Elena Shih is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, and Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Sociology and Watson Institute for International Studies. Shih's current book project, "Manufacturing Freedom: Moral and Political Economies of Global Human Trafficking Rescue," is a global ethnography of the transnational social movement to combat human trafficking in China, Thailand, and the United States. Shih teaches courses on human trafficking, labor migration and sex work, social entreperprise, East and Southeast Asian borderlands, critical humanitarianism studies, and ethnographic methods.
From 2015-2018, she is a Faculty Fellow at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, where she leads an interdisciplinary human trafficking research cluster. Shih earned a PhD in Sociology from UCLA, and BA in Asian Studies and Women's Studies from Pomona College.
During Fall 2016, Shih holds a visiting faculty fellowship at Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, where she is a member of the Human Trafficking working group (2017-2019).
Shih serves on the editorial boards for The Anti-Trafficking Review, a peer-reviewed journal of the Global Alliance to Combat Traffic in Women, and openDemocracy's Beyond Trafficking and Slavery op-ed platform.
|Shih, Elena Freedom Markets: Consumption and Commerce across Human-Trafficking Rescue in Thailand. positions/positions. 2017; 25 (4) : 769-794.|
|Shih, E. Not in My "Backyard Abolitionism": Vigilante Rescue against American Sex Trafficking. Sociological Perspectives/Sociological Perspectives. 2016; 59 (1) : 66-90.|
|Shih, E. Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews. 2015; 44 (6) : 780-782.|
|Elizabeth Bernstein, Elena Shih The Erotics of Authenticity: Sex Trafficking and ‘Reality Tourism’ in Thailand. Social Politics. 2014; 21 (3) : 430-460.|
|Elena Shih “The Anti-Trafficking Rehabilitation Complex" . Contexts. 2014; 13 (1)|
|Elena Shih Health and Rights at the Margins: Human Trafficking and HIV/AIDS Amongst Jingpo Ethnic Communities in Ruili City, China. The Anti-Trafficking Review. 2013; 2|
The Anti-Trafficking Rehabilitation Complex
My book manuscript in progress, "Manufacturing Freedom: Moral and Political Economies of Human Trafficking Rescue in China, Thailand and the U.S.," is a multi-sited and global ethnography based off 40 months of fieldwork on efforts to combat human trafficking in Beijing, Bangkok and Los Angeles. Drawing on fieldwork as a participant action researcher with faith-based and secular social movement organizations--ranging from grassroots evangelical Christian missionary projects, to sex worker rights cooperatives, to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking--this book explores the mobilization of rights and morality in between the state and the market in the contemporary movement against human trafficking.
This work is inspired by transnational feminist scholarship, and brings these frameworks to bear on political and economic sociology. Concerned with hierarchies of race, class, and gendered inequality between social movement actors in the Global North and their alleged subjects in the Global South, the dissertation argues that despite obvious differences across political economic regimes and ideological orientations of anti-trafficking movement organizations, contemporary anti-trafficking efforts reproduce women's global subordination at both the discursive and labor process levels. This research is pivotal for understanding how transnational social movements are successful according to their stated objectives and for people they intend to serve.
Ethnicity and Global Capital on the China-Burma Border
My ongoing second research project is interested in the effects of China’s booming global economic progress on young ethnic minority people living on the China-Burma border. Ethnic minority communities in Ruili City, Yunnan Province are geographically and ethnically disenfranchised due to their isolation from China’s economic hubs and state policies that offer structural benefits and systemic advantages for Han majority citizens. Due to its location just above the Golden Triangle, linking opium-producing areas in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, Ruili was an ideal entry point for heroin distribution through China to other parts of the world. Lacking economic opportunities for income generation, many ethnic minority persons in Yunnan turned to the illegal heroin trade and were often paid in the heroin they trafficked. Concurrently, a public health crisis emerged in 1989, when Ruili was documented as the city where the first cases of HIV were discovered in China. The effects of intravenous drug use, incarceration, and outward migration have been most heavily experienced but Ruili’s “left behind youth.”
My research is interested in the paradoxically parallel tracks of capital investment and ethnic conflict in the area, and how these impact youth living across these borderlands. In 2006, the United Nations initiated a global capital investment campaign to fund a multi-billion dollar railway project linking China and Southeast Asia. This infrastructural project has brought new money and new mobility into ethnic minority communities on the China-Burma border. Through my teaching, ongoing public humanities projects, and further research, this second project will look at the shifting meanings of ethnic identity in the face of global expansion and connectivity. Understood within a transnational Ethnic Studies framework, I hope this project contributes to the transnationalization of American Studies through its exploration of how race and ethnicity are mobilized and understood in global contexts—and specifically global contexts that are tied to the US through capital, infrastructural, and geopolitical investments.
