Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
China Initiative

Elena Shih

Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies


Elena Shih is Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, and Faculty Affiliate in the Departments of Sociology, East Asian Studies, and Watson Institute for International Studies. Shih's book project, "Manufacturing Freedom: Rescue, Rehabilitation, and the Slave Free Good" (under contract with University of California Press), is a global ethnography of the transnational social movement to combat human trafficking in China, Thailand, and the United States. Shih teaches courses on human trafficking, labor migration and sex work, social enterprise, East and Southeast Asian borderlands, critical humanitarianism studies, and ethnographic methods.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, Shih is on research leave as an ACLS Luce Postdoctoral Fellow in China Studies. Shih will be conducting research for a project exploring "Belt and Road Borderlands: Building the Periphery on the China-Myanmar Border."

As Faculty Fellow at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Shih co-leads--with Bella Robinson, Executive Director of COYOTE RI--a community engaged research team that investigates the "Policing of Sex Workers Rights." Additionally, the Human Trafficking research cluster focuses on the themes of: (1) Whitewashing Abolition: Race, Displacement, and Combating Human Trafficking; and (2) Worker Voice and Worker Organizing in Global Supply Chains.

Shih serves on the editorial boards for The Anti-Trafficking Reviewa peer-reviewed journal of the Global Alliance to Combat Traffic in Women, and openDemocracy's Beyond Trafficking and Slavery op-ed platform. Shih is a former visiting faculty fellow at Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, where she is a member of the Human Trafficking working group (2017-2019). Shih earned a PhD in Sociology from UCLA, and BA in Asian Studies and Women's Studies from Pomona College.