For some migrant farm workers, exiting their state-approved contracts can provide an everyday means to refuse poor working conditions and evade coercive immigration and employment controls that are endemic to the agricultural streams of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Exiting their employment, an action that workers refer to as ‘escape’, puts at risk their right to legally reside in Canada.
However, in the Identities article, '"Escaping" managed labour migration: worker exit as precarious migrant agency', I examine how workers’ first-hand depictions of ‘escaping’ employment reveal new insights into how workers may claim a space of belonging that contradicts their experiences of status-based vulnerability.
By leaving the farm and by extension Canada’s state-managed labour migration regime, workers are both refusing a life of precarity and embracing an unknown future where hope and chance may reveal a happier and more desirable life.
I felt hopeless and sad. I was aware that there was nothing I could do. I packed my bag and hid it under the bed. My bag stayed hidden there for a few hours and then I escaped from the bunkhouse.
Deciding to quit their state-approved employer can be an important episode in migrant farm workers’ personal biographies of work and migration. Workers often describe sneaking out of their employer-provided housing complexes in the darkness of night, walking for hours along rural roads searching for the nearest payphone, and undertaking days-long Canada-wide bus rides in search of work and support in bigger cities.
What becomes clear from talking to workers about their decisions to ‘escape’ managed labour migration is that packing their bags and leaving the farm in search of better work opportunities and a life free from invasive immigration controls provides an everyday chance for workers to act on the aspirations that originally motivated their decisions to come to Canada.
I wanted to take advantage of the situation and to not lose the big opportunity to be in Canada, a country where the future will be better for me economically, from the perspective that one day I could provide better opportunities for my people, for my children and my family. If I go back to my country I will live in poverty.
In their refusal to inhabit the narrow terms of their contractual agreements to the state and their employer, workers are thus claiming an everyday space of belonging, however insecure and unpredictable this space may be. Placing themselves outside of the reach of their employers and of the state is a way for workers to both refuse institutionalised precarity and carve out an autonomous life that is at once meaningful and imperceptible to institutional mechanisms of power, and thus poses an analytical challenge to the more conventional understanding that visibility is central to social and political subjectivity.
Blog post by Adam Perry, St. Francis Xavier University, Canada
Read the full article: Perry, Adam. 'Escaping' managed labour migration: worker exit as precarious migrant agency. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1589157
Being international, open and cosmopolitan is ‘cool’. This is specifically true for students at elite universities, where values such as multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism are promoted and enhanced by diversity-related activities and spaces. But what do students actually mean when they self-identify as cosmopolitans or global citizens? Do they all mean the same thing (probably not)? And what role does cosmopolitanism actually play in their lives?
My research, as explored in the Identities article, 'Exploring disjuncture: elite students' use of cosmopolitanism', is based on 24 interviews with international students at a global university in the UK. Its main finding is a typology of four different ways in which students use the idea of cosmopolitanism.
To fill this typology with life, I introduce the reader to Jing, Shigeki, Faisal and Anna. Each of these four students represents one of the four ways in which my respondents made sense of cosmopolitanism.
Jing found herself deeply inspired by the university’s cosmopolitanism and decided to change her life. She said she wanted ‘to make more impact’ and work for the betterment of society (as for an NGO). Jing thus used cosmopolitanism to form a new strategy of action.
Shigeki used cosmopolitanism in a different way. He actively examined his life and carried on a complex, intense conversation with himself about whether his thinking and acting was actually cosmopolitan. He thus used cosmopolitanism as a moral guideline to evaluate his ways of going about things and to examine his daily life.
In contrast, Faisal seemed to use cosmopolitanism ‘only’ rhetorically to defend his established life strategy. Faisal seemed to be oriented towards doing well on the job market and maximising his individual marketability. Within this strategy, he referred to cosmopolitan values to make particular choices. For instance, he mentioned that he was planning on donating money to charitable causes. However, he did not use cosmopolitanism to actively interrogate experience (as Shigeki), or set out new life goals (as Jing).
Anna was a cosmopolitan by socialisation. Having grown up in an elite transnational family, she had internalised cosmopolitan skills, habits and styles from a very early age. She had friends around the world and found it easy to immerse herself in different cultures. For her, it was just natural to be cosmopolitan. However, Anna’s elite cosmopolitan strategies of action were not complemented by self-consciously expressed cosmopolitan aspirations. Accordingly, she neither used cosmopolitanism to actively interrogate experience, nor to ‘remind’ herself of how to act.
How can we explain these different ways of making sense of cosmopolitanism?
Drawing on cultural theorist Ann Swidler, I argue that individuals, who find themselves in an unsettled phase of their life, may mobilise cosmopolitanism either to set themselves new life goals (Jing) or to closely examine their lives (Shigeki). In settled lives, cosmopolitanism may be integrated in established strategies of action (Anna) but it may also be used to (rhetorically) defend a stable orientation (Faisal).
Who will find this paper an interesting read?
First of all: Researchers who are interested in students’ and young people’s ways of using cosmopolitanism and the ambivalences of students’ engagements with cosmopolitanism. But also: Everyone interested in elite students’ thinking, feeling and sense-making. The article offers vivid descriptions to Jing’s, Shigeki’s, Faisal’s and Anna’s approaches to life, and I would not be surprised if you felt yourself reminded of someone you know when reading the article.
Blog post by Eunike Piwoni, University of Göttingen, Germany
Read the full article: Piwoni, Eunike. Exploring disjuncture: elite students' use of cosmopolitanism. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1441691
I am sitting in the office of a refugee support and advocacy organisation in north-England to interview a refugee about her experience. The focus of our conversation is not on why Faith fled her country or how the charity helped her integrate in the UK. Instead, we talk about how she started working as a caseworker for one of the main refugee third sector organisations. When Faith walks into the office, people might think she is a client waiting for an appointment. They might initially be surprised when she sits down on the other side of the desk as they fail to recognise her as the professional worker that she is.
Stories about refugees and employment tend to highlight the significant obstacles in accessing the labour market (Kone et al. 2019). Lack of recognition of qualifications and home country work experience, short-term interventions by job agencies and language barriers all contribute to unemployment and deskilling. Many professionals end up in manual jobs in factories, catering or care. Refugees are overrepresented in so-called ‘3D jobs’; those that are Dirty, Dangerous and Degrading. Or they find work in 'ethnic niches', segments of the labour market with an overrepresentation of certain ethnic groups, such as the taxi industry or Ethiopian and Afghan restaurants.
In the Identities article, ‘A window of opportunity? Refugee staff’s employment in migrant support and advocacy organizations’, I present the findings of my research into a very distinct employment 'niche' for refugees: the niche constituted by organisations that have asylum seekers and refugees as their client group. Based on interviews with refugee staff in the UK, the Netherlands and Austria, I argue that the concept of 'ethnic niche' fails to capture the particularities of the employment opportunities offered by the refugee third sector.
For example, staff composition and recruitment is not dominated by one ethnic group. Some of my – mostly highly educated – research participants became voluntary interpreters first when their language skills were recognised by the caseworkers that they met as clients. Others, like Faith, had a history in charity work in their home countries and actively sought out this employment opportunity.
As she explained in our conversation:
'When we got our refugee status, we were helped by a caseworker at Refugee Council. She was from Nigeria and had an MA in Development Studies like me. When I saw her doing that job, I asked her how she got there. Because you know, when you move here, all you're told is that your qualifications don't count and that you need to be doing care work. It really affected me to think that my professional experience with a humanitarian organisation and my degree would go to waste. Honestly when I got home that day, I went straight to the websites of Refugee Council and Refugee Action. And every single day I checked out their vacancies.'
Unlike most 'ethnic niches', the role is coveted because case work is recognised as a skilled job.
However, as the interviews revealed, the window of opportunity that employment in refugee third sector organisations offers also comes with traps. Refugee staff like Faith worried that while their employers valued the intercultural competences and experiential knowledge that refugee case workers can draw on in the contact with the clients, they viewed them as “less professional” when boundaries between them and their clients were blurred because of shared ethnic background or asylum histories. They were frustrated with being mistaken for interpreters or felt the burden of having to interpret on top of their regular case load.
Finally, while refugee case workers have managed to move from being clients to being case workers, they often get stuck in frontline positions and rarely get promoted to managerial roles. These traps need to be recognised and addressed, so that one day Faith can walk into the office and head straight for the director’s room. With no one lifting an eyebrow.
Kone, Z., I. Ruiz & C. Vargas-Silva. 2019. Refugees and the UK labour market. Oxford, UK: COMPAS, University of Oxford. Available at https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/ECONREF-Refugees-and-the-UK-Labour-Market-report.pdf.
Blog post by Sara de Jong, University of York, UK
Read the full article: de Jong, Sara. A window of opportunity? Refugee staff’s employment in migrant support and advocacy organizations. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1533192
'First, I'll need tenure. And a big research grant. Also access to a lab and five graduate students — at least three of them Chinese.'
- Professor Ogden Wernstrom, Physicist
Those are Professor Ogden Wernstrom’s demands when asked to save the Earth from a giant garbage ball approaching through space in the Futurama episode, A Big Piece of Garbage. Portrayed as an obvious antagonist, Wernstrom seems greedy and exclusively concerned with his own career advancement. He also seemingly regards grad students as just another commodity to further his own goals, with Chinese students as particularly valuable or useful assets.
This specific view on Chinese researchers as not much more than pricey pieces of high-tech equipment was provided by a cartoon villain 20 years ago, but it arguably still falls into the questionable category of 'it’s funny because it’s true': it indeed resonates with prejudices that extend beyond the Futurama universe and into real-world academic discourse.
One place where similar views on 'non-western' researchers can be found is the discourse on scientific misconduct. High-profile scandals of scientific fraud and plagiarism regularly make the news headlines, and the frequency, causes and consequences of scientific misconduct are at the centre of much academic and public speculation. Whenever we talk about the presumed causes of deviance, we make deeply normative claims about the allocation of responsibility and blame. Much more than just the goal and result of neutral scientific inquiry, these causal explanations are a powerful mechanism of social exclusion, constructing a fault line between an ‘us’, who value and live by the rules of the community, and a somehow inferior ‘them’, who break the rules.
In the Identities article, 'Science and its Others: examining the discourse about scientific misconduct through a postcolonial lens', I analyse 31 expert interviews with people responsible for handling scientific misconduct cases at universities, journals and other academic organisations and show that violations of research integrity are frequently blamed on so-called foreign scientific cultures that allegedly are more prone to misconduct. Researchers from those 'foreign' cultures are characterised in two different ways in those causal stories: at times they are depicted as backwards, uncivilised and uneducated; and their knowledge production is seen as generally inferior to western science. Such a depiction draws heavily on well-established themes of Eurocentric knowledge.
However, at other times, especially with regard to Chinese researchers, they are characterised as advanced, highly intelligent and productive, yet lacking a moral consciousness. In comparison to the idealised 'western' researcher, they appear almost cyborg-like: highly efficient, technologically advanced and rational, but also immoral, emotionally cold and ultimately interchangeable with one another. Such views are also consistent with established stereotypes of Asians as a hypersuccessful 'model minority' that pose 'implicit threats to the upward mobility of others' (Cardozo & Subramaniam 2013).
Of course, a factor like 'academic culture' will probably have an influence on researchers’ (deviant) behaviour. This example, however, shows that the way this 'culture' is currently constructed and discussed leans heavily on stereotypes and reproduces exclusions already present in the scientific community. As such, it doesn’t speak much about the actual working conditions of Chinese (or Mexican, or Egyptian, or Russian) researchers, but says a lot about the collective imaginary of 'western' academia. Apparently, it still looks a lot like Wernstrom’s ideal scientific life, where the advancement of white (male) researchers counts more than the fate of the rest of the world.
