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Migration, society and globalisation:

introduction to Virtual Issue

Adrian J Bailey1 and Brenda S A Yeoh2

Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

Email: bailey@hkbu.edu.hk
Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Revised manuscript received 5 February 2014

The 11 papers in this collection consider the changing
relationships between migration, society and globalisation.1 While migration studies continues to illuminate
close connections between international migration,
social inequality and cultural politics, scholars of globalisation and its unevenness are increasingly attuned to
the transformative nature of migration. Debates about
the changing relationship between migration and society
are equally debates about the changing relationship
between migration and globalisation.
A significant corpus of scholarship has developed in
the pages of Transactions that directly and indirectly
advances geographic perspectives on these debates.
Broadly searching for articles dealing with some aspect
of international migration led us to no less than
145 original contributions published in Transactions
between 1955 and 2012, inclusive. Looking at the
timing of these articles and how often they have been
cited suggests that the discipline of geography has
actively participated in the widespread acceleration of
scholarship on international migration observed widely
across the social sciences and humanities. For example,
while 45 (31%) articles on international migration were
published in the first half of the period, most (69%)
post-date 1984. Even though their gestation period is
shorter, these more recent contributions account for 81
per cent of the overall citations to the 145 articles. The
article with the highest count of citations in the back
issues Ceri Peachs (1996) provocative consideration
of Does Britain have ghettoes?, which uses a demographic approach to connect social inequality, segregation, migration and ethnicity is, paradoxically,
something of the exception proving the rule about
these more recent articles that, typically, insinuate
globalisation into an analysis of migration and society.
Our twin goals are to identify and describe themes
in geographic scholarship on migration, society and
globalisation, and to briefly comment on how such

themes emerge. To do this we considered in depth the

arguments of a sample of 11 articles. With the assistance
of a graduate research assistant, we compiled an initial
list of 30 articles, each of which addressed our topic and
has a wide sphere of influence. Re-reading and
summarising these articles helped us identify two broad
themes: papers that addressed how migrant subjectivities develop across and through space; and papers that
explored how transnational migration, place and the
politics of identity are linked. We then selected 11
articles that captured the breadth of each theme, were
well cited, and that, read alongside the others, could
suggest something about the connections that have been
made (and missed) as the theme emerged.2 To trace
such threads we tend to present our summary in historic
order, although we start in the middle with one
contribution that is explicit about the epistemological
challenges with which many articles continue to wrestle.

Migration, subjectivities and space

To the extent that authors seek to engage with debates
about migration, society and globalisation through
perspectives that interrogate space, then David Leys
(2004) contribution on Transnational spaces and everyday lives has surely proven pivotal. While some of the
argument had already been established outside geography (including Michael Peter Smiths 2001 Transnational urbanism), and Leys work is often cited as a call
for the recovery of agency in otherwise top-down and
sterile accounts of how migrants inhabit the places of
globalisation, what remains trenchant is a sense of Leys
ambivalence and hesitancy in how to bring the global
and the local into a geographical perspective on
transnational migration. Critical of the taken-forgranted binary structure of the terms global and local,
and their implicit scaling, he asks how relations between
the global and local might dissolve and de-territorialise
when the lives and subjectivities of actual migrants are
studied. He remains equally suspicious of hybrid third

The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of
the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2014 39 470475 doi: 10.1111/tran.12056
2014 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

Migration, society and globalisation


space re-territorialisations, deftly citing examples of

how supposedly footloose transnational capitalists
become trapped and vulnerable, and cases of how the
everyday lives of white cosmopolitan migrant subjects in
gentrified neighbourhoods in Australia show not a
universal celebration of difference, but a particularist
closing and exclusion. In more than hinting that the
local remains the site of politics and in trading one
dualism (global/local) for another (transnational space/
everyday life), Ley suggests wide bounds about how an
epistemology of local and global specifically, and space
more generally, might underpin geographic perspectives
on migration, society and globalisation.
In this light, Findlay et al.s preceding (1996) account
of the subjectivities of skilled international migrants in
Hong Kong in the 1990s provides helpful empirical
insights into at least two ways in which space matters.
The authors recognise that the movement of people
over national borders responds to globalisation and,
through what is described as business culture, influences
the places of globalisation and expectations for business
strategies and future recruitment. A survey of personnel
managers in Hong Kong electronics firms showed how
technical expertise was a valued and culturally constructed subjectivity assigned to expatriate work performances. Crucially, the construction leveraged a putative
internationality of expatriates, giving them an unspoken advantage over otherwise similarly qualified but
localised Chinese workers. Concerning space, the
paper argues that the geographic concentration and
assembly of migrants with particular characteristics in
selected locales (world cities) reinforces the development of particular subjectivities. Moreover, the authors
also contend that the spatial proximity of labour pools
and high employment mobility between firms spreads
and reinforces subjectivities as part of a sector-wide,
then city-wide business culture. There are the seeds of
an argument about socio-spatial structures of path
dependency under globalisation that, perhaps, offers
purchase on continuing debates about how context and
contingency come to be produced and reproduced, both
in particular places (Ong 2006) and at particular
moments (Bauman 2007).
The paper by Mitchell (2003) explores how assumptions about the spaces of globalisation affect migrants
through the values that national governments seek to
inculcate in their citizens. She describes how education
policy in England, Canada and the USA references and
produces an idealised global landscape of mobility.
Against this imagined spatiality, education policy instils
in stay-at-home residents subjectivities that equip them
to work alongside in-bound migrants. Potential outmigrants are encouraged to develop subjectivities fit for
the purpose of conducting their lives offshore: these
individuated mobile (motile?) citizens are strategic
cosmopolitans who can compete effectively by bringing

