The Role of Ethnography in Studying Taiwan's Migrant Workers and the Broker System
Topic: The Role of Ethnography in Studying Taiwan's Migrant Workers and the Broker System
Speaker: Dr. Sudarat Musikawong (Associate Professor of Sociology in Institute for Population and Social Research IPSR, Mahidol University)
Date: 1st April 2020
Established in 1971, Institute for Population and Social Research IPSR conducts research and provides training in population and development in the areas of social, economic, reproductive health, medical and public health fields, focused on emerging issues for Thailand and neighboring countries in south-east Asia and beyond, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for all.
Dr. Sudarat Musikawong was conducting migrant workers research for many years, which includes migrants in United States, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan. In the speech name ”The Role of Ethnography in Studying Taiwan's Migrant Workers and the Broker System”, she shared with us her experiences and reflective thoughts in studying Taiwan’s migrant workers and broker system. The latest and ongoing project: “Broker & Employer Practices and Working Conditions: Foreign Migrant Workers in Taiwan” was cooperated with the scholars in National Chiao Tung University and Dong Wha University. She interviewed Thai workers, NGO/Labor Unions, Thailand Labor Attache, Employers, Broker/HR Agencies staff and also former CLA in Taiwan.
Dr. Musikawong explained that brokerage is "a process of connecting actors in systems of social, economic, or political relations in order to facilitate access to valued resources. The crucial characteristics of brokers are that a) they bridge a gap in social structure and b) they help goods, information, opportunities, or knowledge flow across that gap (Stovel et. al, 2011; 141)." Strictly defined, brokers are not agents because, "[u]nlike agents, economic brokers typically do not represent one party to the transaction. In the labor sourcing industry, work is not valued as a right to economic livelihood, but jobs are commodified as products to be bought and sold, such that profits are made not necessarily from providing labor to employers, but for selling jobs to workers. In Taiwan, it is legal to charge a placement fee of no more than one month’s salary, but most brokers from the home country charge more. Ethnography is the study of social phenomena or specific society through participant observation and interviews in field study. In studies on migration has led to several different approaches-Foucauldian Influences- as scholars study neoliberal state, and Structure-Agency debates- as negotiated social action. Ethnography as not just observation, but participation in societies we study (through work, volunteer, developing personal relations), organizing. Dr. Musikawong also shared the Ethnics aspects including the application of IRB (Institutional Review Board) in Taiwan and Thailand, how to protect those who we interviewed, and also Reciprocity aspects like giving back to the field, volunteer work every Sunday in Hope Worker Center. And also how to Work as a team through systematic coding in MAXQDA.
[Written by Kenzi Chen (Postdoctoral Fellow, International Center for Cultural Studies)]