Mobility, Space and Livelihood Trajectories: New Perspectives on Migration, Translocality and Place-Making for Livelihood Studies

In: Livelihoods and Development
Author: Benjamin Etzold
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People’s movements and their immobilities are both structured and structure-specific livelihood trajectories and the places at the crossroads. This chapter connects livelihood studies to recent geographical research and draws on Bourdieu’s theory of practice as conceptual frame analysing the relations between (im)mobility, translocality and place-making in three steps. First, I argue that migrants and refugees are permanently positioning themselves in translocal social fields and that their trajectories are often marked by conflicts and fragmentations. The ‘turbulent’ journeys of sub-Saharan migrants to Europe show that spatial and social trajectories are neither direct nor unilinear, particularly when people are confronted with restrictive migration regimes and militarised borders. Second, mobility can contribute to the livelihood security of, then, translocal households. Other examples from the European border space and from Bangladesh do, however, indicate that translocal social networks can become a burden or cause new vulnerability. Third, any analysis of translocal livelihood trajectories is incomplete when it fails to consider the structure of the places that serve as ‘crossroads of migration’. Transient places are permanently transformed through different rhythms and forms of mobility, i.e. flows of people, capital, goods and ideas. While such transformations open up further options for translocal livelihoods, they pose challenges to established structures of territorial regulation and evoke new contestations over space.

Introduction

Mobility and translocality shape the everyday life and the livelihoods of an increasing number of people. More than 1 billion people have embarked on a journey through time and space and now live at a different place; the United Nations estimates that 244 million people live as international migrants outside of their country of birth, whilst 740 million people are believed to be internal migrants within their own country (International Organisation for Migration [iom] 2016: 5). Amongst all these mobile people, a rapidly growing number had to flee. At the end of 2015, more than 65 million people have been forcefully displaced from their homes; 24 million now live as recognised refugees or asylum seekers in another country, whilst 41 million people are internally displaced persons within their country of birth (iom 2016: 8).

One could argue that spatial mobility is and has always been part of human history. However, the voluntary or enforced mobility of such a large number of people must be considered as an indicator of significant economic, (geo)political, social, and indeed environmental transformations that take place in the contemporary world (Castles 2010). Spatial mobility is both an outcome and a driver of social mobility. It not only evokes changes of the social positions of the migrants, but also changes the lives of those people who are not mobile themselves, but sedentary. Migration contributes to transformations of societal relations, for instance family relations, gender relations or existing divisions of labour, and puts into question the fundamental political relations between a state, its ‘own’ citizens and the ‘foreign’ citizens. When people move through space – and bring along objects, capital, information and ideas – they often challenge the existing territorial order: they connect and transform places, they create new translocal relations, and they shape fluid landscapes that are both real and imagined worlds (Appadurai 1996: 33). In other words, migrants are writing new geographies.

This chapter looks at movements and immobilities of people, how they are structured by and how they do structure individual and collective livelihood trajectories on the one hand, and places at the crossroads on the other hand. It seeks to connect livelihood studies, in particular the dynamic livelihood trajectory perspective, to recent geographical research on migration and translocality and the reproduction of space and place.

Of course, the connection between migration studies and livelihoods studies has been made often before (de Haan 1999; Thieme 2007; de Haas 2008). There have also been pleas for a careful consideration of spatialities in livelihood studies (Bohle 2007; de Haan 2008). What has been missing is, however, a solid socio-theoretical foundation through which the relations between social and spatial (im)mobility on the one hand, and translocality and place-making on the other, can be explained. By drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice, I seek to provide such a concise conceptual frame (for a discussion of Bourdieu’s theory in livelihood studies see Sakdapolrak 2014). In this chapter, I also want to draw attention to the very fragmented nature of social and spatial livelihood trajectories, translocal relations and local place-makings.

In Section 2, I will introduce a Bourdieusian research perspective and elaborate how one might apply it fruitfully to analyse livelihood trajectories in both their social and spatial dimensions. I will argue that people’s positioning processes in social fields are a constitutive feature of everyday life. By using examples from fragmented journeys of sub-Saharan migrants to Europe, I will also show that spatial trajectories are not always straightforward. People’s mobility is in many cases neither direct nor unilinear, in particular if people are confronted with restrictive migration regimes and increasingly militarised territorial borders. In section three, I elaborate the use of the translocality paradigm for livelihood studies. Translocal relations are established actively in the migration process and can contribute fundamentally to the livelihood security of translocal households. Yet, these translocal social ties can also become a burden: they do not hold, are actively cut and are reworked again and again. In the fourth section, I will shift the focus to the analysis of those places that serve as important hubs in translocal networks or as the crossroads of migration. Urban research demonstrates that, like other individuals, migrants do make their own places and change the character of existing places. The places where translocal flows of people, capital, goods and ideas intersect are permanently transformed through different forms of mobilities: they are transient spaces (Bork-Hüffer et al. 2016).

The Social and Spatial (Im)mobility of Livelihoods

People’s livelihoods are not static, but rather unfold dynamically over time as people take on and change positions in social fields. Social mobility often goes hand in hand with spatial mobility, for instance when we think about educational migration. The contrary can be the case, too. Spatial immobility can be the outcome of social immobility, if people lack the resources and networks to migrate. As both are closely related, I sketch the social and spatial dimensions of dynamic livelihood trajectories in the following.