a multicultural subjectivity to the global world out

there. The argument reflects on how the structure of
such subjectivities enables potential migrants to exploit
an imagined globality (cf. internationality, above) for
the economic benefit of metropolitan society: individual strategic cosmopolitans cultivate a sense of individual patriotism and strategic entrepreneurialism, and
are able to be a nodal agent in the expanding networks
of the global economy (Mitchell 2003, 400). By
positioning multiculturalism as serving national interests under an expanding neoliberal project, the paper
provides foresight and traction for understanding why
and where discourses about multiculturalism turned
bad as the global recession began to bite in 2008. It also
reveals how contingent differences between discourses
in England, Canada and the USA are partly traceable to
the governments self perceptions about their relative
position in the world (i.e. their spatial imaginary).
Larner (2007) similarly reflects on how national
governments seek to influence migrant subjectivities
using spatial imaginaries that reference globalisation.
She takes the case of New Zealands diaspora strategy
to illustrate how the production of global migrant
subjects is entwined with the production of global
spaces and networks, and is an explicit part of how
states re-territorialise. She describes how a Kiwi
diaspora is imagined as a networked space, as a
voluntary space where co-option is more effective than
coercion, as an intermediated (contingent) space and
(like Ley 2003 above) as an exclusionary space.
Crucially, Larners global subject becomes a strategic
cosmopolitan by acting as a network cosmopolitan
concerned with overwhelmingly economic (knowledge)
agendas. Her paper therefore broadens the treatment
of space by highlighting two forms of contingency:
subjectivities produced relative to the position of the
state in the world (for example, as Findlay et al. 1996
and Mitchell 2003 above); and subjectivities produced
relative to new institutionalisations of formerly opportunistic expatriate networks (Larner 2007, 331). The
paper also advances knowledge about the mutual
relations between the production of mobile subjects
and global spaces by recognising that the production of
contingencies is deeply implicated in the production of
social life (cf. Ettlinger 2011).
More recent articles on migration have expanded
their gaze beyond political economic structures to
consider how subjectivities emerge in social and cultural
settings. Such accounts have attended to social class and
family contexts, as seen by a recent glut of articles on the
international migration of students (see also virtual
issue on Geographies of Education and Learning,
ons 2012). Waters (2006) argues that
Holloway and J
the strategies of middle-class Hong Kong parents
seeking to educate their children in Canada are
motivated by a place-based class battle for access to

ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2014 39 470475 doi: 10.1111/tran.12056

