RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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129 Interrogating relationships between spatial and social mobility in the Global South (1)
Affiliation Population Geography Research Group
Developing Areas Research Group
Convenor(s) Marta Bivand Erdal (Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway)
Chair(s) Marta Bivand Erdal (Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Sir Martin Evans Building - Physiology B Lecture Theatre
Session abstract This session interrogates the variegated relationships between spatial mobility and social mobility in societies in the Global South. For the purposes of this session, spatial mobility includes rural-to-urban migration, internal and international migration, whether regionally or further afield. Social mobility, in turn, is understood in contextual, emic terms, as improvement, in terms of quality of life, the realization or promise of prospects for life, including but not limited to securing material wealth. For several decades the relationships between (international) migration and development have received substantial attention, notably foregrounding the roles of remittances. Scrutinizing the ways in which migration interacts with development processes, one conclusion appears to be that migration is an integral component to social change, whereas its exact functions and dynamics are highly context-dependent. Meanwhile, there also appears to be potential for moving the understanding of relationships between spatial mobility and social mobility further. This session seeks to push such understandings further by drawing on scholarship at the intersections of geography, development and migration studies. The papers build on empirical cases from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and consider past, present and future spatial mobilities, and their interplay with different iterations of social mobility.
Linked Sessions Interrogating relationships between spatial and social mobility in the Global South (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Development time, social time: memory and futurity in rural Thailand
Jonathan Rigg (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
In this paper I reflect on how development transitions (planned, real and failed) intersect with social time: how the blueprints of state efforts to engineer futures through plans come to rest in settlements, household livelihoods, and individual lives. To reveal these intersections and the frictions that arise the paper draws on recent fieldwork in rural Thailand and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The intention is to show how while in general terms modernity at the local level does echo state intentionalities, there is at the same time an emerging gulf between what is valued and what is not, and in the pathways that are followed.
“I choose how much I want to work” Exploring the precarity of Beijing’s courier delivery drivers
Simon Malyon (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
In China, the market size for consumer deliveries has grown over 20% annually since 2010 to become the world’s biggest e-commerce retail market. Facilitating this growth are delivery drivers consisting of largely young male migrants drawn from rural China attracted by discourses of higher salaries, work outside of the factory and the opportunities of living in a big, modern city. Precarity as a conceptual framework is being used to connect political and economic trends seen as leading to a growth in temporary and transient work forms while moving beyond the workplace to consider the social location of workers. This paper finds that Beijing’s migrant delivery drivers are experiencing a highly restrictive environment in the city and an increasingly fluid job market. Stability for migrants comes from having as much work as one can manage and the ability to maximize income earning opportunities in intense bursts. While subject to intense precaritizing processes migrants are exploiting the opportunities available in Beijing for lives to be lived elsewhere.
Multi story car park: some tentative ideas about the new African middle class and cars
Ben Page (University College London, UK)
In practice class formation in urban West Africa probably has as much to do with marques as Marx. This paper explores relations between upward social mobility and scales of spatial mobility by looking at the social life of cars with two different groups of people within the new middle class in Cameroon: first there is the story of the transnationals and second there is the story of those who have prospered without leaving home – the domestic middle class. In part it is about the cars that sit in Cameroon waiting for their mistresses and masters to return from across the world. It is about how those cars are brought to life when they are needed and about the social life that they subsequently enable before returning to hibernation as their owners move away again. But it also draws on interviews with the domestic middle class - for whom cars are about everyday spatial mobility and equally continuous expressions of social mobility. Unlike aging American academics (Fish, 1993) the interviewees are untroubled by the dilemma of how to reconcile increased prosperity with the proper disdain towards the goods prosperity brings. Instead cars are an important public index of individual success and as such connect to a range of emotions, struggles, jealousies, knowledges, aesthetics and moralities. They make the case for a deep interconnection between spatial and social mobility among the middle class.
Labour migration and social mobility in the Myanmar-Singapore corridor: temporality, performance, and redistribution
Alex Ma (University College London, UK)
Emerging from decades of political isolation and economic turmoil, Myanmar has become an increasingly important exporter of labour within Southeast Asia. Much of these migrants can be said to be ‘economic’ or ‘labour’ migrants. However, beyond narratives of economically-motivated mobility, this paper discusses the need to understand the social-spatial mobility relationship through both a temporal and a cultural lens. Drawing on survey and interview data with low-wage Burmese migrant workers in Singapore, this paper highlights how, on the one hand, the ‘returns’ of migration – of remittance generation and household savings for example – are intricately tied to a common narrative of debt repayment and survival spending. This is further implicated within context-specific migration regulations in labour-receiving regimes such as Singapore. On the other hand, social mobility in the Burmese context is also inflected with notions of karmic accumulation through filial piety and donations to village-level monasteries. Where this paper finds donations to be a common and significant expenditure of remittances, analyses suggest these rituals are more than just social performances of religiosity but also aids in the localised redistribution of quasi-public resources in Myanmar. Migration and social mobility, in other words, implicates on spatialities beyond the individual or the household.
Transnational housing investments as a prism on the roles of migration in the emergence of a new middle class in Pakistan
Marta Bivand Erdal (Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway)
This paper utilizes examples of transnational housing investments to explore some of the roles (and non-roles) that migration plays in the rise of a ‘new middle class’ in Pakistan. The rise of new middle classes (in Asia) is associated, among other, with increasing ownership of household appliances and improved housing conditions. Simultaneously, it is well-known from analyses of remittances-spending, that the money migrants send home is often spent on such household appliances, or improving housing conditions, as well as more broadly for livelihood purposes. Drawing on ethnographic data from Pakistani Punjab, the paper develops a typology of transnational housing investments, and the ways in which these intersect with desires for – and actual – social mobility; sometimes in themselves symbolic of social mobility achieved through international migration. Transnational housing investments range from repairs on family homes, to migrant initiated or joint investment with non-migrant relatives in new homes, in places of origin (e.g. villages), or in new places of family residence (often in cities), to investment in real estate in urban centers, including in ‘overseas enclaves’ which are advertised toward a target group of ‘overseas Pakistanis’. First, transnational housing investments offer insights into relationships between spatial and social mobility for migrants and their close others, as seen within an origin context. Second, they also offer select insights into the roles (and non-roles) of international migration in the rise of new middle class in Pakistan, revealing of new and complex class hierarchies, produced through current processes of urbanisation and economic growth.