Title: Power as Practice in Global Governance: Recruitment Agencies and Domestic Worker Migration in Southeast Asia

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. An Analytics of Power

Chapter 3. Methodology

Chapter 4. Recruitment: Limits of Endurance and the Law

Chapter 5. Assembly: Training Quality Maids

Chapter 6. Quality Control and Management

Chapter 7. Conclusion


Janice Bially Mattern

Ted Hopf

Shirlena Huang


This dissertation examines the role of recruitment agencies in the ‘migration industry’ of Southeast Asia. Agencies form the backbone of what can only be called a globalising trade in services that is not regulated in the same way as other labour markets. These markets have enjoyed relative stability for the last three decades with a bare modicum of formal governance mechanisms. What explains the production and reproduction of this transregional phenomenon are the practices of recruitment agencies which lay down ‘pipelines’ that supply domestic workers to capital cities in the Gulf and East Asia.

Drawing from a multi-sited ethnography conducted in Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, I argue that these agencies are best studied as sites where practices of recruitment occur rather than as agents in global governance. If we think of governance as a relationship rather than a matter of administration or something which is produced by an agent’s rational decision-making then we address the charge that global governance approaches are devoid of politics. I argue that what these relationships are not only social relations but relations of power, and by investigating them we reveal patterns of global governance that we would otherwise miss.

I draw from Michel Foucault’s body of work to fashion an analytical grid to make visible these power relations which, together, constitute the everyday practices of global governance. The grid is comprised of four main power modalities from Foucault’s genealogies. The study then demonstrates how power is heterogeneous – that different modalities of power may be and are exercised from the time workers are recruited, trained and deployed to households. This heterogeneity relates to the intensities of power rather than its extensity. It shifts the focus on the variety of practices rather than the expanding number of actors contributing to governance.