Doing Family in “Times of Migration”: Care Temporalities and Gender Politics in Southeast Asia

Doing Family in “Times of Migration”: Care Temporalities and Gender Politics in Southeast Asia


The prevailing labour migration regime in Asia is underpinned by rotating-door principles of enforced transience, where low-waged migrant labour gains admission into host nation-states on the basis of short-term, time-limited contracts, and where family reunification or permanent settlement at destination are explicitly prohibited. In this context, this paper asks how migrant-sending families in Southeast Asian “source” countries – Indonesia and the Philippines – sustain family life in the long-term absence of one or both parents (often mothers). We focus in particular on the way temporal modalities of care for left-behind children intersects with gendered power geometries in animating the transnational family politics of care through the temporal concepts of rhythm, rupture and reversal. First, by paying heed to the structuring effects of rhythm on social life, we show how routinized care-rhythms built around mothers-as-caregivers have a normalizing and naturalizing effect on the conduct of social life and commonplace understanding of family well-being. Second, we explore the potential rupture to care-rhythms triggered by the migration of mothers-turned-breadwinners, and the extent to which gendered care regimes are either conserved, re-constituted or disrupted in everyday patterns and practices of care. Third, we examine the circumstances under which gender role reversal becomes enduring, gains legitimacy among a range of poly care-rhythms, or is quickly undone with the return migration of mothers-in-homecoming. The analysis is based on research on Indonesian and Filipino rural households conducted in 2017 using paired life-story interviews with children and their parental/non-parental adult carers.


Brenda S.A. Yeoh is Raffles Professor of Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Research Leader of the Asian Migration Cluster at the Asia Research Institute, NUS. Her research interests include the politics of space in colonial and postcolonial cities, and she also has considerable experience working on a wide range of migration research in Asia, including key themes such as cosmopolitanism and highly skilled talent migration; gender, social reproduction and care migration; migration, national identity and citizenship issues; globalising universities and international student mobilities; and cultural politics, family dynamics and international marriage migrants. She has published widely on these topics and her recent books include Transnational Labour Migration, Remittances and the Changing Family in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, with Lan Anh Hoang), Contested Memoryscapes: The Politics of Second World War Commemoration in Singapore (Routledge, 2016, with Hamzah Muzaini),  Asian Migrants and Religious Experience: From Missionary Journeys to Labor Mobility (Amsterdam University Press, 2018 with Bernardo Brown) and Handbook of Asian Migrations (Routledge, 2018 with Gracia Liu-Farrer).

Oct 3, 2019 Time: 14:00 – 15:00 hrs. Room Srabua (109)