Kornel Chang delivers international keynote speech at Australian National University

Labour Migration in the Asia-Pacific: Race, History and Heritage
Thursday, February 14, 2013 (All day) - Friday, February 15, 2013 (All day)
Canberra, Australia

In recent times, temporary migrant labour has been on the agenda of many of the countries of the Asia-Pacific, with governments of both sending and receiving countries interested in understanding, controlling and improving labour migration. This symposium aims to highlight the cultural history of labour migration in the Asia-Pacific region, with a focus on the ongoing historical legacies.

The history of labour migration in the Asia-Pacific region has been extremely rich and its impact on peoples, places and things profound. Examples include Indian plantation workers in Fiji, Burma and colonial Malaya; Indonesian pearl divers, Afghan cameleers and Chinese gold miners in Australia; Pacific Islander indentured labourers; and Mexican workers in California’s agriculture and ranching sectors. There are many more examples in addition to these.

Labour migration was vital to the national development of many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in receiving countries. For example, in the British colonial era, when Malaysia was known as Malaya, the export of tin, sugar, coffee and rubber in the increasingly connected world economy was only made possible by the importation of Chinese and Indian labour. How has this "mixing of nationalities" been reflected or challenged in terms of culture and heritage? Is it possible to map the cultural impact of similar trends occuring elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific?

Besides examining questions of race, ethnicity and cultural history, this research symposium aims to examine a wide range of tangible and intangible heritage forms relating to the experience of labour migration, including, but not limited to:

  • monuments & museums
  • tales & traditions
  • festivals & commemorative events
  • artworks, photography & performance art
  • cinema, literature & music.

Reflecting this, the focus of this event will be inter-disciplinary, comparative and regional in focus.

This symposium will provide an innovative opportunity for a broad range of people working in government, cultural institutions and academia to hear from leading experts on this topic which, given the ongoing debate on the national and global politics of labour migration, is becoming increasingly important.

International Keynote Speakers:

  • Prof. Mae Ngai (Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History, Columbia University)
  • Prof. Timo Kaartinen (Professor of Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki)
  • A/Prof. Kornel Chang (Rutgers-Newark, State University of New Jersey and Charles Warren Fellow at Harvard University 2011-2012).

Other invited speakers include Prof. Mobo Gao (University of Adelaide), Prof. Amarjit Kaur (University of New England), Prof. Regina Ganter (Griffith University) and A/Prof Andrea Witcomb (Deakin University).

This event has received funding support from the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) and ANU's College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS).