ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Labour migrations

The dynamics of transgression: the development strategies of entrepreneurship from below

Roger Ballard, Centre for Applied South Asian Studies, University of Manchester

Largely as a result of the entrepreneurial efforts of the migrant workers who have moved en masse from the peripheral areas in the South to metropolitan centres in Euro-America during the course of the past half century, a powerful new counter-current has gradually begun to emerge within the structure of the global social order. Hegemonically organised transnational structures operating from above – the very stuff of the multiform processes of what is now commonly described as globalisation – are now increasingly being challenged, circumvented and in some contexts comprehensively undermined by countervailing forms transnational activity articulated from below.

Although virtually all South-North migrant flows have by now begun to generate such countervailing challenges, the bulk of the empirical data on which this paper will rely is the result of many years of ethnographic observation of developments within just one such flow: that from northern Pakistan to the industrial cities of the UK. Within that conspectus the paper will focus on two even more specific issues: firstly the strategies which Pakistani migrants have developed in response to forty years of efforts by the British immigration authorities to bring their further inward movement to an end; and secondly the strategies and informal institutional structures which settlers have developed to send remittances back to Pakistan (currently running at around £1 billion per annum) without exposing them to the massive commission charges (currently around 10%) extracted by major international banks.

In both cases the relationship between those defending their interests from above (whether in the form of the British state or the international Banking system) and the migrants pressing there way up from below is one of inherent conflict. However despite the massive resources which have been deployed by those operating above in an effort to protect their interests, Pakistani migrants have nevertheless constantly managed to find chinks in the system, and thereby to outwit their excluders. Hence all efforts to suppress their transgressive activities have so far proved nugatory.

Set against this background, the core of the paper will be an examination of the resources on which migrants have drawn (overwhelmingly reciprocities of kinship and quasi-kinship), and the way in which they have deployed those resources (in the construction of trans-local networks) in such a way as to facilitate their penetration of the barriers of immigration control, and also to construct a highly efficient global informal value transmission network.

Although constantly challenged, the success of these strategies – and many others like them – cannot be gainsaid: they have begun seriously to undermine the position of comprehensive socio-economic hegemony of which Euro-America has long been a beneficiary. Against that background that the paper will reflect on how and why it is that informal networks are proving to be such an effective ‘weapon of the weak’, and on the role which anthropologists can most usefully play in a world where strategies of this kind are becoming increasingly salient.

Technologies of servitude: governmentality and Indonesian transnational labour migration

Daromir Rudnyckyj, University of California, Berkeley

This paper analyses the techniques and networks that enable the transnational movement of female domestic labourers from Indonesia. Theoretically, this paper argues that governmentality is an effective concept through which to understand political economic relations across state borders and outside state institutions. Governmentality is visible not just in abstract policy prescriptions, but also in that apparently mundane methods that are intended to rationalize the training, delivery and security of migrant labourers. Empirically grounded in interviews and observational fieldwork in Indonesia, this paper describes the networks that facilitate transnational labour migration in Indonesia and demonstrates the interconnection of the ‘global’ economy with localized moral economies. In so doing it contends that transnational flows of migrant labourers are enabled by supposedly “traditional” patron-client networks. Furthermore, the paper argues that some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting migrant workers’ rights are not necessarily inimical to state power, but in fact my result in its enhancement. Tactics to protect these rights may bring about greater state intervention in the lives of migrants, not less. The paper proposes two specific technologies deployed by non-state entities (human resources companies and NGOs) that facilitate transnational labour migration. The first are termed technologies of servitude and are intended to impart the skills and attitudes necessary to conduct domestic labour. The latter are technologies for rationalizing labour flows to wealthier countries of the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions.

One home or many? Conflicting discourses in a diasporic community

Mark-Anthony Falzon, University of Malta

Hindu Sindhis originated in Sind, formerly a province of British India and today part of Pakistan. Since 1860 they have participated in three waves of migration from the subcontinent. The first saw traders from the town of Hyderabad establish business posts and branches as far away as Panama and Australia. Then, in 1947, Hindus left Sind en masse as a result of the political and social turmoil of Partition; many of them established themselves in India but others joined their relatives in various parts of the world where they had been doing business for decades. Since then, thousands of Sindhis have migrated from India to Western and Gulf countries in search of professional employment or business success. As a result of these migrations Sindhis are scattered in well over one hundred countries – they can be described and recognise themselves as a diaspora.

This paper explores the notions of home and identity among Sindhis by focusing on the many discourses at the heart of this community. On the one hand, Sindhis tend to see themselves as cosmopolitan and adaptable. Their religious practice is styled as ‘open-minded’, they travel extensively, quickly adapt to new social situations, often keeping a very low profile as a community, and cultivate no particular attachment to their ancestral homeland. This discourse is more than just a type of identity – in fact, it has profound consequences on their business practices. On the other hand, a number of self-styled ‘community leaders’ (what I think are more accurately called ‘cultural entrepreneurs’) peddle the notion of allegiance to Sind as a lost homeland and some have even called for the creation of a new Sindhi state in India. They write poems about cultural loss, bemoan the loss of the Sindhi language, and are generally critical of their community because it attaches importance to business at the expense of identity.

It is interesting to note that these discourses are located within broader frameworks of meaning. Cultural entrepreneurs, for instance, often come from castes (jati) that historically were located close to the State as bureaucratic specialists; they have also been strongly influenced by the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. In sum, the paper aims to shed light on two apparently-conflicting yet equally-strong contemporary phenomena: the rise of cosmopolitanism and the continuing importance of national and local identities.