22 December 2017: Turning Confusion to Clarity: Yale-NUS Professors Publish New Books on Multinational Maids, the Poetics of Ruin and Literary Realism

By Daryl Yang | Image by Melissa Wang

Despite their busy schedules teaching and working with students at Yale-NUS College, faculty members continue to contribute to the academic advancements in their fields, writing and publishing books to share their knowledge and research with the world.

Assistant Professor of Humanities (Literature) Andrew Hui’s first book, The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature was recently published by Fordham University Press.

The book was based on Dr Hui’s dissertation, part of the graduation requirements for his PhD from the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He argues that the Renaissance was more appropriately a “ruin-naissance” – the birth of the ruin as a category of cultural discourse.

“I chose the field of Renaissance studies because I’m pretty much interested in all aspects of culture and the humanists in the European Renaissance were pretty much interested in everything too. Also, the period is a good pivot between the worlds of antiquity and modernity,” he shared.

The publishing process is often one that takes several years and Professor Hui shared that he took nine years to complete his.

“The writing didn’t take too long, but the revisions were innumerable and the review process seems interminable. All in all, from the first word I typed on my computer to seeing it in print, it was almost nine years!” he reflected.

Another faculty member whose book will be published later in November is Associate Professor of Social Sciences (Sociology and Public Policy) Anju Paul. Her book, Multinational Maids: Stepwise Migration in a Global Labour Market, is being published by Cambridge University Press.

Like Dr Hui, Assoc Prof Paul’s book was also based on her doctoral dissertation.

“I first began conducting fieldwork in Asia on this topic in 2008, but I have been conducting interviews and surveys for this book all the way up until late 2016,” she shared.

However, it was in Singapore that her research direction took a turn after she met a Filipino domestic worker at Lucky Plaza, a shopping mall where many Filipino women gather during the weekend.

“She had previously worked in Saudi Arabia for several years, then returned to the Philippines, tried (and failed) to secure a job as a live-in caregiver in Canada, and was now in Singapore applying for a visa to Italy where she was going to start a job with a Saudi family. As she told me her story, I was amazed by the number and variety of destinations she had considered working in. I had never before considered that migrant domestic workers could be ‘multinational maids’, so this resulted in a shift in my interviewing approach,” she explained.

“From that point onwards, I made sure to ask all the migrant domestic workers I met if they had worked in multiple countries, if they wanted to, why they wanted to, and what their plan was to get to their next overseas destination. It was these questions that opened up a whole new research terrain for me, and became the basis of this book.”

Based on her rigorous study of more than 1,200 subjects’ migration trajectories to reveal how these migrants work in a series of overseas countries to improve their lives, Assoc Prof Paul hopes to provides an “alternative viewpoint on migrant domestic workers in Asia, one that recognises their future planning abilities, dynamic decision-making, imaginative capacities, and aspirations for themselves and their families”.

Assoc Prof Paul has also brought her expertise in this field into the classroom, having taught migration-related classes such as ‘International Migration’ and ‘Globalisation on the Ground’. In addition, she organised a Learning Across Borders (LAB) programme to Hong Kong with a group of Yale-NUS students who conducted surveys with migrant domestic workers and met with different stakeholders involved in migrant domestic workers issues.

“The students were so enthusiastic about this project that they conducted more than 600 surveys during our time in Hong Kong. In fact, I discuss their survey data in my book as well!” Assoc Prof Paul shared.

For Associate Professor of Literature Geoffrey Baker, his teaching and writing similarly often intersect with one another. Assoc Prof Baker taught a class titled ‘Novel Evidence’ last semester and is currently working on a book on the same topic.

According to Assoc Prof Baker, the book focuses on “the relationship between evolutions in evidence law in the 18th and 19th century in Great Britain, and novels that depict scenes of evidence-gathering or knowledge-construction, especially where there are legalistic claims or contexts”, such as detective or courtroom scenes.

Assoc Prof Baker also recently published his first book, The Aesthetics of Clarity and Confusion: Literature and Engagement since Nietzsche and the Naturalists, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

“In some ways, this book is the whole reason I went to graduate school in the first place, because I found myself then obsessing over the question of what good literature is in the world, if it is good for anything. Those questions were a starting point, but I became less interested, as the research progressed, in providing some definitive answer to them and more interested in a dichotomy that seemed to be organising all of the conversation around those questions,” he explained.

Having taught Literature & Humanities as part of the Common Curriculum and read other writers such as modern Chinese writer Lu Xun, Assoc Prof Baker noted that he has thus far had a “particularly western European focus” owing to the fact that he was primarily trained in western European literature.

“Now that I know more about Lu Xun, I think that he could have fitted very interestingly into this study,” he remarked.

In addition, since moving to Singapore, Assoc Prof Baker has developed a greater interest in the region. “I find myself increasingly interested in this region and how focusing on it changes some of what I’ve thought about the areas in which I’ve worked,” he noted.

Reflecting on his experience at Yale-NUS College thus far, Assoc Prof Baker shared that something he enjoys most has been the vibrant community. “I am floored by how motivated, talented, enterprising, and collegial Yale-NUS students are, and they inspire me and challenge me to try to be the best teacher and student I can be,” he shared.