Poems and Policies of Transnational Labor Migration

Speaker: Jenny Silver

How can different kinds of text analysis help us understand a complex social issue?

This talk looks at the experiences of transnational labor migrants in Southeast Asia through the lens of contemporary poetry written by domestic workers in Singapore. Students will use two primary texts to explore a critical question in the history of Singapore’s migration policy: whether it is necessary, reasonable, or ethical to require that domestic workers pass a test to prove English proficiency. First, we will read an excerpted newspaper opinion piece advocating for the elimination of the English-language Entry Test. Second, we will analyze a poem authored by a domestic worker recalling the testing experience. What audiences do the authors of these texts have in mind? What do the authors want their audiences to know and feel? Finally, what does the poem tell us that we could not otherwise learn? Examining these sources together, the talk demonstrates how and why we might combine the social sciences and language arts to enrich our understanding of a complex social issue.

About the Speaker

Jenny Silver is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, where she studies labor migration and poetic expression in Southeast Asia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Religion from Princeton University and master's degrees from the National University of Singapore and the University of Oxford, which she completed with the support of Princeton’s Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th - 12 grade and community college

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary. The talk will be more meaningful to students who have some awareness of modern labor migration.

Courses: Global Studies, World Literature, Poetry, World History (modern)

Virtual Visit: This talk is only available in a virtual format. The speaker will work with the teacher to determine how the teacher will help mediate discussion within the classroom.

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