2014 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

Adrian J Bailey and Brenda S A Yeoh


an imagined spatiality that is global (and one not

unconnected to the idealisation described ten years
before by Findlay et al. 1996). In a still all-too-rare
example of following the transnational action, she
interviewed 50 post-secondary immigrant students in
Vancouver and 28 returned migrants in Hong Kong who
had post-secondary experience in Vancouver. She found
that overseas education built cultural capital and
reproduced class position through access to human
capital (i.e. particular academic degrees) and through
participation in a transnational field. Student migration
is read both as a socio-spatial strategy, i.e. as a means to
an end of capital accumulation, and as constitutive of a
transnational social field, i.e. as an end in itself. As such,
migration and its spatial imaginaries interweave and
render inseparable the economic and social futures of
generations through new forms of transnational (family)
arrangement: migration, society and globalisation
become embedded and scaled in life-courses, linked
lives, and social relations. Waters (2006) also reveals
that while cultural capital has value in particular places,
it derives much of that value not from the characteristics
of the place per se but from the general and positive
culture flowing through a transnational social field that
connects (and un-connects) these places. Read alongside Findlay et al. (1996), the implication is that migrant
subjectivities may be involved in the switching on and
off of capital and value through the economic and social
articulation of place-based contingencies.
Findlay et al. (2012) are most recently concerned
with what has become a fast-growing source of capital
accumulation, the global education marketplace, and
analyse the motivations and meanings associated with
international student migration. The authors discuss if
and how new patterns of inequality and socio-spatial
differentiation are emerging as international student
mobility becomes a life-course aspiration and a means
to accumulate cultural capital (cf. Waters 2006).
Looking at British-educated secondary students who
seek degrees outside Britain, the authors find that
student migrants make sense of their decision with a
transnational idealisation of the localglobal binary:
that is, students seek subjectivity and distinction that is
simultaneously local and global. Furthermore, in their
corporate efforts to attract students, universities in the
global education market both attend to the degree itself
and to its broader geo-cultural trappings: they ask,
quite literally, how are we a world-class university? A
selected set of such World Universities see their
degrees both as a national ticket to class privilege and
as a gateway to being a member of the elite world class
(or, as Sklair noted in 2001, a transnational capitalist
class). For Findlay et al. (2012), further inequalities
may develop along social and spatial axes as, for
example, most international students are from betteroff backgrounds, and have moved before.

Transnational migration, place-(un)

making and the politics of identity
The geographers craft in cultivating connective tissues
between migration, society and globalisation is
reflected in a second set of Transactions papers that
takes seriously the politics of place and place-making.
May (1996) is an early paper that signalled the rise of
geographers interest in the multicultural global city
and, drawing on London as a specific example, explores
the heightened politics of place-making within increasingly diverse urban settings. Taking stock of the David
Harvey versus Doreen Massey debate in the early
1990s, May (1996) draws on his study of an inner
London neighbourhood to challenge both Harveys
account of the way processes of globalisation lead to a
dissolution of place and the rise of reactionary placebound politics and Masseys argument for the possibility of a more progressive sense of place. Instead, the
imaginative geographies of place constructed around a
set of local class divisions and reflecting powerfully
racialized notion[s] of place and identity give rise to a
new cultural class of urban fl^
aneurs who search for and
sample difference as a lifestyle aesthetic without
opening up a more progressive place identity (May
1996, 205). Such insights that provide a more nuanced
account of place politics cohere with those of other
geographers interested in the contemporary urban
condition of the 1990s. These include Amin and
Grahams (1997, 41718) attempt (also published in
Transactions) to coin a new term the multiplex city to
give emphasis to the co-presence of multiple spaces,
multiple times and multiple webs of relations, tying
local sites, subjects and fragments into globalizing
networks of economic, social and cultural change. Also
significant is Fincher and Jacobs (1998) influential
book Cities of difference that brought together geographical accounts of the connections between the
structure of urban space and identity politics in the
context of multiplying difference along axes of race,
ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and able-bodiedness.
Knights (1996) draws together two scales of analysis
the geopolitical and the micropolitical to account for
the development of the Bangladeshi immigrant community in Rome. Making the point that unlike postcolonial migrations, Bangladeshi migration to Italy is not
foreshadowed in any way as the two countries previously had little to do with one another, the author
argues that it is symptomatic of the new globalization
of migration processes which sees ethnic communities
establishing themselves with extraordinary rapidity
in other parts of the world (Knights 1996, 105).
Immigrant communities are sculpted by the wider
geopolitical context reflecting the transition over the
decade of the 1990s from relatively laissez-faire policies
of the Italian authorities to a more restrictive regime

ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2014 39 470475 doi: 10.1111/tran.12056

2014 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

Migration, society and globalisation


with the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.

