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SEAC Visiting Senior Fellow Dr Shanthi Thambiah

"Migration for work rarely happens among random pairs of countries; instead, they arise among particular countries that are enmeshed in a multiplex of social, cultural, economic and political linkages."

Introducing Dr Shanthi Thambiah, SEAC Visiting Senior Fellow and Associate Professor in the Gender Studies Program, at the University of Malaya.

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What will you be working on during your time as SEAC Visiting Senior Fellow?

I will be working on the emo-scapes of Indonesian and Malaysian state discourses on female migration for work and how emotions influence migration governance. My research examines the emotional connectivity between Indonesia and Malaysia on the issue of migrant domestic workers. It attempts to provide a nuance understanding of how gender and migration intersects to create shifting subjectivities where  lived experiences of Indonesian migrant domestic workers departs from the Indonesian and Malaysian states’ discourses about them. I also explore the emotional archive of Indonesia and Malaysia and its influence on governance of migrant domestic workers by examining the shifting national emo-scapes of both countries.

 

What led you to your field of study/what inspired your interest in these topics?

My interest in the field of emotions of migration is due to my earlier work with a hunter-gatherer community in Sarawak who imbued emotion in their movement and relate emotionally to spaces they have traversed. They inspired me to examine emotion within migration studies. Migration for work rarely happens among random pairs of countries; instead, they arise among particular countries that are enmeshed in a multiplex of social, cultural, economic and political linkages. When this inter-connectedness is emotionally charged especially in the case between Indonesia and Malaysia over issues related to female migration for domestic work, the consequence is a governance level malfunction that leads to frustration for many migrant domestic workers. In-depth insights in the processes of understanding emotional connectivity on a national and regional scale provides a new dimension for understanding the complexity of migration governance between two neighbouring countries.

 

How do you like to relax and unwind?

There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for activities that helps one relax and unwind. We need to discover what works for us. For me stepping out of the house and doing my deep breathing exercise, going for a walk, looking at the trees and the sky helps me relax and unwind. During the Covid 19 lockdown I discovered another activity that makes me feel good – planting vegetables and herbs on a small scale within the house compound. For me it is not merely doing things that people say is relaxing but experiencing the outcome of the activity that makes you feel refreshed that matters.