Sassen-Koob’s model expresses three new migration flows, that are “associated with world-wide trends in the recomposition of capital” 1, first to oil exporting countries, (in the Gulf), secondly too new industrial zones producing for the world market (like the East) and lastly, to large urban areas in the developed countries. This change in labour flows is as a result of fast industrialising countries or regions, a switch from manufacturing to service industries and of the immigrant population on whose labours they are founded.
Furthermore, this results in a change in the nature of the middle class, which makes its living from both of these, because this produces a two-tiered service economy. One, well-paid managerial jobs in the service sector, needing a high level of training, and the other, low wage jobs in the same sector, requiring no training. (Sassen-Koob: 1983) Migration is more of a recent phenomenon in anthropology as earlier work focused on the anthropology of emigration, which tended to understand migration as an external force – a push factor which would inevitably lead to a break down of local culture, and the adoption of new ones.
Over-generalised theories like this were prominent amongst early anthropological research in pre-Independence Africa and India, as they saw the sending countries as ‘corrupted’. It linked labour migration with agricultural decay, detribalization and even the breakdown of the joint family. 2 Katy Gardner argues that although emigration does in many ways cause radical change and readjustment, it does not necessarily mean great structural change or the breakdown of traditional forms.
This is especially true where migrants have the money to maintain some forms. However, Gardner’s ethnography focuses on the lives of the people left behind by the migrants, especially in the village of Talukpur in the region of Sylhet in Bangladesh, from where a large proportion of locals have migrated to Britain. She argues that reproduction of local culture and social institutions is dependent on the type of migration perceived at the outset.
That is whether the migrants thought that one-day they would return to their original homeland and their economic context from where they came from to where they go. (Gardner: 1995) Migration is contradictory because it is an ongoing process spanning generations and lands and depends on individual circumstances as well as global economic factors. At the outset, it is an issue of supply and demand where there is labour scarcity in a particularly industry and a pool of labour willing to supply themselves through migration.
The issue of labour scarcity has historically been a problem for capitalists attempting to realise an area’s full potential level of accumulation. However, within the capitalist system there are specific tendencies for labour scarcity generated by rapid industrialisation, creating a need for a direct and quantitative increase in the labour supply, which is only partly offset by labour-saving technologies, for example in the oil industries in the Gulf.
Alternatively, declining profits in a particular industry generate a need for cheap labour in countries to offset the victories of organised labour, for example in the cloth and ship building industries in Britain. Therefore, the use of foreign labour depends on conditions of labour scarcity and takes on many forms depending on a country’s place in the international division of labour and the particular mode of specialisation prevalent at the time in the world system and Sassen-Koob’s model is specifically referring to this.
Migration as a global labour supply system is a different type of phenomenon, and international labour migrants today are part of a consolidation of the world capitalist economy. The incorporation of most areas of the world into the capitalist system has resulted in the disintegration or subordination of non-capitalist forms of subsistence. This disintegration was first widespread in Western Europe than in the periphery. The peripheralisation of large areas of the world brought a shift in the flow of labour.
The major Western European countries first drew labour from their immediate peripheries: Irish went to England; Poles to German; Italians and Belgians to France, and then included all of Eastern and Southern Europe, and then supplied the United States. New flows of migrations developed as others were exhausted from China to Mexico and North Africa. More recently, the Caribbean basin, the Sub-Continent and Asia have become major labour suppliers.
However, this is only one half of the picture, because there have been major flows of migration labour to supply oil-revenue financed industrialisation in the members of OPEC countries, as well as to fast-industrialising regions in the Far East, like Japan, Singapore and Honk Kong. This flow of labour is certainly an example of third world countries supplying fast developing countries and industries. The decline of manufacturing is a prominent feature in already developed first world countries, such as Britain and America.
The growth of the service-sector has meant that local working class take up jobs within that industry, leaving a demand for cheap labour in manufacturing industries which have declined as a result of a shift in industry from manufacturing to the service sector. A backlash from this is that in the desire to minimise costs, companies have become multinational and have relocated service-sector industries such as telephone-networking to Third World Countries such as in the Far East and the Sub-Continent in pursuit of the ultimate source of cheap labour, low production costs and accumulation of maximum profits.
This flow of labour is a recent phenomenon, as previously, companies set-up sweat shops and factories to produce material goods to be sold in First World countries; however, this has also changed and the increase of consumerism globally has created more demand throughout fast developing countries such as the Far East. The connection between Sassen-Koob’s model in relation to the notion of transnationalism is interesting because it denotes an export market economy, but one that involves people.
People, by virtue of their nature, are complex organisms possessing a whole range of cultural identities and expressions. Therefore, this model illustrates a type of formula indicating where there are patterns of intense migration and highlighting the reasons for this type as new market forces arise in the fast-paced global economy. However, this model does not illuminate the “other” picture, because it reveals the recent patterns of migration, but does not indicate from which countries or regions people are migrating from, and what is drawing them to the particular place or economy that they are going to.
