The Guardian on global development and migration

As part of The Guardian’s series on global development and migration, its environment editor John Vidal recorded a podcast with three specialists who debated migrant labour, brain drain, and whether restrictions on migration should change.

Here Vidal talks about how migration is creating ghost towns with Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development:

Vidal: I was in Kerala recently and in Bangladesh, and I’ve seen whole villages there that are basically empty, people are working in the Gulf or wherever. Those remittances are helping enormously and you can say that’s for the benefit of the whole community but also for the individual and their families.

Clemens: Absolutely. A 10th of the labour force of Kerala is in the United Arab Emirates right now, that’s astonishing and reflects the incredible opportunities which they have there but not at home. That is absolutely not a sufficient development strategy, it’s not a long-term development strategy, as Sylvie rightly points out. But the alternative to migration – if we see migration as the problem – is less migration. And there’s no evidence at all that trapping some of those people against their will, removing their option to migrate to the Gulf, would develop Kerala.

More Reading
+ Listen to the Guardian’s full podcast.
+ Check out other stories in itsglobal development series.

Being Together, Alone Together

I live about 4,100 miles from my mother. She’s in snowy Canada, I’m in (temporarily) snowy England. We talk regularly, email daily, and are “friends” on Facebook. I “see” her all the time. It’s not the same as in person, but still.

I wouldn’t notice if Twitter’s servers self-combusted, and I could live without Facebook, though it might be harder to find apartments or make contacts in [insert travel destination here], or to live vicariously through my acquaintances. (But then I might spend less time “liking” things and more time finding things I like.) If Skype irrevocably crashed, however, I would lose face-to-face contact (blurry and sometimes warped but still) with my family and closest friends, not to mention am affordable way to work across the Atlantic Ocean. More about that absurdity another time.

The Atlantic Monthly posted shots from photographer John Clang’s series Being Together. Clang, who immigrated from Singapore to New York more than a decade ago, superimposed photographs of people in their houses with photos of the relatives they Skype with projected on the walls. It brings them into view, if not in person. The story went online last September, but somehow it passed me in the slipstream of the internet.

I’m gearing up to write about communities the operate online and what lurks in the shadows of anonymity. I’ll also look at the perils of the modern, digital nomad. For a social science primer I’ll check out Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, a book that is at the top of my reading queue. Then I’ll probably Skype with someone far away. Then I’ll turn off my computer and go outside, dreary as a January day in London is.

More Reading
+ Go to The Atlantic for more images and quotes from Clang. And visit his website.

+ If you just so happen to be in Singapore, see Clang’s exhibit at the National Museum and take one of his masterclasses. The masterclasses end February 2 and the exhibit runs from January 23 to May 26, 2013.

+ Listen to an interview with Sherry Turkle on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Citizens Without Frontiers

As I get ready to tackle a chapter for The Modern Nomad book that questions what that worn-out word “community” really means, I am draw to Engin Isin's ideas about what migration does to one's notion of citizenship. Isin is director of the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at The Open University. “In a way, boundedness is the very condition of citizenship,” he said in “Citizens Without Frontiers,” a speech he gave last February. “By using ‘citizens with-out frontiers’ are we not creating an empty concept?” He continues:

Yet, as many scholars observe, it is this boundedness of citizenship to the nation-state that has become problematic in the age of migration and globalisation. Many scholars have noted that with the increasing movements of people across boundaries there have been transnational, cosmopolitan, global forms of citizenship where dual and multiple nationalities are being negotiated. Some have attempted to develop concepts of cosmopolitan or global citizenship. Others have called for open borders. Yet, all these pre-suppose, I submit, a moving subject rather than an acting subject.

These are some of the ideas I’ll explore in my otherwise un-academic exploration of community and migration, of what makes a place a home and what fosters community. I suspect I will come across stories about ambiguity and confusion, migrants who can’t quite say where is home or what citizenship they feel in their hearts–never mind the one on their passports.

I’ve thought about citizenship and belonging for a long time. My mother was born in Northern Ireland and emigrated for Canada in the mid 1960s. Time wore away one accent and replaced it with another. Decades passed before she took Canadian citizenship. So is she Canadian or British? Is she both? For some people, it becomes a quest, a question, a riddle: Where is home? This is central to the question of citizenship.

Another question: Is it time to come up with new notions of citizenship and new definitions of community?

The Restless West

As I get ready to leave the Prairies, after three years in Western Canada, I am reminded of Jonathan Raban’s essay in Granta on the particularly North American relationship with landscape, a more primary relationship.

This, after all, is a place settled only recently. It is still a place of migration, where the unvarnished wild is, unlike Raban’s native England, still visible. “Accustomed to living in England’s secondary nature,” Raban writes, “I had difficulty reading a landscape in which so much primary nature showed through the patchy overlay of around 140 years of white settlement and enterprise.”

Here, the frontier spirit lives. For many who migrate west, for a year, two years, 10 years, our relationship with home is less fixed: “The idea of home as a temporary habitation,” he says, “is built into the folk psyche of the West.”

Raban’s essay is, for anyone with one eye on the horizon and an interest in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, worth a read.