Labor Regimes of Indenture – A Global Overview of Migrant Domestic Work

January 23, 2018

Across the globe, migrant domestic workers are unfree workers whose legal residency is contingent on their continued employment as a live-in worker with a designated sponsor. This talk examines the politics of their indenture. Providing a macro and micro perspective, it begins with a global overview of the incorporation of migrant domestic workers as indentured workers in key host countries in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, explains the cultural logic that undergirds their indenture, and then describes the conditions of domestic work in the ‘worst destination’ of the United Arab Emirates, where absconding is illegal and quitting one’s job requires a sponsor’s permission. This talk interrogates various theoretical frameworks for thinking about contemporary unfreedoms – slavery, human trafficking and structural violence – and proposes the alternative concept of “indentured mobility,” which recognizes the personal gains made by migrants in the face of servitude. The concept of indentured mobility foregrounds the agency of migrants, acknowledging how they choose the unfreedom of servitude as a better option over the unfreedom of their poverty in the Philippines.


Rhacel Salazar Parreñas is Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Previously, she was a tenure track faculty member at Brown University (Full), University of California-Davis (Associate to Full), and University of Wisconsin, Madison (Assistant). Her areas of research include labor, gender, international migration, the family and economic sociology.

She is an ethnographer whose research examines experiences of migrant workers from the Philippines. Her earlier works examined the constitution of gender in women's migration. Situated in the intersections of human trafficking and labor migration, her more recent works focus on the construction of migrant workers as "unfree labors." Her current project focuses on the experiences of migrant domestic workers in Dubai and Singapore. This study examines their experience of indenture and identifies and analyzes how various stakeholders -- states, recruitment agencies, employers and domestic workers – recognize and accordingly attend to their state of unfreedom.


  • David See-chai Lam Centre
  • Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
  • Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Event video

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

3:00 - 4:30pm

SFU Burnaby 
Blusson Hall Room 10011
8888 University Drive, Burnaby