AAC : The Politics of Distribution: Migrant Labour, Development and Religious Aid in Asia

Date:16 Nov 2017 – 17 Nov 2017
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore @ KRC

Migrant labour has been viewed as an important factor in growth, productivity and poverty reduction in Asia where rapid economic development has raised many to middle income countries. However, parallel to the growth of these economies has arisen new challenges and tensions as well as continuing underdevelopment (Rigg 2015). This includes what some scholars have identified as the formation of a labour surplus population in many parts of the world, where a decline in small agriculture and new industries generating less employment has resulted in a labour over supply that has made many “redundant” in the global production system (Ferguson 2015, Li 2010). Instead, distributive practices and “relations of dependence” (Ferguson 2015) have increased in the context of not only diminishing employment opportunities but also in uncertain and precarious employment, as is in the case of migrant labour which has often been linked to abuses over working conditions and wages.

In this sense, religious aid is one significant and diverse form of distributive practice. This is particularly the case where the rise in global civil society and non-state actors make up for many of the “structural holes” (Faist 2009) in social services neglected by the State. The absence of the State in this area, particularly in the global South, has led to an opening up of a space for alternative actors to ‘fill in the gap’, including faith-based actors where religious spaces have become simultaneously humanitarian and development spaces. This is particularly the case for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who as ‘non-citizens’ are often marginalised in their access to formal work and social services.

The workshop will engage with Ferguson’s concept of distributive practices (Ferguson 2015) to interrogate whether it is applicable to religious aid in the Asian context as a significant form of contemporary labour. This is in recognition of the fact that cultivating the social relationships which make distributive flows possible is not a passive condition, but rather the outcome of a particular type of labour (Ferguson 2015, 97). Although having always existed in the form of remittances, kin-based sharing, patronage, “corruption” and relations of dependence on others such as NGOs and corporations, distributive practices have taken on a new amplitude with the decrease in the availability and increasing precariousness of waged labour.

The workshop will examine forms of contemporary distributive practices in Asia as they are enacted by religious actors, whether through religious aid organisations, religious networks or informal religious giving, within the context of migrant labour and how these interrelate with wider development processes in the region. Migrant labour is taken to encompass those who engage in rural-urban migration as well as what are usually assumed to be binary categories of legal and illegal, temporary and permanent, economic migrant and refugee/asylum seeker; in the recognition that these categories are often not fixed but fluid and permeable.

This workshop aims to bring together scholars and practitioners who are not only critically engaged with the politics of distributive practices, but who are specifically interested in exploring a politics of distribution that is grounded in and emerges out of practices in Asia. We therefore invite papers embedded in empirical case studies which explore one or more of the following lines of inquiry:

What are the multiple ways in which religious actors intervene in, facilitate, and mitigate the domain in which migrant labour and development processes meet in order to deliver ‘aid’ or engage in distributive practices of religious giving in Asia? What is the significance of these on our understanding of contemporary distributive practices in Asia and how they relate to economic development and livelihoods?
In what ways do religious understandings of development, livelihood, and human fulfilment permeate religious actors’ aid and distributive practices; are these conceptions given a distinct form and meaning? How does religious actors’ engagement in migrant labour with its own ‘development truths’ challenge or uphold prevailing ideas of development? How are these experienced, produced and negotiated by local, as well as transnational actors?
How are relations of dependence and belonging cultivated in religious distributive practices? How do both distributive practices and religious theologies challenge the assumptions of an emancipatory, self-sufficient liberal conception of the individual? What languages of religious belonging are used in distributive labour practices by faith-based actors and the recipients of their aid, particularly for migrants who are often marginalised by the State? What are the implications of this on conceptions of citizenship and belonging?
Asocial inequality is the lack of relations in a morally binding membership group, where networks of affect have been replaced by atomized individuals with little or no social attachments (Ferguson 2013). In what ways do religious actors address asocial inequality in their aid?
What does labour and livelihoods, understood as distributive practices, look like in Asia? What can an understanding of religious distributive practices within the context of migrant labour tell us about how social inequality and precarity in Asia might be addressed?


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 2 June 2017. Please submit your proposal, using the provided proposal template to Ms Tay Minghua at minghua.tay[at]nus.edu.sg. Successful applicants will be notified by early July 2017 and will be required to send in a draft paper by 20 October 2017.


Workshop Convenors

Dr May Ngo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E | arinmy[at]nus.edu.sg

Dr Bernardo Brown
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E | aribeb[at]nus.edu.sg


Ms TAY Minghua
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E | minghua.tay[at]nus.edu.sg

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