In contrast to macro discussions of labor flows and remittance dependence between Tajikistan and Russia, this panel will look at issues of migration from the perspective of the everyday, or how officials and migrants involved in migration between Tajikistan and Russia encounter challenges of representation, mobility, and agency. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Tajikistan and Russia, anthropologists Malika Bahovadinova and Elena Borisova will share insights on bureaucracy and legibility, power relations, agency, transnational families, and care that popular representations of “labor migration” and “labor migrants” often obscure.
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Before the law: Policy, Practice, and the Search for the ‘Prepared Migrant Worker’ in the Transnational Migration Bureaucracy
The presentation will investigate the politics of representation in migration management bureaucracy by focusing on bureaucratic interactions and discussions about the ‘problematic nature’ of migrant workers that precede actual policy or law. It analyses the migration management bureaucracy in Tajikistan and Russia and this bureaucracy’s attempt to ‘regulate’ migration flows. It does so through the lens of representation: the process by which ‘migrant workers’ are made present and legible. ‘Seeing’ or selecting what ‘not to see’ in relation to migrant worker is a process situated in the wider field of not only of postcolonial bonds between Tajikistan and Russia, but also in shifts in the treatment of labor. The latter evaluates the transnational and global productions of who migrant workers are; the first situates these co-produced individuals in historically situated relations of power. Looking at these aspects of bureaucratic legibility in a coordinated fashion will provide a fruitful entry point for an analysis of migrant workers’ representations in the migration bureaucracy: using ‘how one sees’ and ‘what one sees’ as a complement to the process of legibility and practice.
Bio: Malika Bahovadinova is a political anthropologist working on migration, bureaucracy, and development. Her research has covered labor migration, development aid, migration management and migration law, as well the changing content and normative ideas of citizenship in Eurasia.
(Im)mobility, masculinity, and care in the context of migration in Tajikistan
Migration simultaneously facilitates and causes tensions in people’s projects of achieving and sustaining moral personhood. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork with migrants and their families in rural Tajikistan, in this paper I explore this dynamic by looking at some inherent tensions and paradoxes of care in the context where migration to Russia has become an exclusive means of sustaining livelihoods. Drawing on the ethnography of one migrant family’s attempts to arrange care for his elderly parents at a critical time of their increasing frailty and serious illness, my paper critically engages with the recent literature on care in transnational families. Bringing this literature into conversation with my ethnography and the debates about the regional culturally informed notions and practices of respect and authority, mutual presencing and involvement in neighbourhood space, I show how migration is entwined with the relations of indebtedness and care that are constitutive of moral personhood. By looking at migrants’ struggles to meet the disjunctive demands of care as an affective performance of respect and as material provision, I expose the key paradox of care in migration contexts – the necessity of being both present and absent at the same time. Against this backdrop, migrants’ attempts to bridge the disjuncture between the moral obligation to care and the capacity to do so can keep men ‘stuck’ in a loop of constant movement between Russia and Tajikistan: a form of mobility which is associated with constrained agency and lack of choice.
Bio: Elena Borisova is a social anthropologist, working on migration, (im)mobility, and citizenship in Eurasia. Her current research engages with the imaginative and moral aspects of migration in Tajikistan, and covers the questions of morality, personhood, modernity, the good life, kinship, care, and gender.