Social (Im)mobility and Livelihood Trajectories

The livelihoods perspective and vulnerability thinking have much in common (Bohle 2009). Both require a concise analysis of the baseline conditions and triggers of people’s vulnerability to, for instance, natural hazards, economic shocks or political violence. Both sharpen researchers’ foci to assess the capacities and strategies of actors, households and communities, and their respective embeddedness in networks and their position in the broader society. And both bear in mind the structural formations of people’s vulnerability or livelihood security in terms of social norms, values, legal rules, and governmental policies. Several authors (Dörfler, Graefe, and Müller-Mahn 2003; de Haan and Zoomers 2005; Bebbington 2007; Sakdapolrak 2014) have suggested that incorporating Bourdieu’s theory of practice (cf. Bourdieu 1985; Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992) in vulnerability and livelihood studies helps to shift the focus from agents’ individual capacities to their relational positions in social fields, to their habitus and socially embedded practices, and to inherent social conflicts and political contestations at distinct places. In my reading, Bourdieu’s work provides a particularly advantageous basis for a critical theory of vulnerability, livelihood (in)security and social inequality as it is sensitive to even subtle differences between agents and groups and the power relations that make the difference.

Livelihoods compromise the capabilities, capacities and activities required to sustain one’s living and also incorporate the non-material aspects of well-being, such as a personal sense of security, meaning, social status and identity (de Haan and Zoomers 2005: 32; Bohle 2009: 521). Assets are ‘the basis of agents power to act and to reproduce, challenge or change the rules that govern the control, use and transformation of resources’ (Bebbington 1999: 2022). In a Bourdieusian sense, livelihoods are based on the life courses of agents, their past and present positions of power within society, or rather in hierarchically structured social fields (Bourdieu 1985: 724). Having internalised their position and their endowment with economic, cultural, social and symbolic capital, agents develop a certain habitus, that is, long-lasting dispositions of ‘being, seeing, acting and thinking’ or ‘schemata of perception, conception and action’ (Bourdieu 2002: 43).

Making use of Bourdieu’s theory for livelihood studies, de Haan and Zoomers (2005) have operationalised Bourdieu’s habitus theorem into the concepts of styles and trajectories (see also van Dijk 2011). Styles are distinguishable patterns of orientation and action that consist

of a specific cultural repertoire composed of shared experience, knowledge, insights, interests, prospects and interpretations of the context; an integrated set of practices and artefacts … a specific ordering of the interrelations with markets, technology and institutions; and responses to policies.

de haan and zoomers 2005: 40
Styles do reflect long-term established social practices and routines as well as intentional strategic actions of individuals and groups. Livelihood styles or lifestyles reflect the social position of an agent, they are manifestations of agents’ habitus in everyday practices, and they are most crucial elements of social identity and a particular view of the world.
A specific livelihood style is formed over time. The term livelihood trajectory can be used to describe how an individual’s social position, life history and deeply internalised world views, beliefs, and aspirations do shape – not determine – a particular livelihood style (de Haan and Zoomers 2005: 43). Livelihood trajectories are a matter of social mobility – taking into account agents’ former and present social positions – and raise questions about individuals’ capabilities to see, access and seize opportunities.

Depicting livelihood trajectories can perhaps best be described as unravelling a historical route through a labyrinth of rooms, with each room having several doors giving access to new livelihood opportunities; but the doors can be opened and the room of opportunities successfully entered only with the right key qualifications. As a result, some doors remain unopened and rooms of opportunities not accessed; while new rooms of opportunities are sometimes successfully exploited, a person often ends up in a room that very much resembles the one from which he or she was trying to escape.

de haan and zoomers 2005: 44
What I want to highlight here, is that even those doors that have been opened before, might later be closed. New rooms of opportunities might only be entered by some, for instance by acquiring academic qualifications, whilst the same qualifications held by latecomers are no longer recognised as the room begins to fill up. And agents who had already successively entered and established a position might be kicked out, or previously enjoyed freedoms can be constrained. The room as such might remain the same in terms of the composition of people, but the rules of the game might have changed.

To sum up, livelihood trajectories can be seen as a methodological tool to map social mobility in terms of the specific ways that people take through social fields over time. In agents’ biographies, there are upward and downward movements as their position objectively improves or deteriorates (measured, for example, in terms of their economic capital), or as they get or lose access to opportunities (for example by gaining academic titles or when their title loses its value). There are also sideward movements as the respective economic or educational status of a person remains the same, but lifestyles, attitudes and values of that person change. The trajectory perspective should, however, not be limited to an assessment of individuals’ mobility into and within that room (to remain within the image from above). It should also recognise how societal institutions, categorisations and power relations shape the architecture of the room and its hurdles to entrance, as well as typical trajectories into and through this room. Moreover, besides this social dimension of livelihood trajectories, people’s everyday lives and their trajectories through time have clear spatial dimensions, which will be discussed below.