Cardozo, K. & B. Subramaniam. 2013. Assembling Asian/American naturecultures: Orientalism and invited invasions. Journal of Asian American Studies 16: 1–23.
Blog post by Felicitas Hesselmann, German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies, and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Read the full article: Hesselmann, Felicitas. Science and its Others: examining the discourse about scientific misconduct through a postcolonial lens. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1538065
In recent years border walls have been built in different parts of the world in order to stop irregular migration. However, barriers for migrants are not only constructed physically but also discursively in political discourses. It is known that restrictive policies in Europe are accompanied by exclusionary discourses on national citizenship for immigrants, depicting them as either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’.
Empirical studies have demonstrated that the representation of immigrants and their citizenship in policies plays an important role in how these policies are received and acted upon, both by the host community and the immigrants themselves (da Lomba 2010; Stewart and Mulvey 2014). As such, studying political discourses might contribute to the understanding of the socioeconomic and political incorporation of immigrants into the host community.
In the study presented in the Identities article, 'The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies', my co-author and I aimed to fully grasp how immigrants were framed in immigration policies in Belgium. Although previous studies have treated immigration and integration policies as distinct fields, we argue that a combined analysis of these two policy domains is needed in order to comprehend the full complexity of immigration policy. By mapping the different representations of immigrants in the wider policy field, we found that this is much more complex than the generally adopted contrast between deserving and undeserving suggest.
This map of discursive policy representations does not reflect a linear route towards citizenship, but instead a labyrinth filled with turns and barriers, as exemplified by the discursive categorisations and contradictions with which migrants are confronted. More concretely, within policy discourses a difference is made between various categories of newly arrived migrants, with the path for ‘criminal’ and ‘profiteer’ migrants proving to be a dead end (i.e. return). Immigrants who are initially labelled as ‘victims’ can later turn into ‘criminals’ or ‘profiteers’. If these immigrants do not subsequently return to their home countries, they are labelled as ‘unauthorised’ immigrants or ‘illegals’.
In the integration-policy discourse, this places them within a grey area, in which they are not recognised as citizens, even though they participate in society. Immigrants who are recognised as refugees arrive in the ‘probationary-citizenship’ stage, which can ultimately lead to formal citizenship when proving to be ‘good’ citizens through cultural assimilation and socioeconomic participation. Accordingly, it is theoretically possible for them to reach the exit of the labyrinth. However, it seems almost impossible for them to reach the status of ‘full citizen’, given the manner in which the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is constantly questioned (i.e. the ‘virtual-citizenship’ stage) and the participation of undocumented immigrants is not recognised. Only white Belgians are regarded as ‘full citizens’.
In addition, we unravel four contradictions characteristic of this labyrinth. First, human rights are used as an instrument of both inclusion and exclusion in the hands of national governments. Second, the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is persistently virtualised, thus serving as a reference for problematising the prospective citizenship of newly arriving immigrants. Third, the combined analysis of the policy domains of immigration and integration reveals how immigrants must be simultaneously powerless and active agents, in addition to being able to use both conditions strategically. Finally, unauthorised immigrants are also discursively positioned within a grey zone between formal exclusion and informal inclusion, with the latter remaining unrecognised by the state. These discursive contradictions have the potential to become actual barriers in the labyrinth towards citizenship.
The discursive labyrinth legitimises a wide range of policies and measures of inclusion and exclusion of immigrants. Given the persistent problematisation of the citizenship status of people of colour, we claim that this labyrinth might have no end.
da Lomba, S. 2010. Legal status and refugee integration: a UK perspective. Journal of Refugee Studies 23: 415-436.
Stewart, E. & G. Mulvey. 2014. Seeking safety beyond refuge: the impact of immigration and citizenship policy upon refugees in the UK. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40: 1023-1039.
Blog post by Rachel Waerniers, Ghent University, Belgium
Read the full article: Waerniers, Rachel & Hustinx, Lesley. The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1590025