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Accepted Paper:

Reimagining Southeast Asia in everyday spaces of care  
Megha Amrith (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity )

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the circulation and exchange of cultural ideas and practices in the Southeast Asian region. It draws upon ethnographic research with migrants working in institutions of care in Singapore, examining how everyday cultural encounters reshape migrants’ understandings of the region.

Paper long abstract:

The lenses of circulation and mobility have been important in the anthropological study of migration in Southeast Asia, as well in understanding how cultural ideas and practices in the region are exchanged and contested. This paper advances the conversation on inter-Asian encounters by foregrounding the narratives of migrants themselves on their shifting understandings of the region, how it is imagined, where its limits lie and the unexpected possibilities they find within this category. It draws upon ethnographic research with migrants in Singapore's institutions of medical care, where a wide range of inter-Asian cultural encounters take place between migrants and the culturally diverse range of people they work with and care for. While there are opportunities for cultivating new cosmopolitan and affective relationships across cultural boundaries, migrants frequently come up against barriers of misrecognition and prejudice, and divisive categories such as 'backward' and 'modern', 'Third World' and 'First World', 'provincial' and 'global'. Diverse Asian citizens discover shared and divergent cultural understandings about care, intimacy and wellbeing, and develop ethical reflections on how one ought to live as Asia's relationship to the rest of the world shifts. At the heart of these cultural encounters lie conflicting understandings of what constitutes 'Asian values', and how they are expressed in everyday urban spaces among nurses and domestic workers from the Philippines, construction workers from South Asia and Singapore residents of different backgrounds. This specific case sheds light on wider debates on mobility, its continuities and ruptures, in contemporary Southeast Asia.

Panel P062
Moving Southeast Asia: circulations, mobilities, and their contemporary entanglements
  Session 1