Spatial (Im)mobility and Livelihood Trajectories

In a spatial sense, trajectories can be understood as ‘spatial routes connecting places of origin and places of desired destination’ (van der Velde and van Naerssen 2011: 223). The aforementioned metaphor of the journey through rooms can be easily applied in a territorial sense. One room might be considered as a place or a nation state’s territory that is left by a refugee or migrant in order to live, find protection or work at a different place and in a different territorial container. Walls, in terms of national borders that can take on different forms and perform different functions, separate the rooms from one another. Yet, there are doors, that is, border crossing points, through which (certain) people can enter, if they possess the right qualities. For instance, the citizenship of a European Union (eu) member state enables its carrier free mobility and choice of residence within the eu, whilst citizens of third-party states require a holiday or working visa, or a visa that allows family reunification. The walls and the doors are protected through migration regimes, technologies of control and surveillance, and border personnel. But they are also underpinned by public discourses that legitimate the very existence of the walls and the doors and reproduce the territorialised boundaries between the inside and the outside and the insiders and the outsiders. Migrants do not only depart one room and enter into another, they also pass through different rooms on their journey, and they encounter different kinds of walls and face open and closed doors. Through their movements, migrants make their very own spatial trajectory and establish specific connections between different kinds of rooms.

The opportunities to be mobile, to pass through doors and other rooms, and to establish oneself in another room are unequally distributed within the global society. Some authors even argue that the unequal rights of mobility, and thereby a differential access to a translocal space on the one hand, and the unequal dependence on local resources and services of nation states on the other hand, is at the roots of a global class structure (Van Hear 2014).

Transnational upper classes are spatially autonomous [whilst the middle layers are largely not mobile and] tend to be dependent on the national welfare state they are affiliated with [and] the lower positions on a world scale are part of nation-states only by name.

weiss 2005: 714
The latter group is largely excluded from the services of any nation state and from access to legal migration. Even more so, the ability to legally cross borders is not only an indicator of social inequality, but ‘has become an essential resource of social inequality in a globalized world’ (Beck 2007: 690). This observation leads to at least four considerations.

First, the style of travel in the migration process is already a clear indicator of a migrant’s social position. There are always numerous modes of transport and several routes that can be taken from country A to a more distant country B. In its efforts to better observe, control and manage migration to Europe, the eu border enforcement agency Frontex (2016) distinguishes between arrivals by air, and land border crossing points on the one hand. This already depicts a social selectivity of the respective modes of transport as flight tickets and visas are not accessible for all (potential) migrants. Moreover, ‘regular’ passenger flows are distinguished from ‘illegal border crossing’. The mobility of the better-situated and well-educated classes that can afford to travel by regular means is regarded to be acceptable and even desired, whilst the mobility of the poorest and the destitute who cross the Mediterranean by boat or cross land borders by clandestine means is viewed as illegal, unacceptable and even dangerous.

Second, this factual and discursive illegalisation of migration (Etzold 2009) in turn produces specific spatial trajectories as many cannot travel along the most direct, secure and cheapest routes. Given highly selective asylum and migration regimes, heightened security measures, and externalised border regimes (Walters 2004; van Houtum and Pijpers 2007), the individual journeys of less privileged migrants and refugees have not only become more risky, and too often deadly (Brian and Laczko 2014), but also longer, more complex and fragmented. The pathways of clandestine migrants along the major routes to reach Europe, that is, the western Africa, western Mediterranean, central Mediterranean, eastern Mediterranean, western Balkan and eastern border routes (Frontex 2016: 16), now include interchanging phases of mobility and immobility. The migration trajectories that Schapendonk (2011) collected in his trajectory ethnography of sub-Saharan migrants’ journeys north include only few straight journeys from departure in the home country to arrival in the originally envisaged destination. Instead, zig-zag movements, back and forward movements, reversals and detours have become all too common. These non-linear trajectories are characterised by multiple attempts to cross the eu’s external border on different routes, by successful entries and, yet, repeated detentions and ‘voluntary return’, and by transversal movements in transit countries, such as Morocco, Algeria, Libya or Turkey (see also maps in Crawley et al. 2016: 22, 24). In general, the broad range of literature on transit migration shows that many migrants do often change their goals en route in terms of their preferred destinations, and their strategies with which they hope to reach these goals. They follow the pathways that were established by others, consciously evaluate the potentials and risks on the respective routes, and create new alliances that help them to move on (Collyer 2007; Schapendonk 2011; Suter 2012).

Third, many clandestine migrants actually spend more time waiting in limbo for the next border-crossing opportunities in cities and informal camps in border regions than actually being on the move. For example, the journey of one quarter of African migrants and refugees who reached Italy in 2015 took more than two years (Crawley et al. 2016). The duration of would-be migrants’ forced immobility is largely structured by the density and strictness of border controls and by the availability and cost of the migration services that are provided by smugglers and other agents of the migration industry (Nyberg Sorensen and Gammeltoft-Hansen 2013). Migrants require access to financial capital to overcome times of immobility. They try to acquire the necessary financial means for border crossing by working at the crossroads of migration and by tapping the resources of their family and social networks (Fargues 2009: 564; Schapendonk 2011: 128; Yükseker and Brewer 2011: 148; Suter 2012; Crawley et al. 2016: 42).

