Migration and Affective Labour in Zadie Smith’s “The Embassy of Cambodia” and Haresh Sharma’s Model Citizens

Main Article Content

Nanthanoot Udomlamun


This research article was a study of the interconnectedness between migration, gender and affective labour against the backdrop of neoliberal and neo-imperialist exploitation and state control in two contemporary literary texts. Originally published in The New Yorker in 2013, Zadie Smith’s short story, “The Embassy of Cambodia”, depicts the life of Fatou, a migrant domestic servant to the Derawals in their London suburban house. By taking a narrative detour through global and historical issues such as colonialism, genocide, migration, and globalization, Smith wrote about characters who practice various types of affective labour, commonly regarded as ‘women’s work’. The second primary text of the study was Haresh Sharma’s play, Model Citizens, published in 2012, which touched upon the pressing issues of multiculturalism and migrants in contemporary Singapore through a portrayal of three female characters: a minister’s wife, an Indonesia maid and a Paranakan or Strait-born Chinese woman whose son had committed suicide. Sharma’s play is a critique of “Singaporean Dream” by posing an immanent question: Who is/are the model citizen(s) for the Singaporean state? Built upon Marxist and feminist theories of affective and immaterial labour put forth by scholars such as Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri and Silvia Feredici, this article was an analysis and a discussion of how affective labour and migrant domestic workers were represented in the two texts. The researcher drew a conclusion on how Smith’s fiction and Sharma’s play potentially suggest a path to solidarity and liberation of domestic workers in the current system of global capitalism, state control, and patriarchy.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Udomlamun, N. (2020). Migration and Affective Labour in Zadie Smith’s “The Embassy of Cambodia” and Haresh Sharma’s Model Citizens. Journal of Human Sciences, 21(3), 9-23. Retrieved from https://so03.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/JHUMANS/article/view/246091
Research Articles


Appadurai, A. (2000). Grassroots globalisation and the research imagination. Public culture, 12(1). 1-19.
Appiah, K. A. (2010). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time). NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Bolton, S.C. (2007). The lady vanishes: women’s work and affective labor. International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, 3(1). 1-9.
Bunsom, T. (2013). “Paradise Betrayed: Investigating the Plights of Female Domestic Workers in Two Contemporary Plays”. Journal of Liberal Arts. Ubon Ratchathani University. 10(2), 1-16.
Chua, BH. (2003). Multiculturalism in Singapore: an instrument of social control. Race & Class, 44(3). 58-77.
Federici, S. (2006). Precarious labor: A feminist viewpoint. Lecture. Retrieved from https://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/precarious-labor-a-feminist-viewpoint/.
Foucault, M. (1978). Histoire de la sexualite [History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction]. (R. Hurley, Trans.). NY: Pantheon.
Hardt, M. (1999). Affective labor. Boundary 2, 26(2). 89-100.
International Labour Organization. (2010). Report IV (1): Decent work for domestic workers. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/public/libdoc/ilo/2009/109B09_24_engl.pdf
International Labour Organization. (2013). Domestic Workers across the World: Global and Regional Statistics and the Extent of Legal Protection. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_173363.pdf
Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso.
Lazzarato, M. (1996). Immaterial labour. Radical thought in Italy: A potential politics, 133-147.
Mackie, V., & Stevens, C. S. (2009). Globalisation and body politics. Asian studies review, 33(3). 257-273.
Negri, A., & Hardt, M. (1999). Value and affect. Boundary 2. 77-88.
Shapiro, M. J. (2014). War Crimes, Atrocity and Justice. NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Sharma, H. (2012). Model Citizens. Singapore: Epigram Books.
Smith, Z. (2013). The Embassy of Cambodia. London: Hamish Hamilton.
Spivak, G. C. (1985). Scattered speculations on the question of value. Diacritics, 15(4). 73-93.
Tonkin, B. (2013, November 8). Book Review: The Embassy of Cambodia, by Zadie Smith. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-review-embassy-cambodia-zadie-smith-8927793.html
Weeks, K. 2007. Life within and against work: Affective labor, feminist critique, and post-Fordist politics. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization, 7(1). 233-49.
Zapata, B. P. 2015. Decolonizing Trauma: A Study of Multidirectional Memory in Zadie Smith’s “The Embassy of Cambodia”. Humanities, 4(4). 523-534.