Follow the Maid

Domestic Worker Migration in and from Indonesia

Olivia Killias

Follow the Maid by Olivia Killias

  • Published: 2018
  • Pages: 246 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series: Gendering Asia
  • Series number: 13
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978-87-7694-226-7, £65.00 (June 2018)
ISBN Paperback: 978-87-7694-227-4, £25.00 ()

About the book

  • Explores domestic worker migration in and from Indonesia, one of the main labour-sending countries in the world, in fine-grained ethnographic detail.
  • Follows the process of Indonesian women being recruited, trained, certified, sent abroad as domestic workers and returned home.
  • Provides key insights into the gendered control of mobility and labour in times of neoliberal globalization and makes an important contribution to decentering critical migration scholarship.

This finely observed study unveils the workings of the Indonesian migration regime, one that has sent hundreds of thousands of women abroad as domestic workers each year. Drawing on extended ethnographic research since 2007, the book literally follows migrant women from their recruitment by local brokers in a village in upland Central Java, via secluded 'training' camps in Jakarta, employment in gated middle-class homes within Indonesia and in Malaysia and back home again. Killias’ analysis uncovers the colonial genealogies of contemporary domestic worker migration and unmasks the gendered moralizing discourses on ‘illegal’ migration and ‘trafficking’ as constraining migrant mobility. By exploring the moral, social, economic and legal processes by which Indonesian women are turned into ‘maids’ for the global care economy, Olivia Killias brings the reader directly into the nerve-racking lives of migrant village women, and reveals the richness and ambiguity of their experiences, going beyond stereotypical representations of them as ‘victims of trafficking’.

Critical Acclaim:

"Beautifully researched and ethnographically rich, this book literally 'follows' Indonesian women from village, to training camp, to Malaysia, and back again. Acutely attentive to time and place, Killias weaves together compelling narratives and provides important insights into the multi-stranded processes that create contemporary indentured workers." - Nicole Constable, University of Pittsburgh

"Indonesian women who work abroad as maids are subject to a patronizing, invasive, and rather opaque apparatus of control, purportedly for their protections. [...] Killias offers unique insights on how this apparatus works, and the critical reflections of women who are subject to its force. Well written, and very informative." - Tania Murray Li, University of Toronto

"In the voluminous literature on transnational female migrant domestic workers, Follow the Maid stands out in its ethnographic attention to the process whereby villagers are transformed into migrants. This critical corrective will be of great interest to scholars of gender and migration, in Asia and beyond." - Johan Lindquist, University of Stockholm

About the author

Olivia Killias is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, University of Zurich, and has extended research experience in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Go to author page


by Ellina Samantroy
From journal: Asian Journal of Social Science
‘”On the whole, the book is a rich ethnographic account of the Indonesian migration regime particularly, unveiling the experience of migration by grasping migrant women’s aspirations and their distinct orientation towards future. The author has very carefully documented the narratives that contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the multi-layered process of migration. The book is an interesting reading and will be of immense interest for scholars working on gender and labour issues.”