Fourth, migrants’ spatial trajectories are inadvertently social journeys during which migrants experience upward, downward or sideward movements through social fields. They are also moral journeys through which their own identities and world views are reconstructed. Spatial trajectories are always also social trajectories. Many (transit) migrants see their own journey as a rite of passage or as an adventure (Bredeloup 2013: 178) through space and time, by which they hope to get on in life (Collyer 2010: 6). Such a migratory adventure has two key driving elements: the ‘pressing urge to change lifestyle’ and ‘to escape a gloomy, predictable, everyday life’ (Bredeloup 2013: 170, 173), and the ambition to discover new horizons, cross existing borders, and to explore far-off lands. Embarking on the migratory adventure requires courage, a vision of and faith in the future, and ‘an irrepressible need for self-fulfilment’ (Bredeloup 2013: 180). While spatial mobility is thus often driven by an urge for social mobility, the role of spatial immobility is not always clear in this regard. Immobility can be an indicator of a stable social position over time, but also a sign of an upwards or downwards movement. The immobility of tens of thousands of stranded sub-Saharan migrants in the Maghreb can again serve as an example for the latter case. Whilst waiting for their passage through the border space, their quality of life and their social status deteriorates substantially: they are denied access to social and medical services, they are exploited in local labour markets, their human rights are not recognised, they do not have a political voice, and they face racist abuse and everyday violence by ordinary citizens and state agents (Collyer 2010: 15; Yükseker and Brewer 2011: 151; Schapendonk 2012: 579; Crawley et al. 2016: 43). The ‘forced immobility’ of migrants is not quiet and peaceful, but highly turbulent and violent (Martin 2011: 199). It is no surprise that most migrants, who are experiencing such conditions in transit, seek to overcome their immobility by moving on or returning home.

In conclusion, these four considerations show that the social and spatial trajectories of agents are closely related in multifarious ways. And yet, it is not sufficient to speak of spatial mobility and migration alone if we want to understand social (im)mobility or livelihood trajectories. We need to include the notion of translocality and the emergence of translocal livelihoods.

Translocality and the Emergence of Translocal Livelihoods

Until not so long ago, migration research was locked in territorial container thinking. The prevailing idea was that migrants leave a place of origin (container/room 1) and then arrive and settle at their destination (container/room 2). The migration trajectory was commonly described as a unidirectional and predictable process: once migrants left, they left their home for good and settled down. It was, however, increasingly observed that many migrants keep up and carefully maintain relationships with their country or place of origin, whilst nonetheless developing dense relations and embedding themselves in several places of transit and arrival. Today, the interwovenness of life-worlds at different places, the bridge-building relations across borders, and the emergence and reproduction of transnational social fields has become mainstream in migration research (Glick Schiller, Basch, and Blanc-Szanton 1995; Pries 2008; Vertovec 2009).

The concept of translocality builds on the transnationalism paradigm as it pleas for a relational, networked, and plurilocal understanding of space. The key difference to transnationalism lies in the departure from methodological nationalism (Glick Schiller 2007: 6). Not disputing the relevance of territorial borders, state actors and national identity politics as structural frames for migration, translocality authors freed themselves from a too narrow gaze of migration and transnational relations. More importance is instead given to the specific ways actors embed themselves in different social contexts and distinct places before, during and after mobility (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004: 1011; Verne 2012: 18; Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013: 375). Another motive has been to abandon the categorisation of immigrants into homogenous national groups and to overcome the artificial distinction between internal and international migration (King and Skeldon 2010).

The Importance of the Translocality Paradigm for Livelihoods Research

Since the 1990s the relations between migration and livelihoods have been discussed in academia. In the original Sustainable Livelihoods Framework developed by the Institute of Development Studies, migration was identified as one of three most fundamental livelihood strategies, amongst agricultural in- and extensification, and livelihood diversification (Scoones 1998). In the livelihood studies that followed, the focus was most often put on the positive and negative impacts that labour migration, other forms of spatial mobility and the absence of some family members had on households and communities back home, and on the working conditions and living situations of the migrants at the respective destinations (de Haan et al. 2000; Siddiqui 2005; de Haas 2008).

Mobile agents – no matter whether they are rural–urban, urban–urban or international migrants, whether they have economic motives or are refugees – not only move through different physical spaces and across administrative boundaries, but also traverse and expand different social fields (Bourdieu 1985: 724). These fields are not necessarily parallel or overlapping with the place or the national territory where the field is (largely) situated. Migrants do also not necessarily depart from a place of origin, travel via in-between places and permanently settle and integrate at a place of destination, which indicates that they leave their home behind. Rather, most remain situated in one socio-spatial unit – a translocal social field – which includes quite different social settings and stretches over multiple places, and which is (re)produced by personal relations, organisational networks and systemic interdependencies. Migrants’ everyday lives and their families’ livelihoods are not placeless, but rather characterised through network connections between places and their experience of ‘simultaneous situatedness across different locales’ (Brickel and Datta 2011: 4).

Translocality is, however, not a given fact that automatically comes into being through migration. A translocal space rather has to be produced and reproduced actively through translocal practices. In a Bourdieusian sense, translocal practices are the social practices of current and former migrants and of non-mobile agents that reach out from one place to another and thereby link different localities in one social field; or practices that link different translocal social fields with one another. Translocal practices include (a) acts of human mobility, i.e. permanent or temporary migration, business trips and journeys; (b) acts of communication, i.e. the transfer of information, ideas, and beliefs; (c) acts of circulating resources, i.e. money, artefacts; and (d) acts of investments in translocal networks, i.e. building social ties across space.

