(P08) Between Perils and Promises of Mobility: Aspiration, Possibility, and the “Good Life” in Southeast Asia
Thu 09:00-10:30 K10 | 3.39
- Jessica Steinman Universität Leipzig
- Minh Nguyen Bielefeld University
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Behind the scenes at the nail salon: plummeting possibilities for Vietnamese migrants in Covid-19 UK
Seb Rumsby University of Warwick
Estimates of undocumented Vietnamese immigrants in the UK vary massively from 20,000 to 70,000; most of them end up working in nail salons, restaurants or illegally growing cannabis. Apart from this, we know little about this dynamic and expanding community, which has remained largely isolated from the more established UK Vietnamese diaspora (descendants of the ‘boat people’). This is especially problematic in the Covid-19 crisis as undocumented migrants are likely to be amongst the most vulnerable sectors of UK society to economic destitution due to the combination of a high risk of losing work, no recourse to public funds, lack of integration into support organisations and being subject to everyday racism. This paper reports on preliminary findings of ethnographic research among undocumented Vietnamese migrants in the UK, highlighting the agency of everyday actors in navigating multiple relationships with neighbours, employees, customers as well as powerful state and market forces, which have become even more fraught with the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis. In particular, there is a need to explore the complex relationships of support, exploitation and conflict between and within different classes/sectors of Vietnamese migrants, which are embedded in wider structural inequalities and economic demand for cheap, informal labour.
Managing International Standard: The ‘West’ and Its Imaginaries at the Workplace
Kim Anh Dang Universität Bielefeld
Since Vietnam’s market reform, the ongoing project of modernisation has initiated a series of transformation under the forces of globalisation, neoliberal ideals and the aspiration to catch up with the global economy. The large number of foreign direct investments and international educational collaborations also nudged enterprises to strive toward modern international standards, leading to a high demand of the application of contemporary management measures at the workplace. In this context, desires for affiliation and/or connection with the ‘West’, either directly or indirectly, are getting more intense. This paper presents an ethnographic exploration of the management of Vietnamese workers under such aspiration for international standard, where imaginaries of the ‘West’ are produced and consumed, aspired to and contested. I argue that imaginaries of the ‘West’ act both as discursive and
technical technologies of governance, where the strategic employment of the terms
west/western participate in the perception and construction of identities and desire at the workplace. Through the narrative of science and progress, these imaginaries are intertwined with the state’s discourse of socialist Modernity to form subjectivities that align with both the state’s economic agenda and its ongoing moral and political nation-building project. Furthermore, through workers’ accounts of both past experiences and future aspirations for mobility and internationalisation, I investigate how imaginaries of the ‘Western way of life and work’ open up spaces for the construction, contestation and reconfiguration of the post-reform selfhood.
Remote, rural schooling in Laos: a mobilities perspective
Roy Huijsmans International Institute of Social Studies
Remote, rural schooling is often discussed in deficit terms, in which the many problems characterizing it are attributed to its peripheral location. More positive accounts of remote, rural schooling stress the sense of belonging that the experience of such highly imperfect rural schooling may still realise. In this paper, I foreground the multiple mobilities that comprise rural schooling and that remain underemphasized in these accounts of remote, rural education.
Drawing on research conducted as part of an ESRC-DFID funded project. I discuss five forms of mobilities comprising remote, rural schooling: 1. Mobilities through which the hierarchies of the Lao state are enacted in remote rural locations, 2. the mobilities of (inter)national development work in relation to remote rural education, 3. The mobilities of rural teachers and their livelihoods, 4. The assumed lack of mobility of rural villagers, and 5. The absent presence of mobilities essential for realising school-induced aspirations.
I conclude that remote rural schools need to be understood not just as service providers or institutions, but also as nodes in various mobilities, and that their ‘stuckness’ in terms of learning outcomes could well be an outcome of the frictions between the multiple mobilities comprising remote rural schooling.
1 ‘Education systems, aspiration and learning in remote, rural settings’, funded through the ESRC-DFID Raising
Learning Outcomes in Education Systems ES/N01037X/1, PI Prof Nicola Ansell, Brunel University, London,
Waiting for the Good Life: Waiting and Hope among Undocumented Vietnamese Migrants in Berlin.
Jessica Steinman Universität Leipzig
In Vietnam, as elsewhere, most narratives of migration promote the attainment of a good life. Consequently, both the government and popular discourse focus on labour migration as a way to aid the country’s economic development while improving the economic conditions of migrant households. This view of migration as an investment for a better future reveals the intricate relationship between temporality and mobility. For many undocumented Vietnamese migrants in Berlin, migration is a future-oriented project to attain a “better life” while imaginations of such life help them navigate the precarious present. Based on long term ethnographic fieldwork in Berlin, this presentation explores the links between migration and temporality through the analysis of migrants’ reality that is constituted by different temporalities simultaneously. It focuses on the everyday experiences of undocumented Vietnamese migrants in Berlin during the period of global immobility brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. It analyses how migrants negotiate between futures, pasts and present possibilities to navigate their migration’s precarious conditions. By analysing migrants’ experiences of waiting for work and jobs change, waiting for re-opening, and waiting for care, this presentation shows how undocumented migrants experiences “waiting for the good life” as active and creative processes that configure their daily lives and allow them to negotiate possibilities at the margin of society under the precarious conditions of mobility.
This panel focuses on the complex ways in which aspiration, opportunity, and the notion of ‘the good life’ shape particular forms and experiences of mobility in Southeast Asia. Scholars have increasingly emphasized the need for a better understanding of people’s conceptions of wellbeing and their visions of a good life, neither of the two ought to be confined to just material wealth or social security, as nonmaterial values are equally relevant (Appadurai 2013; Fischer 2014, Hart 2012, Robbins 2012). Fischer’s theorisation of the ‘good life’ emphasizes the importance of aspirations in understanding people’s actions and choices. Nevertheless, aspiration is framed and bounded by ‘the realm of what is seen as possible’. Aspiration, possibility, and imagination of the good life are often located and vary at different scales. These concepts can sometimes be at odds with each other across these scales. The state’s imagination of the good life can shape people’s aspiration and possibility and vice versa. At the same time, individual aspiration and imagination of the good life can clash with those of the state. Through a multi-disciplinary and multi-scalar investigation of (im)mobility from and within Southeast Asia, this panel analyses the way in which aspiration, possibility, and imagination of the good life by different actors, including people, the state, the local government, and transnational actors, inform practices of mobility throughout people’s life course, across cultural and societal boundaries.