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Global Asia Speaker Series

Passport Entanglements: Protection, Care, and Precarious Migration


Dr. Nicole Constable, Professor of Anthropology (University of Pittsburgh)

Thursday, September 7, 2023  |  3:30 PM CT

The Forum, Marvin Hall


In this talk, which builds on thirty years of research in Hong Kong among women migrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, anthropologist Nicole Constable discusses her latest book: Passport Entanglements: Protection, Care, and Precarious Migrations. She describes how she became fascinated by the “real but fake” (aspal or asli tapi palsu) passports held by many Indonesian migrant workers, and how the problems they created led her to explore their origins of and the larger entanglements of passports and other types of documentation in relation to the labor migration industry.  


Focusing on the politics and inequalities embedded in passports, Constable criticizes many common binaries in social science and migration studies, including: state and society, researcher and researched, migrant and citizen, care and control; she argues that these and other binaries are in fact entangled in the production and practice of “real but fake” (aspalalsu) passports and identity documents. Overall, Constable argues that biometric technologies and surveillance – often assumed to offer greater protection, accuracy, and security -- can in practice produce new vulnerabilities, reproduce old ones, and reinforce violent structures on already vulnerable women. Constable illustrates this point by showing how and why Indonesian migrant workers had aspal passports in the first place, and how the wider state, migratory, and labor industry structures created the risk of debt bondage, imprisonment, and deportation. 




Nicole Constable is a sociocultural anthropologist whose primary research focus is gendered migration in and from Asia. She is also very interested in different modes of ethnographic and anthropological writing.  Her main geographical research areas are Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. Her topical interests include migration and mobilities; intimate labor; gender and sexuality; and precarious citizenship and the state.


She is former Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, and former Director of the Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh. She was also the J Y Pillay Global-Asia Professor of Social Sciences at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.


Sponsored by the KU Center for East Asia Studies

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