I ain’t not dead no more

Actually, it’s hard to tell right now if I’m alive or not. I’ve been working practically round-the-clock on this one funding proposal and I’ve managed to destroy my sleeping habits. It’s too bad, when daylight savings time ended I actually started getting up at 9 in the morning again. Spring forward, fall back, after all.

And you know what? This is the most work I’ve done in weeks. In fact, the amound of work I did for this proposal might even be more than I did for all of October. I’ve finally realized why my writing has stalled — quite simply, I’m sick of my thesis. Okay, maybe that’s too strong, but I’m definitely getting bored with it. But the project that I’m pitching to get funding for my PhD next year is pretty different from what I’m doing right now, and the books I’ve been reading for the proposal are stuff that I’m way interested in. To be honest, my project on Filipino bloggers right now was pretty much a fallback position since the idea I came in with was too big for a one year Master’s. I was going to do fieldwork in Southeast Asia (definitely Malaysia and maybe Singapore and Brunei) on Filipino migrant workers there. So it was going to be about migration from South to South and not South to North like most migration literature focuses on. And I’d found an article about citizenship in Malaysia, where the Malaysian government is quite aware of the presence of undocumented migrants but looks the other way anyway, extending de facto citizenship to these tax-paying and voting residents (Sadiq 2005). That’s exactly the kind of crap I’ve always liked. Just look at the abstract:

Why would a state encourage illegal immigration over the opposition of its citizens? According to the theories of immigration and citizenship, we should expect exactly the opposite: that states will monitor, control, and restrict illegal immigrants’ access to citizenship on behalf of its citizens, as has been the experience of most countries. I use my research on Filipino immigration to Sabah, Malaysia to show how Malaysia utilizes census practices and documentation to incorporate an illegal immigrant population from the Philippines. Illegal immigrants play an electoral role in Sabah because of the loosely institutionalized nature of citizenship, a
feature common to many other developing countries. Our examination of Malaysia reveals several elements of illegal immigration and citizenship that are common to migratory flows in other developing countries. I conclude by showing how this case is generalizable and what it tells us about illegal immigrant participation in the international system.

That’s some good stuff there and a nice jumping-off point for more research on related issues. Off the top of my head, there’s the gendered aspect of migration — which sorts of migrants are valued by the Malaysian state, and does that include female domestic workers being abused by their employers? Or what about how Malaysia is apparently decoupling the nation from the state? And maybe something about the types of citizens this kind of governmentality produces? Yep, this thing was rich in possibilities. But alas, ’twas not to be. The project was too big and I had to change my topic entirely. Not that I hate my project right now, but I’ve always been interested in power and the state and even now I keep trying to stick the political into my work.

But now that I’m trying to get into PhD programs, I get to design my dream project. All political anthropology all the time. Just look at the books I’ve got piled up beside my desk: The Foucault Effect by Graham Burchell (ed.), States of Injury by Wendy Brown, Neoliberalism as Exception by Aihwa Ong, The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays by Louis Althusser, Anthropology in the Margins of the State by Veena Das and Deborah Poole (eds.), and The Coming Community by Giorgio Agamben. No, I didn’t actually use all of them in my proposal, but I absolutely loved reading through them just for the fact that they weren’t saying something that I’d been reading over and over for the last 6 months. And I still haven’t read Manuel Castell’s The Rise of the Network Society despite having had it on my bookshelf since last February.

So perhaps I should take an intellectual break every now and then just to remind me of why I thought a life of reading books 24/7 was a good thing to get into. I’m hoping I can keep up this rate of work with my regular writing because there’s really nothing more I’d like right now than to have this thesis done.

Oh, and Anthroblogs’ owner hasn’t gotten back to me yet. The constant hammering of spam comments is getting quite tiresome, but I figure that’s no reason to make a hasty decision on which blog host to go with, so I’ll give all my options the consideration due to them.


Sadiq, Kamal. 2005. “When states prefer non-citizens over citizens: conflict over illegal migration into Malaysia.” International Studies Quarterly 49, 101–122.