Rural–urban migration is often not a singular and unidirectional movement, but rather the first step towards a translocal life. People who are primarily living in a rural village do, for instance, regularly move to the city in order to work, to get access to education or health services. Those who primarily live in a city often go back home for family reasons, to attend festivities, or to help with the harvest. Circular patterns of mobility are established and migrants then do not live at one place only. Agents are simultaneously situated during mobility and during immobility in different places and employ their practices both within the logic of the respective local context and the translocal field (Brickel and Datta 2011: 11; Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013: 375). With regard to de Haan and Zoomers’s (2005) initial room metaphor, this means that agents can be and act in two rooms at the same time – not in terms of physical experience (as bodies still bind us exclusively to one physical container), but in terms of social embeddedness.

Social networks are of crucial importance for livelihood security, in particular for migrants and their families. A person with social capital belongs to a network of lasting social relations that enable that person to ask the members of this network for advice, a favour or help. Being recognised by the others as a network member is a precondition for gaining access to the resources that can be distributed through the network (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 119; Bebbington 2007: 156). Multiple individual connections between migrants, former migrants and non-migrants might constitute translocal livelihood networks (de Haan 2008: 56), which can facilitate further movements, material exchanges or flows of knowledge (Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013: 376). Having translocal social capital, that is, good network relations to several people at multiple places, increases the likelihood of migration movements, because networks ‘lower the costs and risks of movement’ (Massey et al. 1998: 42).

If not only close social networks exist across multiple places, but also shared place-based identities, translocal communities can come into being. For most migrants, the home is not merely the place of birth or the place where one’s family presently lives, but also a ‘space of belonging and identity’ (Brickel and Datta 2011: 13). Translocal communities are translocally organised groups with a common origin ‘whose members live in diverse locations, which are connected through functional interdependencies’ and who share a ‘collective construction of identity’ (Lohnert and Steinbrink 2005: 98). Translocality is then an important medium in the community members’ everyday lives.

The household, the central social unit in livelihood analysis, can become translocal through the spatial trajectories of individual household members. Translocal households have diversified their livelihoods through permanent, temporary or rhythmical (labour) migration of one or more household members and now share responsibilities and transfer resources among household members living at different places (Lohnert and Steinbrink 2005: 97). Material, that is, money, gifts and consumer products; and social remittances, that is, knowledge, ideas, values and norms, play important roles in the everyday lives and identity formations of translocal families (Levitt and Lamba-Nieves 2011). Transfers do not necessarily flow back home (in livelihood studies, ‘home’ is often conceived of as a rural village where household members own land, grew up, and developed a sense of belonging), but can be directed towards those places where optimum returns to investments can be expected. Such places might be a rural town in proximity of the village or a metropolis in a foreign country.

Translocal social fields are fundamentally characterised by uneven power relations. Mobile and immobile actors constantly ‘negotiate and struggle over power and positions through the exchange of various capitals that are valued differently across different scales’ (Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013: 375). The transferability and transformability of assets thus matter crucially for migrants and translocal households. Transferability refers to the spatial journey of the respective goods, financial resources, or knowledge between different places. The questions of by who, through which nodes and with which modes of transport and technical devices assets can be transferred, and what costs and risks are associated with the transfers, have been prominently discussed in the migration and development literature, in particular with regard to financial remittances (cf. Adger et al. 2002; Lindley 2007; Horst 2008). The transformability of assets, in turn, points to the modes and costs of transforming one asset into another, which is a key aspect in Bourdieu’s capital theory that has also been taken up in recent discussions on translocal livelihoods (Kelly and Lusis 2006: 839; Thieme 2007: 60; Sakdapolrak 2014: 25). The central idea is that economic capital can be transferred into cultural capital by investing remittances in children’s education; or into symbolic capital by using remittances to build a large house in the home town or village, which then becomes an indicator of upward social mobility and turns into social recognition by others. In turn, economic, social and symbolic capital that have been accumulated back home can become the key for facilitating migration. A family in West Africa might pool financial resources to support the journey of the eldest son to Europe (Mazzucato et al. 2013: 10). Translocal family and community networks can provide migrants from the rural home community with access to housing and jobs at an urban destination, as cases from Cape Town in South Africa (Steinbrink 2009: 278) or from Dhaka in Bangladesh (Etzold 2014: 8) show. And translocal networks between rural villages, which have been established decades ago and which need careful maintenance, can enable a comparatively safe and efficient seasonal migration of agricultural labourers, as another case study in Bangladesh has investigated (Peth and Birtel 2015: 107). For those who can adequately invest their economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital, migration and translocal relations can thereby enable upward social mobility and enhanced livelihood security.

Transaction costs arise when economic, social or cultural capitals are transferred and transformed in a translocal or transnational context. The respective capitals are also used and valued differently in different social fields (for example, in specific labour market niches or educational systems) and at the different places that matter for migrants. Societal negotiations and even contestations about exchange rates, place- and context-specific values, official recognition, and the right use of assets are therefore a normal part of translocal lives. The official recognition of academic titles or vocational certificates – institutionalised cultural capital in Bourdieu’s terms – does for instance shape the employment trajectory of a migrant significantly and thereby also influence his chances of upward social mobility and his abilities to live a transnational life (Kelly and Lusis 2006: 843; Lusis and Bauder 2010: 9).

