Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies


Elena Shih is Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, and Faculty Affiliate in the Departments of Sociology, East Asian Studies, and Watson Institute for International Studies. Shih is the author of, Manufacturing Freedom: Sex Work, Anti-Trafficking Rehab, and the Racial Wages of Rescue (University of California Press 2023), a global ethnography of the transnational social movement to combat human trafficking in China, Thailand, and the United States. She also the co-author of, White Supremacy, Racism and the Coloniality of Anti-Trafficking (Routledge 2022), with Kamala Kempadoo, an edited volume that explores the hidden sources of systemic power built into anti-trafficking interventions.

At Brown, Shih has received the 2019 Hazeltine Citation for Excellence in Teaching, the 2020 Swearer Center Award for Community Engaged Research, the 2021 Karen T. Romer Award for Excellence in Advising, and the 2023 Asian American Alumni Association Robert Lee Community Champion Award. In 2021, Shih was named a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader through the Institute for Citizens and Scholars. Shih teaches courses on human trafficking, labor migration and sex work, social enterprise, transnational Asian American Studies, East and Southeast Asian borderlands, critical humanitarianism studies, and ethnographic methods.

Shih directs a human trafficking research cluster as faculty fellow at Brown's Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. Recent op-eds about her research and organizing as a core collective member of Red Canary Song appear in The New York Times and Providence Journal. Shih co-leads community engaged research teams that investigate the Human Trafficking research cluster themes of: (1) Whitewashing Abolition: Race, Displacement, and Combating Human Trafficking; and (2) Worker Voice and Worker Organizing in Global Supply Chains, and (3) Policing Asian Massage Work

During the 2019-2020 academic year, Shih was an ACLS Luce Postdoctoral Fellow in China Studies and conducted research for her project on "Belt and Road Borderlands: Building the Periphery on the China-Myanmar Border." Two op-eds about this research appear in: Myanmar Times and Al Jazeera

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. In 2016, Shih was named a visiting faculty fellow in Human Trafficking 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). She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance, and in 2018 was appointed to the Rhode Island State Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Shih earned a PhD in Sociology from UCLA, and BA in Asian Studies and Women's Studies from Pomona College.

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