“You know, didi (sister), you come here and you talk to us and we talk to you and together we just enjoy” (Interview, 28 August 2014).
My fieldwork this summer took me to Kolkata, India, where I spent 10 weeks in three of the city’s Red Light Areas (RLAs). The focus of my research was on collective identities within the RLAs, and I wanted to explore under what circumstances one particular self-image (such as belonging to a group of ‘sex workers’) became salient.
I thus started off asking the questions: ‘To what extent does the use of social categories affect trust and cooperation in Kolkata’s RLAs?’, ‘What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for some collection of individuals to feel themselves to be in a group and act accordingly?’ and, ‘Does a socially complex reality (stratified, socially heterogeneous, mobile) hinder group formation?’. But while the first year at ODID was spent thinking and developing (re-thinking, re-developing..) these ideas and plans for the field, I think it’s impossible to fully imagine the experience that fieldwork is – I surely didn’t. Continue reading →
The current attempts by UK politicians to outbid each other in being ‘tough’ on immigration reminds me of the comment by the well-known migration researcher Douglas Massey and his co-authors that politicians increasingly have turned to symbolic measures to create “an appearance of control”*.
The reality is that most immigration to the UK is basically uncontrollable since the majority of immigrants coming to the UK are EU citizens or family members of residence permit holders. Little can be done about this, and this is also why David Cameron’s earlier pledge to bring annual net immigration down under the 100,000 threshold has proven to be unrealistic. The only hope of that happening is a major economic crisis in the UK, since the main driver of much immigration is labour demand. And this also shows the fundamental dilemma politicians face: wealthy countries and fast growing economies inevitably attract substantial number of immigrants, although this is anything but an invasion suggested by politicians and the media. Continue reading →
There are now nearly 3 million registered refugees from Syria. About 96 per cent of them live in five countries neighbouring Syria – Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Many refugees in those countries live in appalling conditions, without adequate food, water, shelter, healthcare, or other basic necessities of life, and many also face abuse of various types. Some groups, such as Palestinians, face particularly dire circumstances, including being prohibited from entering some countries in the region.
Despite the conditions in these receiving countries, it is laudable that they have opened their borders to many more Syrian refugees than have entered European or other countries. To put this in perspective, each of the neighbouring countries individually hosts more refugees from Syria than all of Europe combined, and refugees from Syria now constitute nearly a quarter of the population of Lebanon.
Only about 4 per cent (123,000) of the refugees from Syria have entered Europe. Most of them had to enter without permission, many risking their lives to do so, because there are very few places offered for legal entry. By mid-2014, European countries, apart from Germany, had agreed to admit only about 6,000 refugees from Syria through resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes. Continue reading →
Saturday the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) closed our ninth two-week intensive summer school on multidimensional poverty. OPHI have run one summer school every summer since 2008 – in India, Peru, Netherlands, Jordan, Indonesia, USA, Chile, Nicaragua, and now Oxford, UK. Some 64 participants completed the course, coming from 34 countries, and 31 participants were women. Eleven more from OPHI (7 women) led the teaching and exercises. Continue reading →
Migration is a hotly debated but poorly understood issue. Much conventional thinking about migration is based on myths rather than facts. Migration policies often fail because they are based on those same myths. It is therefore time that we learn to see migration as an intrinsic and therefore inevitable part of the broader processes of societal change and globalisation instead of a ‘problem to be solved’. Continue reading →
A recent special issue of Oxford Development Studies that I guest edited explores how new players from the Rising Powers (most notably China, Brazil and India) may challenge the global ‘rules of the game’ on social and environmental issues. In my introductory article to the issue, I considered what makes the Rising Powers special and in what ways they will affect global labour and environmental standards. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, Nobel Prize-winning economics Professor Paul Krugman delivered a lecture in Oxford entitled ‘stagnation: the new normal’. At the end, a student asked if Professor Krugman supported last year’s call by the Manchester-based Post-Crash Economics Society for university economics teaching to be reformed, to diversify beyond conventional approaches whose erratic assumptions they blame for leading the world into financial crisis. Professor Krugman’s answer was hugely illuminating for those of us who are not economists. He advocated caution, pointing to the basic serviceability of the discipline, and said he would in general not support a move to teaching through a ‘schools of thought’ approach. I was shocked; not by his opinion but because until he said that I genuinely had no idea that there were any disciplines in social science which aren’t taught through a ‘schools of thought’ approach – i.e. one which presents different methods of enquiry and interpretation and asks students to evaluate them as they also learn to employ them. Continue reading →
Thomas Piketty has written a brilliant book showing the change in inequality over the long period, with very high inequality in capital ownership and income in the late 19th and early 20th century, a period of declining inequality in a long middle period of the 20th century (from around 1920 to 1980) followed by a sharp rise in inequality in a number of countries (notably the US and UK). By the beginning of the 21st century, inequality had almost reached the levels of the early 20th century.
Apart from the careful compilation of statistics (helped by Tony Atkinson and others), the book’s major contributions are to put the issue of inequality firmly on the agenda; to make us think again about the distribution of wealth as well as of incomes; and to emphasise the importance of functional distribution, or the allocation of the national income to profits, wages and rent, which is rarely considered by modern economics, even though this was the way that classical economists such as Ricardo and Marx analysed distributional issues. On top of all this, he argues, very convincingly, that the vast salaries (and bonuses) paid to top managers of banks and large corporations are not ‘competitive’ but arise because the recipients are free (more or less) to determine their own pay.
On the eve of World Refugee Day, the global refugee population is larger than at any time for nearly two decades. The largest numbers are in the Middle East, where there are now over 2.8 million Syrian refugees, 2.5 million Afghan refugees and 750,000 Iraqi refugees, in addition to the longstanding presence of 4.8 million Palestinian refugees. The recent resumption of conflict in Iraq illustrates that these numbers are only likely to increase.
In March a group of students from the MSc in Migration Studies travelled to Istanbul for a study trip to meet with specialists and representatives from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly (HCA) and the Tarlabaşı Community Centre, among others. These meetings have informed this article.