Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Embodied borders: an ethnography of female migrants in Singapore

This ethnographic research is a joint project with the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University, and KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. It aims to understand the experiences of social inclusion and exclusion of female migrants in Singapore, through their embodiment of difference.

2017 - 2020
Lennie Geerlings

KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies 

Singapore is a culturally diverse city-state located between Malaysia and Indonesia, and its history has been intertwined with migration. The increasing participation of women in international migration has led large groups of women from Southeast Asia and other regions of the world to fulfil roles in Singapore as low-wage workers or high-salaried employees, or as companions of their husbands or studying children. Women’s migration experiences differ significantly from those of men, as gender shapes migration decisions, policies, ideas about appropriate forms of employment and citizenship, and settlement experiences.

This research draws on the notion of ‘embodied borders’ to analyse how migrant women in Singapore encounter social processes of inclusion and exclusion that are inscribed, mediated, performed, and contested through their bodies. In densely populated Singapore, female migrant bodies represent the exoticized, sexualized, and foreign ‘other’. Embodied borders between different groups of migrant women and locals are created, sustained or contested in everyday sociality. Thus, everyday embodied sociality of migrant women is the starting place of the comparative ethnography which is scheduled to be conducted in 2018. The ethnographic data may reveal discriminatory economic, political, and cultural processes at societal and state levels, and draws attention to the contribution of ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ bodies to social urban space – pertinent to contemporary societies.


​​​​​​​Photo credits: Sim Chi Yin / VII Photo Agency

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