Transpacific Literature: Migrant Narratives and Imagined Communities

Project Details


This project explores the interlocking relationships between globalization, Asian/Americanmigrant narratives, and the rise of migrant workers’ rights. The new global division of labor hascreated a new structure of exploitation and inequality that not only makes possible the emergence ofChina’s middle class as the new global middle class, but also creates the inhuman conditions of(transnational) migrant workers within and without Asia. While the Declaration of Universal HumanRights has reaffirmed that “[e]veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms” regardless of one’sgender, class, race, and national or social origin, transnational migrant literature produced across thePacific continues to tell the stories of unequal treatment, discrimination, workplace abuse, andviolence. Emerging literature on Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan and China’s migrantlaborers has come to embody the suffering and pain of uneven development and global inequality inthe region. This project asks how Asian/American literature about and by transnational migrantworkers mediates and shapes our understanding of human rights in the age of globalization andNeoliberalism.Borrowing from Lynn Hunt’s research on the interconnectedness between literature and theinvention of human rights, and extending Sophia McClennen and Joseph Slaughter’s appeal to thesignificance of literary forms in the production and reproduction of human rights discourses, thisproject studies how contemporary Asian/American literature articulates and imagines the rights ofmigrant workers. Expanding Bruce Robbins’ claim that the idea of the common good emerges fromand is embedded in upward mobility stories, which are mostly concerned with self-interest,independence, and individual responsibility, this project focuses on the “failed” upward mobilitynarratives of transnational migrant workers and examines how these individual stories of “failure”are transformed into a collective imagining of human rights. I am particularly interested in howliterary forms create and enact a new structure of feelings that makes certain kinds of rights legibleand unalienable in Asian/American migrant narratives. By attending to the struggles of transnationalmigrant workers both at home and abroad, the project highlights the issues of class, culture, and racein the gap between human rights as a universalizing idea and the practice of human rights indifferent social contexts. The project identifies Asian/American migrant narratives as a site ofcultural resistance that contests the inhuman conditions of globalization and ramifies the forms andarticulation of human rights.
Effective start/end date1/08/1731/07/19

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


  • Transpacific literature
  • migrant narratives
  • race/ethnicity
  • class
  • human rights discourses


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