The University of Massachusetts Amherst


CASEC Speaker | Elena Shih

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - 11:30am to 1:00pm

UMass Amherst | Thompson 919 - Rossi Room

Elena Shih | CASEC | UMass Sociology

UMass Sociology's CASEC Presents:

Elena Shih | The Trafficking Deportation Pipeline: Asian Body Work and the Auxiliary Policing of Racialized Poverty

Since 2015, a wave of municipal ordinances have swept through North America seeking to police Asian massage work in the name of combating human trafficking. These municipal ordinances have facilitated sensationalist sting operations that subject Asian massage workers to new forms of surveillance and policing--and for many mixed status migrants, deportation. This paper thinks through the enduring virility of the trafficking-deportation pipeline by considering forms of auxiliary policing that anti-trafficking responses have enacted on working class immigrant communities. They justify increasingly diverse modes of criminalization, while upholding notions of legitimate and illegitimate labor organized within racial capitalism. This paper extends Bill Ong Hing’s concept of “vigilante racism” (Hing 2002), to understand how the neoliberal policing of poverty has collided with the anti-trafficking movement. Focusing on new municipal license regimes for Asian massage workers, this paper reveals how these mechanisms configure hierarchies of labor predicated on markers of race, gender, poverty, and citizenship.

Elena Shih is the Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University. Shih's book, "Manufacturing Freedom: Trafficking Rescue, Rehabilitation, and the Slave Free Good" (under contract with University of California Press), is a global ethnography of the transnational social movement to combat human trafficking in China, Thailand, and the United States. Shih teaches courses on human trafficking, labor migration and sex work, social enterprise, East and Southeast Asian borderlands, critical humanitarianism, and ethnographic methods. At Brown's Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Shih directs a human trafficking research cluster covering several themes: (1) Policing Sex Workers Rights; (2) The Racism and Coloniality of Anti-Trafficking; and (3) Worker Organizing in Global Supply Chains. During the 2019-2020 academic year, Shih is on leave as ACLS fellow to study the impacts of China's Belt and Road Initiative on ethnic minority and migrant communities in Ruili City on the China-Myanmar border.