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This study starts from the puzzling observation that the norm of migrant worker protection has produced multiple understandings in both meaning and application in three Southeast Asian countries: Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. This variety is the result of an ongoing process of norm interpretation and reinterpretation in which norm promoters and norm adopters engage in complex and recursive processes of deliberation and contention. Building on the recent debate advanced by critical norm research in IR, this talk presents a new theoretical model or “the norm contestation model” in capturing the effect and operation of norms. The model demonstrates that the diversity in the meaning of norms is a product of norm contestation where actors challenge the validity of claims on how migrant worker rights should be understood and protected. It encapsulates social interaction among involved actors in contesting what norms mean and how they ought to be applied in a particular context. Underlying these arguments, this presentation demonstrates the story of how migrant worker rights norms have been (re)interpreted, contested and argued over in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
Ruji Auethavornpipat is a PhD Candidate in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University. His research focuses on norm contestation, migration governance and human trafficking policies especially in Southeast Asia. At the height of migrant trafficking politicisation in Southeast Asia, Ruji took up the Asia Studies Fellowship at the East-West Center in Washington, DC in 2017 where he conducted research on ASEAN-US cooperation on human trafficking. This research was also supported by the Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK’s (ASEASUK) Research and Impact Awards. Ruji previously held visiting fellowships at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences, Germany; ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore; and Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Indonesia.