Community Action Research: Policing Modern Day Slavery in Rhode Island
As a Faculty Fellow at Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, I direct a human trafficking research cluster that organizes programming to attract interdisciplinary interest and to increase collaborative critical inquiry into the study of human trafficking. This includes organizing a monthly visitor speaker series, planning an annual day-long conference held each Spring, and leading undergraduate and graduate students through community based research projects related to human trafficking.
We currently have one collaborative research project underway. “Policing Modern Day Slavery: Sex Work and Exploitation in Rhode Island,” is a community based research partnership with Gina Robinson, Executive Director of COYOTE Rhode Island, the state’s first sex worker rights organization. Prior to 2009, Rhode Island was one of just two states in the US to have legalized indoor prostitution, and in 2009, due to heightened pressure from anti-trafficking advocacy groups, the state re-criminalized prostitution in the name of protecting victims of sex trafficking. Rhode Island provides a unique test case to interrogate the efficacy of legal initiatives to combat modern day slavery within the frameworks of labor exploitation, critical modern day slavery studies, and carceral feminism. This study takes race, class, and policing seriously in its interrogation of efforts to combat modern day slavery and asks: how have contemporary anti-trafficking efforts generated new forms of policing, how do they build off existing policing of racial minority and immigrant communities, and how has re-criminalization impacted the levels of violence and exploitation that sex workers experience?
EXTERNAL MAJOR GRANTS
2017-2018 British Academy, Tackling Human Trafficking and Forced Labour in Modern Business, w/ Co-PI Issara Institute, Bangkok Thailand
2015-2016 American Sociological Association, Community Action Research Initiative Spivak Research Grant, w/ COYOTE RI
2013-2014 Ford Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship
2013-2014 American Sociological Association and Sociologists for Women in Society, Minority Fellows Program Fellow (Cohort 40)
2010-2011 Social Science Research Council, Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, Field: Contentious Politics
2008-2009 US Dept. of Education, Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, Vietnamese
2007-2008 US Dept. of Education, Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, Mandarin
2004-2005 Fulbright Fellowship, Beijing University, People’s Republic of China (PRC)
2003 Freeman Asia Foundation, Summer Research Grant
2015 Brown University China Initiative, Faculty Collaboration Grant ($15,000)
2014 Brown University UTRA, “The Art of Protest in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement,” Mabel Fung (‘15); “Labor as Social Control: The Implications of Gendered and Racialized Vocational Training for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women,” Rheem Brooks (’16); “Racial Legacies of Human Trafficking in Brazil,” Eve Woldamikeal (’16)
2013 UC Global Health Institute, Project Grant (Women’s Health and Empowerment)
Public Work: [openDemocracy Beyond Trafficking and Slavery Op-ed Platform]
January 2017. (w/ Joel Quirk). "Human Trafficking Awareness Campaigns: Do the Hidden Costs Outweigh the Practical Benefits." 10 Part Global Policy Debate
"Free Market Evangelism: Political Economies of Religion and Secularism in Modern Day Abolition," The Mission of Development: Religion and Techno-Politics in Asia, National University of Singapore, Asia Research Institute, December 2015.
"Pricing Good Work: Sexual Humanitarianism in Vocational Training," Representing Sexual Humanitarianism, University of Aix-Marseille, September 2015.
“The Anti-Trafficking Rehabilitation Complex.” American Sociological Association Section on Sexualities, Invited Session on Sexual Regulation, Chicago, IL August 2015.
“The Price of Freedom: Moral and Political Economies of the Global Anti-Trafficking Movement.” Sexualities Project at Northwestern, "Remapping the Erotic: Changing Contours in Studies of Sexualities, Identities, and Social Regulation (April 23-24, 2015)
“The Price of Freedom: Political Economies of Anti-Trafficking Rescue in China and Thailand.” American Sociological Association, Sociology of Development Conference, Gender, Politics and Development Panel, March 2015.
“Art and Ethnicity at the Margins: Public Arts Education on the China-Burma Border,” Umbrella Movement: Forum on Arts and Activism, On Arts and Activism Panel, Chinese University of Hong Kong, January 2015.
“Sex and Labor Trafficking: China and Thailand Compared,” Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Chinese Academy of Work and Labor Annual Conference, January 2015.
‘Not in My Backyard’: Carceral Vigilantism Outside the State in the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement.” American Studies Association, Panel on Global Strategies for Sexual Justice, Los Angeles, CA November 2014.
“Free Market Evangelism: Political Economies of Secular and Religious Power in Modern Day Abolitionist Approaches to Combatting Human Trafficking.” National Women’s Studies Association, Cincinnati, OH, November 2013.