Translocal Livelihood Security or New Sources of Vulnerability

The recent debate about migration, translocality and livelihoods seems to suggest that strong translocal relations might be an indicator of more sustainable, secure and resilient livelihoods as households have diversified risks to their livelihoods and use their translocal networks as means of adaptation to stresses and as safety nets for social protection (Warner and Afifi 2014: 11; Faist et al. 2015: 198). For example, Benz (2014) analysed livelihood changes, migration patterns and translocal relations in Gojal, Pakistan’s northernmost district. He argues that translocal relations have the potential to enhance households’ livelihood security and even provided the basis for a translocal development (Zoomers and van Westen 2011) of the region:

Migration and translocal strategies have considerably broadened the spectrum of viable livelihood options by providing access to resources and opportunities at distant places, thus overcoming local constraints. Only by this, access to higher education, better health treatment and qualified jobs could be provided for many Gojalis, resulting in enhanced human capabilities and rising income levels … Gojal provides a success story which seems to fit well into the new wave of migration optimism currently dominating the debates on the migration–development nexus.

benz 2014: 267
Other examples do, however, show that unsuccessful migration can also become an additional source of translocal households’ vulnerability and lead to a deteriorating position of migrants or those left behind. Seasonal migrants from Kurigram, a rural district in northern Bangladesh, contribute crucially to their households’ means of living with their labour in the nation’s capital Dhaka or in other agricultural regions. Migrants’ remittances are particularly needed during the pre-harvest lean season, when the families of small-scale farmers and landless labourers regularly face food insecurity. But their migration also involves risks and unforeseen costs. The participation in an organised labour journey to agricultural regions in the south is not free. Some migrants take up informal loans with migration entrepreneurs who facilitate these journeys and arrange work packages with landowners and employers. Their wages in the potato or rice harvest are minimal, the families back home quickly use up the remitted money for their own food expenses; hardly anything remains left for repaying debts. Among those migrants who come to Dhaka to work in garment factories, in the informal economy or as rickshaw pullers, some do not find adequate employment at all. As life in megacities is much more expensive than in rural areas, some use up initial savings or informal credits for their own transport, food and accommodation. When they return, they have less than what they had before and are not able to pay back their loans. In both cases, initial investments in labour migration do not necessarily pay off; or worse, the migration dream becomes the starting point for a downward spiral of even deeper poverty and indebtedness. Labour migration, which was intended to serve the diversification of livelihoods or as a coping strategy against shocks, might then become an erosive coping strategy (Warner and Afifi 2014: 11). The case from Bangladesh demonstrates that translocal households might end up being more vulnerable than the local household has ever been (Etzold et al. 2014: 11; Peth and Birtel 2015: 114).
The fragmented journeys of young Africans towards Europe reveal a similar dilemma in an even more drastic way. As already indicated, many African families invest in the clandestine migration project of a household member – most often the eldest son(s). Some even sell land or other assets that have been build up over years and years in the hope that the migratory journey will yield multiple benefits for the extended family back home (Mazzucato et al. 2013: 12). Given the militarisation of the European border regime and hostile conditions in many transit countries, many would-be migrants become stuck on the way. On the fragmented journeys to Europe new ties are created, new alliances and translocal networks are established on the move (through personal interactions and online, for example, via Facebook), whilst old (including family) ties are cut, as they are experienced as an extreme pressure (Schapendonk 2014). When being stranded without money and hope of moving on soon, some cut their connections with their family because they cannot stand the questions about when they will arrive and the ongoing requests for money to be sent home. Many are deeply frustrated because they cannot fulfil the high expectations of their family, because they cannot pay back the investments in them, and because they know they cannot return home with nothing in their hands (Collyer 2007: 683). For these reasons, many fear being deported back to their home country and are reluctant to participate in the ‘voluntary return programmes’ of the International Organisation for Migration (iom) or the un High Commission on Refugees (unhcr) (Collyer 2010). Their turbulent migration trajectory is also a moral journey, in which failure and deportation are not options; only a glorious return is imaginable:

The adventurer’s return cannot be anything other than voluntary in order for him to increase his notoriety, strength, and don the clothes of the hero. Under these conditions, being escorted back to the frontier will inevitably result in the migrants’ disqualification, in short, his fall from grace.

bredeloup 2013: 179
Fear of downward social mobility prevents many migrants from returning home in safety. Instead, on the basis of the logic of the translocal social field in which they are embedded, too many embark on highly dangerous boat passages to Europe, in which they risk losing their lives. Yet, ‘social death’ seems to be worse than ‘physical death’ (Bredeloup 2013: 179).

The Trajectory of Places

The considerations above show that in this age of globalisation and migration, livelihood trajectories can be seen as agents’ journeys through social space that connect, yet cut across territorial containers (or rooms) and thereby form one or several translocal social fields. It is, however, important to bear in mind that the respective rooms and the translocal fields constantly change too. This will be explained in the next section.