External geopolitical change is intimately linked to a
micropolitics of place within the community, where
social hierarchies are consolidated based on patron
client networks, chain migration and informal sector
work among rank and file members of the community.
This paper, while less noticed than May (1996),
signalled growing research interest in migrant communities and transnational linkages in the European
context (see, for example, Samers 1998).
Within the pages of Transactions a decade later, May
and his colleagues (May et al. 2007) revisited London as
a global city, this time by developing the notion of a
new migrant division of labour. While the migrant had
remained a silent figure as part of the backdrop in the
earlier 1996 article (the focus was principally on the
perspectives of the English (white) residents), the 2007
paper foregrounds the place of the migrant in a
diversified urban labour market fuelled by rising levels
of immigration and heavily dependent on low-paid
migrant labour. Building on Sassens (1991) Global City
Hypothesis, May et al. (2007) makes the case that the
new migrant division of labour emerging in London
where low-waged migrant labour sustains a new reserve
army of labour is not only driven by global economic
restructuring processes but also accentuated by state
welfare, labour market and immigration policies. The
states approach to managed migration based on a
strict hierarchy of classes of entry and associated
privileges ranging from the right to settle for the highly
skilled, to only temporary admission with no rights to
benefits for the low skilled does not only entail a
technocratic solution but is also a means to manage an
increasingly unmanageable political problem in order
to safeguard its own legitimacy (May et al. 2007, 157,
162). This critique, also further developed in a wide
range of publications by one or more of this group of
authors, resonates with analyses of immigration-labour
regimes elsewhere (see Yeoh (2006) on Singapores
bifurcated labour, for example) and has spawned new
research interest in temporary migration in the West
(for example, see McDowell et al. (2009) for an analysis
of the expansion of forms of insecure work, the impact of
rising numbers of economic migrants and the emerging
migrant division of labour in UK labour markets).
Reflecting this interest in temporary migration,
Smith and Winders (2008) draw on the case of Latino
migration to cities in the American South to explore
the politics of place and place-making in terms of
tensions and disjunctures between capitalist demand
for flexible, temporary, low-waged, unauthorised
labour on the one hand, and the immigrants social
reproductive needs and claims to place and identity on
the other. Drawing on bifocal conceptual lenses of the
body and place, the paper illustrates the significance of
gender in the placing of migrant bodies:

while the laboring immigrant body coded as male and

temporary is ghost-like and fleetingly present on worksites
in construction, landscaping and other sectors across the
South, the reproducing immigrant body coded as female and
permanent is difficult to contain, lingering in grocery stores,
playgrounds, health clinics, and other public but, nonetheless, domestic spaces. (Smith and Winders 2008, 66)

Tensions between immigrants and long-term residents are best understood by taking into account the
entanglements between the embodied demands of new
labour practices under neoliberal globalisation and the
equally embodied presence within quotidian spaces of
social reproduction.
As interest in race, difference, otherness, minorities
and multiculturalism widened as transnational migration increased in both volume and velocity during the
first decade of the new millennium, scholarly attention
beyond the signature global cities was also consolidated. In contradistinction to the emphasis on temporary migration discussed above, a major vein of the
literature reflecting the experience in western cities
continued to focus on the uneven geographies of ethnic
settlement within cities. While acknowledging a genealogy that harks back to pioneering quantitative work
by geographers such as Peach (1996), Phillips et al.
(2007) turned previous work on minority ethnic
segregation on its head by re-examining the issue from
the perspectives of South Asian groups in Leeds and
Bradford (two cities that experienced the 2001 disturbances). The paper opens up diverse representations
and experiences of urban space by giving weight to the
narratives of British South Asians in expressing views
on their sense of community, feelings of belonging,
residential mobility and ethnic mixing against a backcloth coloured by normative assumptions about the
whiteness of the city. Discussion on these issues has
also continued to gather momentum, as seen in a raft of
papers on geographies of segregation and territorial
stigmatization, including several published in the pages
of Transactions (see, for examples, Slater and Anderson
(2012) and Smith (2012)).

International migration has accelerated as a focus of
published research in the Transactions. The papers in
this virtual issue explore how such migration is
intimately and simultaneously linked to transformations in society and globalisation. Once couched as a
demographic response to political economic processes,
debates about international migration acknowledge
its broader constitutive roles in social and cultural
processes and practice. Two emerging themes that
address interdependency suggest space and place
matter through the production, articulation and negotiation of migrant subjectivities, and through links

ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2014 39 470475 doi: 10.1111/tran.12056

2014 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

Adrian J Bailey and Brenda S A Yeoh


between transnationalism, place and a politics of

identity. Research on subjectivities has expanded its
political economic focus to the social and cultural;
considered the role of governments, governance and
governmentality; and offered insights into how migration perpetuates structural inequality. Our papers
further demonstrate the multi-scalar politics of place(un)making in the context of evolving migration
regimes and labour practices, while emphasising the
nexus between geopolitical and the micropolitical
processes, the productive and reproductive spheres,
and ultimately, the body, place and identity.
However, our tracing of how these themes unfold
suggests somewhat messy geographic renderings. The
paradox of any open reading such as pursued here
is the obligation to select or, more negatively, to close
down, restrict and make partial any summative, interpretative or connective statement. In many cases as
with the work of Smith (2001) and Sklair (2001) above
such closures are occurring across disciplinary lines.
What our own partial reading does flag, though, is the
merit in Leys earlier epistemological hesitancy. Such
ambiguity opened up in productive ways treatments of
space beyond the restrictive binary of local/global to
consider networks, transnational spaces, the production of contingencies that are both spatial and
temporal, and the multiscalar politics of place.
Perhaps an ethos of hesitancy can yet be cultivated
to encourage progressive accounts that re-discover
earlier and out-of-geography contributions.