“The Political Economy of Human Trafficking Rescue in Thailand’s Commercial Sex Industry.” Council on Thai Studies, Panel on Economies, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, October 2013.
“Health and Rights at the Margins: Human Trafficking and HIV/AIDS Amongst Jingpo Ethnic Communities in Ruili City, China.” People’s Global Action on Migration, Development, and Human Rights, UN High Level Dialogue on Migration & Development, New York, NY, September 2013.
“Discourse Masters and Lyrical Slaves: Authoritarianism Meets Transnational Politics in China’s Response to Labor Trafficking.” American Sociological Association, Labor and Labor Movements Conference on Labor and Global Solidarity, New York, NY, August 2013.
|2015||PhD||University of California, Los Angeles|
|2009||MA||University of California, Los Angeles|
|Watson Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in International Studies||2014-2015|
2017: British Academy, Tackling Human Trafficking and Forced Labour in Modern Business, w/ Co-PI Issara Institute, Bangkok Thailand
2016: Yale University Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Faculty Fellow
2015-2018: Brown University Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Faculty Fellow
2014-2015: Brown University Watson Institute for International Studies, Postdoctoral Fellow
2014: Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow
2014: American Sociological Association Minority Fellowship Program Fellow
2010: Social Science Research Council, Dissertation Proposal Development Fellow
2004: Fulbright Fellow (China)
|Claborn, Kasey||Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine|
|Owens, Emily||Assistant Professor of History|
American Sociological Association (Sections on Sex and Gender, Asia / Asian America, Sexualities, Labor and Labor Movements, Global and Transnational Sociology, Human Rights); American Studies Association; Sociologists for Women in Society; Social Science History Association (Section on Women, Gender and Sexuality); Association for Asian Studies; Association for Asian American Studies; National Women’s Studies Association; Council on Thai Studies
Critial Approaches to Global Humanitarianism in Thailand
This January 2017 Wintersession course will explore three dimensions of market-based solutions to global humanitarian problems in Thailand, ultimately interested in benefits, opportunities, constraints, and/or unintended consequences that global humanitarianism may have. Students will spend one week of intensive study in Providence reading literature on the political economy of development in Thailand, as well as scholarship on critical humanitarianism and industrial complexes around the world. Weeks 2 and 3 will take place in Thailand, first in Bangkok, where students acclimate to life in the capital city, and next in Chiang Mai, where students explore life in a smaller city close to the Burmese border, which is still a hub for different forms of global activism.
Human Trafficking and Humanitarian Industrial Complexes
My Spring 2016 lecture class “The Anti-Trafficking Savior Complex: Saints, Sinners and Modern Day Slavery,” will culminate in a public conversation between Teju Cole on the "White Savior Industrial Complex" and Carol Leigh on the "Anti-Trafficking Industrial Complex." Modern-Day Abolitionism has been critiqued for creating a human trafficking “rescue industry” (Agustín 2007) and my research argues that prior critiques fail to interrogate race and power inequalities across various anti-trafficking projects. Rather than focus on victims of human trafficking as prevalent accounts tend to do, this course de-centers anti-trafficking narratives by focusing on saviors, and how the intersections of race, class, gender, and nation privilege and power undergird in contemporary humanitarian efforts. The course cover a variety of intersectional concepts ranging from: rehabilitation regimes of labor training, sexual humanitarianism, carceral feminism, ethical consumption, the non-profit, and prison industrial complexes.
Transnational Public Humanities Praxis: Ethnicity and Art in China-Burma Borderlands
My Fall 2015 course on “Global China: Forces, Flows, and Frictions” focused on how economic modernization, ethnic disenfranchisement, heroin trafficking, outward migration, and HIV epidemic converge on the lives of youth living on the China-Burma border. The final class project was an exhibition of youth artwork produced by the Songzha Art Project, a community-based arts organization that offers no-cost public art education to ethnic minority youth living in Ruili City, China and internally displaced persons camps in the Kachin State, Myanmar. A physical exhibition of work will take place at Brown in March 2016, and student essays from the course are currently available through a digital exhibition space online (https://globalchinaexbt.wordpress.com). The exhibition will be paired with a seminar that invites Burmese and ethnic minority scholars from China, to share their work in US contexts. Funding for the conference and participant travel has been secured by the China Initiative at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.
|AMST 1500A - Research and Transnational Communities: Qualitative Fieldwork Methods|
|AMST 1500C - Critical Approaches to Global Humanitarianism in Thailand|
|AMST 1600B - Global China: Flows, Forces, and Friction|
|AMST 1600C - The Anti-Trafficking Savior Complex: Saints, Sinners, and Modern-Day Slavery|
|DEVL 1500 - Methods in Development Research|