Grad Students

Elena Shih

Contact Information

Office  Not Available

My dissertation, "Freedom Markets: Moral and Political Economies of Human Trafficking in China, Thailand and the U.S.," is a multi-sited and comparative ethnography based off 36 months of fieldwork on efforts to combat human trafficking in Beijing, Bangko

Drawing on fieldwork as a participant action researcher with faith-based and secular social movement organizations--ranging from grassroots evangelical Christian missionary projects, to sex worker rights cooperatives, to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project to Combat Trafficking in Persons--my dissertation explores the mobilization of rights and morality in between the state and the market in the contemporary movement against human trafficking.

My work is inspired by transnational feminist and post-colonial theories, and I bring these frameworks to bear on political and economic sociology. I examine hierarchies of race, class and gendered inequality between social movement actors in the global north and their alleged subjects in the global south. Overall, my dissertation argues that despite obvious differences across political economic regimes, and ideological orientations of anti-trafficking movement organizations, contemporary anti-trafficking efforts reproduce women's global subordination at both the discursive and labor process levels. This research is pivotal for understanding how transnational social movements are successful according to their stated objectives and for people they intend to serve.

Fields of Study

Gender and Sexuality, Transnational Race and Ethnicity, Social Movements, International Migration, Labor in the Global South, East and Southeast Asia, Ethnographic Methods


Bernstein, Elizabeth and Elena Shih (equal authorship). Forthcoming. “The Erotics of Authenticity: Sex Trafficking and Reality Tourism in Thailand.” Social Politics.

Shih, Elena. 2013. “Health and Rights at the Margins: Human Trafficking and HIV/AIDS Amongst Jingpo Ethnic Communities in Ruili City, China.” The Anti-Trafficking Review, vol. 2.

Shih, Elena. 2013. “After-Trafficking Work: Moral, Ethical and Vocational Rehabilitation.“ In Forcing Issues: Rethinking and Rescaling Human Trafficking in the Asia-Pacific Region, edited by Sallie Yea and Pattana Kitiarsa, Routledge.

Cooke, Abigail, Taekyoon Kim, Peter Nederlander, Elena Shih, and Chris Tilly (equal authorship). 2012. “Introduction: Labor in the Global South—A Search for Solutions.” Journal of Workplace Rights, Vol. 15, number 3-4/2010-2011, pgs. 293-301. (guest edited volume)

Shih, Elena. 2007. “Spirits in Traffic: Transient Community Formation in Opposition to  Forced Victimization,” Shout Out: Women of Color Respond to Violence Against Women, edited by Maria Ochoa & Barbara Ige, Seal Press.

Shih, Elena. Under Review. “The Migration (Rescue) Industry: Commodifying Migrant Labor in the Global Anti-Trafficking Movement.“ In The Migration Industry: Brokers, Buses, and the Business of International Mobility to the United States, edited by Ruben Hernandez-Leon. Contracted with Russell Sage Foundation. 

Grants and Awards

2013-2014       Ford Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship          

2013-2014       American Sociological Association, Minority Fellows Program Fellow

2013               UC Global Health Institute, Project Grant (Women’s Health and Empowerment)

2012-2013       UCLA Asia Institute, Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

2012-2013       UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, Dissertation Writing Grant

2010-2011       UC Pacific Rim Advanced Graduate Research Fellowship 

2010               UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Best Graduate Student                             Paper 

2010               SSRC Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (Interdisciplinary                                            Approaches to the Study of        Contentious Politics)

2009-2010       UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Mini-Grant 

2009               UCLA Center for the Study of Women, Travel Grant 

2009               UCLA Graduate Division Graduate Summer Research Mentorship (Ching Kwan Lee) 

2008-2009       FLAS Fellowship-Southeast Asian Languages, Beginning Vietnamese 

2008               UCLA Vice-Provost Award for Outstanding Contribution to Undergraduate Education 

2008               UCLA Graduate Division Graduate Summer Research Mentorship (Roger Waldinger)

2007-2008       FLAS Fellowship-East Asian Languages, Advanced Mandarin 

2007-2012       UCLA Department of Sociology, Departmental Award 

2004-2005       Fulbright Fellowship, Beijing University Center for Women's Law Studies and                                   Legal Aid, People's Republic of China 

2003               Freeman Asia Summer Grant

Conference Presentations

“Mobilizing Markets and Marginality: Moral Economies of Low Wage Women’s Work in Anti-Trafficking Rescue Projects.” Association for Asian American Studies, Panel on Economic Narratives and Moral Subjects: Asians in Old and New Capital Circuits,   Seattle, WA, April 2013.

“Consuming ‘Reality’: The New Sex Tourist Industry in Bangkok and Chiangmai, Thailand.” Social Science History Association, Panel on Consuming Activism, Vancouver, BC, November 2012.

“Health and Rights at the Margins: Human Trafficking and HIV/AIDS Amongst Jingpo Ethnic Communities in Ruili City, China.”  UC Global Health Institute Center of Expertise on Women’s Health and Empowerment Annual Meeting, Mill Valley, CA, November 2012.

“Governing Trafficking in Persons: Global Governance and the State in the People’s Republic of  China.” American Sociological Association, Panel on Political Sociology, August 2012.

“Managing Migration and Sexuality through the Anti-Trafficking Movement in China and Thailand.” Social Science History Association,Panel onTransnationalMigration and Sexuality, Boston, MA, November 2011.

“Globalizing Morality and Rights: Socializing Global Human Trafficking Norms through Markets, Movements and States.” American Sociological Association, Panel on Global and Transnational Perspectives on Intersectionality, Las Vegas, NV. August 2011.

 “Do No Harm: A Critique of Rehabilitation of Trafficked Persons.“ Forcing Issues: Rethinking and Rescaling Human Trafficking in the Asia-Pacific Region, Singapore Nat’l University, Oct. 2010.

“Globalizing Morality and Justice: The Transnational Moral Economy of Women’s Work in the Global Anti-Trafficking Movement.” US Social Forum, Contemporary Social Movements and the Social Forum Process, Wayne State University, June 2010; and Stony Brook University Graduate Student Ethnography Conference, New York, NY, April 2010

“Global Framing in the Transnational Anti-Trafficking Movement.” UCLA IRLE Graduate Conference on Social Movement Organizing, May 2010.

“Humanitarian Work: The Transnational Moral Economy of Women’s Work in the Global Anti-Trafficking Movement.”IRLE Conference, University of California Irvine, April 2009.

“US Anti-Trafficking Policy in the Chinese Context.” International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, August 2005.

“Chinese Non-Governmental Organization Participation Ten Years After Huairou.”UN Fifth World Conference on Women, New York, March 2005.


Ching Kwan Lee, Elizabeth Bernstein (Columbia University), Gail Kligman, William Roy 


2014 PhD Sociology, UCLA | 2009 MA Sociology, UCLA | 2004 BA Asian Studies, with minors in Women's Studies & Economics, Pomona College