We would like to thank Lin Weiqiang for helping us in
the work of summarising and shortlisting papers and
the Editor for constructive feedback.

1 The Virtual Issue can be accessed online at http://onlinelibrary.
2 The selection of the final line-up of 11 papers was based
on a combination of high number of citations and our own
qualitative assessment of the papers scholarly reach and
sphere of influence. Pre-1990 papers tend to have much
lower citation figures despite the longer gestation. The fact
that three of the 11 selected papers bear a 1996 publication
date is probably a matter of coincidence, although at
another level, this coincidence also signalled a marked
increase in geographers interest in transnational migration
from the 1990s.

Amin A and Graham S 1997 The ordinary city Transactions of
the Institute of British Geographers 22 41129

Bauman Z 2007 Liquid times Polity, Cambridge

Ettlinger N 2011 Governmentality as epistemology Annals of
the Association of American Geographers 101 53760
Fincher R and Jacobs J M 1998Cities of difference The
Guildford Press, New York
Findlay A M, Li F L N, Jowett A J and Skeldon R 1996 Skilled
international migration and the global city: a study of
expatriates in Hong Kong Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers 21 4961
Findlay A M, King R, Smith F, Geddes A and Skeldon R 2012
World class? An investigation of globalisation, difference
and international student mobility Transactions of the
Institute of British Geographers 37 11831
Holloway S L and J
ons H 2012 Geographies of learning and
education Virtual Issue of Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers September
Knights M 1996 Bangladeshi immigrants in Italy: from
geopolitics to micropolitics Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers 21 10523
Larner W 2007 Expatriate experts and globalizing governmentalities: the New Zealand diaspora strategy Transactions of
the Institute of British Geographers 32 33145
Ley D 2004 Transnational spaces and everyday lives Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 29 15164
May J 1996 Globalization and the politics of place: place and
identity in an inner London neighbourhood Transactions of
the Institute of British Geographers 21 194215
May J, Wills J, Datta K, Evans Y, Herbert J and McIlwaine
C 2007 Keeping London working: global cities, the British
state and Londons new migrant division of labour
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32
McDowell L, Batnitzky A and Dyer S 2009 Precarious work
and economic migration: emerging immigrant divisions of
labour in Greater Londons service sector International
Journal of Urban and Regional Research 33 325
Mitchell K 2003 Educating the national citizen in neoliberal
times: from the multicultural self to the strategic cosmopolitan Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28
Ong A 2006 Neoliberalism as exception Duke University Press,
Durham NC
Peach C 1996 Does Britain have ghettos? Transactions of the
Institute of British Geographers 21 21635
Phillips D, Davis C and Ratcliffe P 2007 British Asian
narratives of urban space Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers 32 21734
Samers M 1998 Immigration, ethnic minorities and social
exclusion in the European Union: a critical perspective
Geoforum 29 12344
Sassen S 1991 The global city: New York, London, Tokyo
Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ
Sklair B 2001 The transnational capitalist class Wiley-Blackwell,
Slater T and Anderson N 2012 The reputational ghetto:
territorial stigmatisation in St Pauls, Bristol Transactions of
the Institute of British Geographers 37 53046
Smith B E and Winders J 2008 Were here to stay: economic
restructuring, Latino migration, and place-making in the US
South Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33

ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2014 39 470475 doi: 10.1111/tran.12056

2014 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

Migration, society and globalisation


Smith D P 2012 The social and economic consequences of

housing in multiple occupation (HMO) in UK coastal towns:
geographies of segregation Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers 37 46176
Smith M P 2001 Transnational urbanism: locating globalization
Blackwell, Malden MA
Waters J L 2006 Geographies of cultural capital: education,
international migration and family strategies between Hong

Kong and Canada Transactions of the Institute of British

Geographers 31 17992
Yeoh B S A 2006 Bifurcated labour: the unequal incorporation
of transmigrants in Singapore Tijdschrift voor Economische
en Sociale Geografie (Journal of Economic and Social
Geography) 97 2637

ISSN 0020-2754 Citation: 2014 39 470475 doi: 10.1111/tran.12056

2014 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)