Mahua Sarkar

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2013/2014
discipline Sociology
Associate Professor, Departments of Sociology and Asian / Asian American Studies/ Women's Studies Program Binghamton University

Research project

‘Doing Abroad’ (Bidesh Kara): Circular Migration and Bangladeshi Transnational Contract Workers


In recent years, transnational temporary contract work or circular migration, as it is called today, has sparked much discussion in international academic and policy circles, as more Western European societies join the affluent Persian Gulf and countries in East and South-east Asia, in experimenting once again with foreign guest-worker programmes. This project contributes to this growing interest in temporary contract work/circular migration, by bringing together theoretical insights from a number of fields of research within sociology and history—migration studies, historical debates over the status of labour, and life course research—as well as feminist scholarship on work, and interdisciplinary debates on methods in the human sciences to bear on a study of temporary contract labour and circular migration, the fastest growing trend within international migration. While temporary contract work involves both ‘high-skilled’, highly paid professionals and ‘low-skilled’ manual workers, this study focuses exclusively on the latter, specifically on male contract workers from Bangladesh—a major source of migrant labour in the world today. Drawing on extensive ethnographic research among Bangladeshi contract workers in Singapore, on-going research in Bangladesh among return workers and their families, as well as archival and secondary sources on the history of work, the study aims to develop a critical understanding of what constitutes ‘normalcy’ in the context of ‘low-skilled’, transnational temporary contract work today, in the absence of explicit coercion or physical confinement. A key argument being made here is that circular migration produces specific forms of alienation and potentially long-term life-stage specific challenges for contract workers.  Theoretically and substantively, the study engages critically with larger scholarly discussions about the migration-development nexus, the human rights abuses rampant in contract work, the unclear divide between ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labour and work and non-work, the increased entanglements among different regions of the world, and new ways of thinking about linked lives, across geopolitically structured space. Methodologically, the project is interdisciplinary, reflecting my long-term interest in the epistemological issues underlying debates within sociology, critical ethnography, and oral history. The aim, in short, is to produce a monograph that is substantively relevant, theoretically both robust and nuanced, and methodologically innovative.



Mahua Sarkar is Associate Professor, Departments of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies, and the Women's Studies Program, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York. Recently, she was fellow at IGK, Arbeit und Lebenslauf in globalgeschichtlicher Perspektive in the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany, and Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology, Specialization in Comparative International Development from the Johns Hopkins University. 


Her areas of research include Historical Sociology, Modern South Asian History, Religious Nationalisms, Gender/Feminist Theory, Postcolonial and Subaltern Studies, Oral History and Critical Ethnography, Transnational Migration, and Global Labour History.

Selected publications


‘Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain and the Debate over Gender Relations among Muslim Intellectuals in Late Colonial Bengal’, Asiatic, vol. 7, no. 2, December 2013, pp. 7-21.


‘Muslims in Motion: Islam and National Identity in the Bangladeshi Diaspora (Review of Kibria, Nazli)’, Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, vol. 42, no. 1, January 2013, pp. 92-94.


'Between Craft and Method: Meaning and Inter-Subjectivity in Oral History Analysis', The Journal of Historical Sociology, vol25, no. 4, December 2012, pp. 578-600.


Visible Histories, Disappearing Women: Producing Muslim Womanhood in Late Colonial Bengal, Duke University Press, 2008. 


‘Colonialism’, with J. Böröcz, in H.K. Anheier, M. Juergensmeyer & V. Faessel (eds), Encyclopedia of Global Studies, SAGE, Thousand Oaks, 2012, pp. 229-234.


‘Empires’, with J. Böröcz, in H.K. Anheier, M. Juergensmeyer & V. Faessel (eds), Encyclopedia of Global Studies, SAGE, Thousand Oaks, 2012, pp. 476-480.


‘Difference in Memory’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 48, no. 1, 2006, pp. 139-168.


‘What is the EU?’, with J. Borocz, International Sociology, vol. 20, no. 2, 2005, pp. 153-173.


‘Looking for Feminism’, Gender & History, vol. 16, no. 2, 2004, pp. 318-333.




senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Biology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Psychology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History of Science and Technology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History