The model is elitist in the sense that it tries to answer the problem from this side of the equation, that is where the migrants end up, but does not look at its source. There is a premise of inequality between places that send and those that receive migrants from the basis of neo-Marxist structural interpretations, which understand migration in terms of exploitation, the result of capitalist imperialism. These arguments are based upon neo-Marxist notions of dependency, articulated by Gunder Frank (1967) and in Immanuel Wallerstein’s ‘World Systems Theory’ (1974, 1984).
In this light, migration equals international inequality and migrants as passive actors in the global labour exchange. Gardner’s ethnography (1995) adds the concept of culture to the complexity of anthropological discussion on migration. It adds another dimension and introduces new levels of understanding because it details the effects of migration from the source and how power relations in Talukpur, in part as a result of migration, are intimately connected to the production and reproduction of local culture.
Furthermore, economic divisions are now expressed in terms of a new classification: the bideshis, those who migrated and deshis, those who never migrated. These terms suggests strong classifications being formed in the local society as a result of migration from amongst them and not just the factor that the size of the local population is being reduced as a result of migration. In Talukpur there are seventy households, only twenty-six households were not involved in overseas migration. Of the remaining forty-four households, twenty-nine had had members in the UK over the last five years and seven more households were permanently in the UK.
Several more households had members in both the West and the Gulf, and two had someone in West Germany and the USA. A total of forty-two men were abroad without their nuclear families, mostly in the Middle-East, therefore, there was an unbalanced gender ratio in the adult population of 121 women to 83 men. The term “Londoni” has been created to describe the households with members in the UK, and Londoni households are synonymous with wealth, marked out by stone buildings rather than mud buildings, and divided from other households with fences and large concrete walls.
Even though there was no electricity and no running water. However, this was slowly changing, as those who migrated were becoming more settled and successful wherever they migrated to. The were therefore able to send money back to support their kin. Furthermore, in the 5 years Gardner spent in Talukpur, a new school opened for girls – paid for by private contributions, along with a bridge connecting the two parts of the village and a paved site for communal prayers at Eid.
The village is thus inextricably linked with outside markets, and with the world economy. This highlights many issues in the process of migration; migrants leave with the goal of re-investing in their kin and the homesteads they leave behind. The terms bidesh and desh are symbols separating the prosperous from the poor, but this does not undermine the centrality of desh, meaning home, and was synonymous to group identity and spiritual powers. Therefore, there is a constant balancing with the two views.
Although people acquired status of bidesh because they had gained economic and political power, the status of desh was also important to support the bidesh for fertility and spiritual nourishment and thus both are an integral part of migration. Further, Gardner highlights how within the desh there were many reminders of their bideshi kin through consumer objects like televisions, fridges and even saris brought abroad, emphasising how gift exchange is central to the reproduction of the culture of migration.
Furthermore, the ‘gift of brides’, the passage of women from the desh to bideshi, was an important way to maintaining links between places and reproducing desh overseas. (Gardner:1995) What is evident is that the migrants do not simply disconnect the economic from the cultural, explaining why migrants don’t just simply cut ties with their places of origin. This is not sentimental, but as a result of experiences they develop in the places they migrate to and how their identities interplay between economic and cultural factors which anthropology can illuminate.
Therefore, notions of transnationalism are really about a lack of borders, and people put a strong investment in one place as a result of the other. Yet, they are interconnected and not remote from each other, creating a situation, which Gardner describes as migrants living in a state of “permanent exile”3 where nowhere, is truly home. Where migration has become a creative process, a way of recreating your ‘self’ and your community. Sassen-Koob highlights how the enforcement of national borders contributes to the peripheralisation of a part of the world and the designation of its workers as a labour reserve.
Therefore, border mechanism becomes a mechanism for assigning a status of informal and formal powerlessness of foreign workers who are used to show how they undermine a nation’s working class when the state renders foreigners socially and politically powerless. 4 This suggests a contradictory role of the immigration country in the accumulation process of their use of immigrant labour. As migrants countries of origin are on the periphery of the global economic market, and are further marginalised in the countries they migrate to.
Which may indicate why creating ‘desh’ becomes so important for migrants in their new place of residence. This is because immigrant labour is given a distinct category in a nation’s labour supply, and Sassen-Koob states, “this distinctiveness rests on (1) the institutional differentiation of the processes of labour-force reproduction and maintenance and (2) a particular form of powerlessness that meets the social control requirements of a type of organisation of the labour process that, though usually defined as backward, is a significant component in most core countries – notably in the service sector. 5 These have become issues for Human Rights organisations as they attempt to gain more access to rights for minorities. This is the essence of the contradiction, as men and women migrate to fulfil familial obligations to the families they leave behind, yet they long for ‘home’, for spiritual nourishment, even though they spend most of their life away from it. This is because labour migrants flow to areas where they are type-cast as the ‘other’ and therefore develop identities and images of their ‘homeland’ for security in who they are.
They develop traditions to illustrate their differences and how proud they are of them. However, how far the global level can understand the local level is difficult and changes depending on the region from where people are migrating from, to where they are going. Equally important is how they are affected by where they go to and effect those they leave behind geographically if not psychologically.