to the positionalities of villagers, NGO staff, and state representatives. Third, migration practices and discourses are highly gendered, which impacts how migrants, their kin, and neighbors experience and perceive migration-related risk, success, and failure. These support my main argument: that Cilacap and Yogyakarta residents develop, mobilize, and practice gendered shame and faith as strategies to negotiate the risks associated with migration, return, and staying behind. They do so by circulating blame and shame to migrants, migrants’ families, recruitment agents, or foreign employers. Evoking fate and destiny, villagers also attribute agency to non-human and divine actors in determining migration outcomes.

I argue that these multi-scalar moral discourses and responses to transnational circulations of bodies, labor, and money constitute gendered moral economies of migration. Many scholars, activists, and state officials consider villagers’ narratives of shame and fate an indication of their ignorance and resignation to structural and supernatural forces. Instead, I argue that they enable residents to negotiate arbitrary migration processes, by framing and explaining the past, in order to act strategically on the present, for better futures. Through these narratives, migrant-origin residents justify and critique migration’s “collateral damages” and sustain faith in migration’s promises of better lives.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Chan, Zi Lin Carolcarolchan@pitt.eduZIC40000-0001-9879-5144
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairConstable,
Committee MemberAlter,
Committee MemberWeintraub,
Committee MemberBrown,
Date: 19 January 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 19 August 2016
Approval Date: 19 January 2017
Submission Date: 24 August 2016
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 296
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Transnationalism, Mobilities, Gender, Labor migration, Indonesia, Risk
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2017 20:14
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2022 06:15


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