Places as Crossroads in Translocal Networks

In their accumulated effects, the sheer number of individual migration movements contributes significantly to spatial reconfigurations, as formerly distant places of origin, places of transit, and places of destination are brought into one same system of meaning. People’s mobility (just as the mobility of capital, goods and ideas) depends heavily on the material infrastructure of communication and information technology, and on the basic, yet crucial, lines and connections and hubs and nodes in transport networks. The space of flows relies on the space of places, to use Castells’s (2000: 443) terminology. The places are thus produced and reproduced through the flows that they emit, receive, distribute, or rearrange. The translocality paradigm focuses on mobility, flows and interconnections and thus on relational spaces that emerge through agents’ everyday practices. At the same time, however, it puts places at the centre of attention. A place can first merely be seen as a geographical location, the room or territorial container that serves as a transit station or anchor point for migrants and thus is a catalyst for mobilities. Places are inhabited and thus shaped by lived experience and loaded with meaning. Places can become the focal points of identities, and the sites of representations and contestations. On the basis of their specific history, places get inscribed their own rules and a distinct logic. And places are always relationally constituted as a single place cannot be understood – or even thought of – without bearing in mind its proximity or distance from, and its connections to, other places (Amin 2002: 386; Massey 2005: 184).

A place is thus always a crossroads of flows. Like cars and passengers intersect at a crossroads, material goods, capital, people, information and ideas that have their origin in other places and have traversed space come together and intersect in particular places, where they are exchanged, rearranged and reloaded with meaning. Depending on the scale of analysis, one could think of a market, a stock exchange, a computing centre where light-wave cables meet, or an airport, as a crossroads. And global cities are certainly the most important gateways for migration and central hubs in transnational networks (Glick Schiller and Çağlar 2011: 69). According to Brickel and Datta (2011a: 16), cities are the ‘sites of translocality par excellence’. If we take on a translocality perspective in livelihood studies, it becomes crucial to look at the social (re)productions of these crossroads. Translocality functions through and materialises in concrete locations, thereby the local is permeated and transformed. As people have their livelihood trajectories, each crossroads has its own trajectory.

Trajectories of Migrants’ Crossroads

Places are permanently transformed and reproduced through social practices; they are fluid and literally always in the making. The outcome of this process is open and actively renegotiated and reinterpreted by the engaged actors. These dynamics become clear, if we again use the crossroads as an image: new people move in, while others leave; there are different speeds of movements; there is a distinct rhythm of the use of this space of passage with rush hours and quiet moments; and the reconstruction of the physical infrastructure redirects the flow of goods and people, and shapes the quality of the place. Urban citizens live with, react to and contribute to the dynamics of transient urban spaces (Bork-Hüffer et al. 2016: 8). They invest capital, labour or time, and thereby contribute to the reproduction of urban space. Flexibility is needed if one wants to take advantage of permanent changes. Those who can adapt easily in a highly volatile context, for instance land developers and innovative entrepreneurs, might benefit from changes. For others, permanent transformations and the need for flexibility produce stress and insecurity. The different temporalities of the city’s physical structure reflect actors’ social positions of power in the city. Moreover, discursive events, political projects, and paradigm shifts leave marks in urban space. Each city and every place in it has its own historic trajectory. In many cases, the visible reconstructions of urban space reflect the power relations at a specific point in time and can thus be traced back to a distinct era, for example, to a period of nation-state building, structural adjustment or world market opening (on the case of Jakarta, see Simone 2010: 61).

Temporality and the dynamic nature of places have at least four central consequences for migrants who are seeking to secure their livelihoods in cities. First, migrants are not passive victims, but rather active drivers of urban restructuring. And they are creators of translocal or transnational flows (Smith 2001: 167; Glick Schiller and Çağlar 2011: 12). This shows most vividly in arrival cities (Saunders 2011) such as New York, Guangzhou, Dhaka or Istanbul, into which internal and international migrants continuously move and which therefore grow rapidly in terms of population, the economy and the built-up area. Migrants bring along their own package of perspectives, identities, habits, values and norms, which then mix with the local context and create new social, cultural, economic and political structures in the cities. Through their agency they are actively redirecting, reworking, contesting and sometimes even resisting urban restructuring and the flows into, within and out of cities. It is the people – and not the invisible hand of financial-technological globalisation – who define the character of and make the everyday life in their cities (Smith 2001: 5).

Second, the crossroads that are co-produced by migrants sometimes pose a challenge to established state regulation and neo-liberal governance regimes and might even lead to negotiations and contestations over space. Poorer migrants rather subversive productions of space are often perceived as less desirable or even intolerable – innumerable stories of slum evictions, raids against street hawkers or demonstrations for people’s rights to the city are proof of this. In cities, the existing power relations in a society and struggles over participation, citizenship and belonging show openly (Holston and Appadurai 1999).

Third, the social position of migrants changes over time. The dialectic process of adaptation and integration as well as resistance and separation evokes socio-cultural transformations among migrant communities and recipient societies; thereby the relations between the new and the original residents gradually changes (Glick Schiller and Çağlar 2011).

Fourth, the nature of translocal fields in which they are embedded might change too. Family relations across distant places might dissolve with generations, or they might intensify through technologies that enable easier and less costly communication. The direction in which translocal networks, and indeed the reality of people’s translocal lives, evolve not only depends on the trajectories of individual migrants and their families, but also on the ruptures and transformations at distinct places.