4 Replies to “I ain’t not dead no more”

  1. Hey Jesse, that whole area sounds really interesting and promising. Good luck with funding apps! I hate them with a passion… All those budget lines.

    As part of the writing I’ve been doing about the Paper Dolls film (and trying to find out info about Filipino migration and domestic work generally) I cam acros this great article about Filipino workers in Hong Kong by Nicole Constable. Is that name familiar? The one I’m thinking of, called ” talks about constitutions of Filipino nationalist subjectivity and the kinds of struggles around Filipino domestic workers being asked to produce themselves as ‘good workers’. At the end of the article, she talks about how in Hong Kong in the late 1990’s there was a panic about the alleged preponderance of tomboy/lesbian Filipino domestic workers, and how this oddly intersected with the desires of Hong Kong employers not to have maids/housekeepers who were *too* feminine. The ref is “Dolls, T-Birds and Ideal Workers: The Negotiation of Filipino Identity in Hong Kong” (2000), Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and Identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia, ed. Kathleen Adams and Sara Dickey, U. of Michigan Press. (I’m sure you’ve got it, but just in case you haven’t, it’s pretty interesting.)

  2. I hear you Az, I’m not even sure I still care if I get the money or not. No, that’s not true, I always care about free money, but right now I all I feel is the blessed relief of having just let loose a massive turd into the toilet bowl. Flush! and away with you.

    And yeah, I think I’ve read that article before, bu not in that collection specifically. Actually, I have the book she wrote about the subject, “Maid to Order in Hong Kong: An Ethnography of Filipina Workers” (1997). I’m not sure if that or the article came first, but it’s got all that you mentioned except more of it. Plus Foucault and disciplining and stuff, though the subject matter practically demands that perspective — some of the employers’ written rules for their maids were ridiculously specific on what was permissible for their maids.

    Oh, and I realize now I’ve given the impression that the research I was proposing for my PhD was going to be about Filipino migrant workers in Malaysia. It’s actually about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional identity in Southeast Asia. Basically it’s about how ASEAN is trying to create Southeast Asians, since no one from SEA actually thinks of themselves in that way. It’s not a lived experience like, say, being European is. The context I want to look at is university exchange programs, both intra- and inter-regional ones. So right off the bat you have ethnography of the academy and a “heritage student” doing Southeast Asian studies — two things that are still too rare today. And then there’s all the angles I could look at: regionalism in contrast with nationalism, multiculturalism, and transnationalism; the governmentality that tries to make Southeast Asian-ness an internalized identity; the state (multiple ones, actually) and its relationship with its citizens; and of course the interplay between different levels of political forces in the region, including the all-too-present influence of global capital and the neoliberal hegemonic project. Citizenship issues and development critique are in there too. So you have all these political actors that all make an impact on Southeast Asian identity, since identification, after all, is always already a political act. I know, it sounds rather amorphous, plus it’s kind of contradictory to mention the state and governmentality together, my actual proposal is more coherent (at least I hope so).

  3. Hey,

    Just quickly browsing your blog. Can you believe I’m even procrastinating about going to bed? This is the life. Aaaaah, academia. Speaking of which, you’re planning to do a PhD? (I know we didn’t get to talk much last time I was in town.) Do you have any schools in mind? How about all the other kiddies in your cohort?

    I really should be getting to bed. I have papers to write and to grade (yep, it’s that time again) tomorrow.


  4. I checked my blog a couple of hours ago and the site was down. I wonder if it was gone all day? Oh well, just one more reason to go with another blog host.

    As for what you asked, I was going to answer you here but I kind of feel weird discussing everyone in public. I’m down with it but my research has made me sensitive to ethics online. I don’t know if my cohort will appreciate me blabbing about them, even though we’re so boring that I don’t really have anything juicy to spill. God, we’re such dorks. I’d put up the stuff that’s just about me, but this way you’ll have just the one thing to reply to instead of a simultaneous blog and email dialogue.

    You know, I used to have a personal commitment not to use my computer on weekends. I modified that for NaReWriMo, but now everyday is pretty much the same as far as computer use is concerned. Sigh.

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