Laura Hyun Yi KangJan 7, 2021
Traffic in Asian Women
Duke University Press 2020
Can we ever overcome the epistemological barrier to conceptualizing Asian women not as particular cases but as theories, and can women of color academics be heard in this process? This is one of the central questions Laura Hyun Yi Kang grapples with in her groundbreaking book, Traffic in Asian Women (Duke University Press, 2020).
Kang, in conversation with works such as Kuan-Hsing Chen’s Asia as Method: Towards Deimperialization, contests the uses of Asian women as a bounded unit of knowledge and proposes “start[ing] off from ‘Asian women’ as an imperial effect and multivalent discourse of intra-Asian contestation and transpacific nonknowing” (35). Contesting the limitation of rendering a generalized group as a bounded unit legible for academics’ expertise and dissection, Kang proceeds to examine “unexpected transfigurations” and “investments in sympathies” of Asian women in three categories that became important for knowledge dissemination within and by the universities, NGOs and UN agencies: “Traffic in women,” “sexual slavery,” and “violence against women.” Further, Kang critically analyzes how the contours of human rights and women’s rights discourses as well as political economy shaped compensation, truth disclosure, and memorialization of “comfort women” transnationally. Through the figure of Asian women, Kang critiques the ways in which capitalist and imperialist global governance has shaped international justice and discourses of redress, drawing a boundary in the knowledge production of Asian women in their complexity, nuance, and unknowability. Kang's work is critical for any scholars who are interested in the questions of interdisciplinarity, critical area and empire studies, justice, transnational feminism, critical university studies, cultural production and social movement.
Laura Hyun Yi Kang is a Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of California, Irvine. Her previous book, which contends with the problem of disciplinarity, is Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women (Duke University Press, 2002) and lays out some of the grounds of the discussions that continues in her new book, Traffic in Asian Women.
Da In Ann Choi is a PhD student at UCLA in the Gender Studies department. Her research interests include care labor and migration, reproductive justice, social movement, citizenship theory, and critical empire studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.