Migrants and their translocal practices contribute in various ways to (re)producing places as crossroads In a recent paper, Bork-Hüffer et al. (2016: 9) point out that migrants have agency and build bridges between different places, but also that they use their specific translocal capital to (re)produce local places of origin, transit or destination. Four modes of migrants’ reproductions of places are discussed. First, maintenance: if there are no distinct spatial impacts of translocal practices, the existing spatial structures and orders are simply reproduced. Second, modification: as migrants come to and live in certain arrival cities in large numbers, the sum of unintentional effects of migrants’ everyday activities on places and their translocal practices gradually change spatial structures and orders. Third, moulding: often places are intentionally modified in order to suit the interests and needs of migrants, their mobilities and translocal transfers. Local and translocal capital is used to change the existing spatial structures and orders. And fourth, making of new places: this is basically the same idea as moulding, but it is not existing places that are transformed, but rather new places that come into being to serve the interests and needs of migrants, their mobilities and translocal transfers.

A brief example from my research on street food vendors in Bangladesh might help to explain how the trajectories of livelihoods relate to the trajectories of places, and indeed the making of new places. In Dhaka, tens of thousands of rural-to-urban migrants make their living as street vendors. Their encroachment on public space is deemed illegal by the state. The street vendors nonetheless carve out spatial niches in the urban fabric as they build small shacks in edge spaces next to the street, for instance, over the open drainage system, as they occupy sidewalks and street corners with their flexible push-carts or as they move around with their goods and sell food snacks, hot tea, or fruits in a mobile manner. By offering their services, the hawkers not only mould the existing urban space, but they also alter the function of public space as passers-by stop to consume food on the street. The food and drinks offered are affordable to the urban poor and therewith crucial for the food security of hundreds of thousands of rickshaw pullers and other migrant workers. It is important to note here that the street vendors make use of family relations, translocal networks, and home-based identities in order to appropriate their own place in the city and to create these flexible and fluid informal vending spaces, which serve pivotal social, cultural, and economic functions in the megacity (Etzold 2013, 2014).

Conclusion

This chapter has tried to sketch new perspectives for livelihood studies, in particular for scholars who are captivated by the translocal social spaces that migrants, refugees and other mobile agents create in order to secure their livelihoods, and who curiously observe the transformation of local places that goes hand in hand with dynamic livelihood trajectories. I tried to play with the journey-through-rooms metaphor that was proposed by de Haan and Zoomers (2005) in order to explain the social and spatial dimensions of mobility and how they link with dynamic livelihood trajectories. The rooms that open up or withhold livelihood opportunities can first be understood as social fields – in a Bourdieusian sense – through which agents navigate in their life course by actively taking on positions, by leaving certain rooms and moving on to new ones. Access to livelihood opportunities might be restricted for certain people or groups. Each room thus has its own logic, its principles of inclusion and exclusion. In this sociological reading, the journey through rooms might be experienced by an agent as upward or downward movement – as enhanced or reduced livelihood security.

The second reading I offered was based on a geographical perspective. By using the spatial trajectories of migrants en route to Europe as an example, I argued that the rooms can be viewed as national territories through which mobile people move on their journey. The recent movements of refugees and clandestine migrants to Europe and the enhanced border security measures show strikingly that the access to certain rooms is both highly selective and highly contested. Those mobile people who do not fit into the right categories for legal immigration are forced to take detours. Forced immobility in the European border space and even death can be the tragic consequence. The spatial trajectories of migrants are inevitably linked with social mobility. Migrants depart from, pass through, and enter different territorial containers or rooms, and simultaneously experience a positional journey through different social spaces.

In a third step, I plead for the inclusion of the concept of translocality in livelihood studies. Translocal relations are produced through acts of mobility and other practices that cross different places. A translocal social field is thereby created. In pursuing their livelihoods, agents are then not only situated in one room, but can be simultaneously embedded in two or more rooms. Migrants’ social and spatial mobility can then only be understood in the context of the translocal social field, in which they are situated. Appalling labour conditions in urban industries might, for instance, be accepted by a rural–urban migrant, just as long as the urban livelihood helps to sustain the translocal household and as long as it is subjectively perceived to be better than the rural livelihood. Migration and translocality can actively shape and enhance the livelihood security of vulnerable yet mobile households and communities. Through financial and social remittances, migrants’ translocal relations contribute fundamentally to the transformations of their home places and regions. They are drivers of translocal development (Zoomers and van Westen 2011; Benz 2014). The livelihood outcomes of translocalisation are, however, not always positive. Sole reliance on migrants’ remittances might increase the vulnerability of translocal families to economic ruptures at the labour migrants’ destination. And the translocal social ties themselves might become a burden. Given the absence of local social security schemes, functioning translocal social protection (Faist et al. 2015) might be a solution to, but maybe also a trigger of vulnerability among migrants’ families.

Finally, I tried to elaborate that it is not only people who are mobile and have their specific livelihood trajectories. The rooms – in this sense understood to be places that are linked by mobilities – are under permanent transformation. Places such as a market or a whole city have, of course, their specific histories, and they have their specific futures which are actively shaped by all people that live and work at and use these places. In this age of globalisation, places can only be understood by analysing their connections and disconnections to other places, by investigating the flows of people, capital, goods and ideas that circulate within translocal networks, and by interrogating the individual and collective place-makings of people. Global cities that trigger, channel and crucially rely on, people’s mobility are particularly striking examples of such transient places. I would also argue that migrants are particularly active agents who fundamentally contribute to (re)producing places as crossroads through their local and translocal practices. They not only use the rooms, they appropriate them in order to sustain their livelihoods, they set up a material and social infrastructure that meets the needs of their translocal networks, and they constantly create new rooms – specific social and spatial niches and thereby indeed new urban forms.

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