Discipline and Empower: The State Governance of Migrant Domestic Workers

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21 Scopus citations


How do states manage their populations? Some scholars see the state as primarily governing through punishment, but how might the state engage in other forms of disciplining subjects? I address these questions by exploring the state management of labor migration through interviews and participant observation of compulsory government workshops. I look at the case of Filipino domestic workers in Arab states. States are said to exercise bio-power when they market and discipline migrants to be competitive and compliant workers, in the process ignoring migrant vulnerabilities. In contrast, this article establishes that sending states attend to migrant vulnerabilities. In addition to bio-power, states also exercise pastoral power, caring for the well-being of migrants through the creation of labor standards, regulation of migration, and education policies. This analysis extends our understanding of the state management of migration as well as the state management of populations as it advances Foucault’s discussion of the exercise of power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1043-1065
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Arab states
  • migrant domestic work
  • migration governance
  • Philippines
  • sending states


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