Tag Archives: Migrant workers

Written On The Body: Women, Migration and Borders

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

Morag Rose Geog Directions.jpg

Singapore Airport. Image credit: Flikr user Zsoolt CC-BY-NC 2.0



Much current popular discourse on immigration is often dominated by tabloid hysteria and dangerous political games. Concern about this has been voiced by many, including my former Sunday Times colleague, Liz Gerard, “The press and immigration: reporting the news or fanning the flames of hatred?” This polemic tends to dehumanise individuals and ignore the complex economic, political, social and emotional drivers behind the movement of people.  In her recent article in Area, Lucy Jackson seeks to explore the emotional impact of immigration and how it shapes real lives.

Jackson takes the body as the territory she explores, following the work of Longhurst (1994) who describes the body as the “geography closest in”. Jackson works with two different sets of women in Singapore; western expatriates and foreign domestic workers (even these commonly used words are loaded with assumptions). The two different groups of women have contrasting experiences of stigma and exclusion within Singapore and effectively live “separate but parallel lives”. However, despite their differences, the women share many commonalities and can all be described as economic migrants.

Singapore has actively encouraged temporary migrants but the participants were often discriminated against as outsiders. Their autonomy is limited by a range of social forces which range from comments in the street to being unable to open their own bank account or feeling restricted to certain areas. They create their own distinct personal territories which are both geographical and emotional. Food and clothing become very important as markers of identity, memory and community.  Both groups suffer ill-effects as a result of stigma and stereotyping, although their experiences are very different.  Borders operate and impact at many different scales and Jackson concludes “the border of the body is porous and migrant women actively practice and perform aspects of ‘border maintenance’ as a reaction to being excluded emotionally and physically from the social and cultural territory of the host society” (Jackson, 2016 p297).

Jackson’s work is attentive to individual, embodied experience and humanises the impact of social policies based on exclusion and othering. I fear this is a task that becomes ever more necessary for academics, activists and anyone concerned with civil liberties and freedom of movement.


60-world2 Gerard, L“The press and immigration: reporting the news or fanning the flames of hatred?” Subscribe Online

books_icon Jackson, L 2016  Experiencing Exclusion and Reacting to Stereotypes? Navigating Borders of the Migrant Body Area 2016 48.3 pp292-299 doi:10.1111/area.12146

books_icon Longhurst R 1994 The geography closest in – the body … the politics of pregnability Australian Geographical Studies 32214–223

Migration for development

By Jenny Lunn

The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2009 focused on the role of mobility in increasing human development. The report identified that voluntary migration provides higher incomes and more opportunities to those who move and also has beneficial effects on the areas that send and those that receive the migrants.

Ben Rogaly’s article in Geography Compass examines one particular type of economic migrant: unorganised temporary migrant workers, defined as those who travel away from their usual place of residence for just a few weeks or months. His field research in eastern India looked at men who combined crop production on subsistence plots in their village with local wage work and temporary migration for agricultural work.

He found that the temporary migration did, indeed, bring some benefits. One labourer explained that by travelling to a neighbouring village to do agricultural work he was more likely to be paid promptly for his work, whereas in his own village complex relations of patronage often meant delayed payment. It also emerged that some engage in temporary migrant work as a strategy to raise resources to start a small trade or business. On the other hand, temporary migrants experience harsh work regimes and dangerous conditions. One person explained the physical pain he experienced when working in a potato cold storage where he was required to carry loads of fifty to sixty kilos for a stretch of three to four hours. Another described the risks he took to earn more money, such as sleeping at night on a travelling lorry to avoid losing a day’s trading.

Temporary migration for work has both positives and negatives, but the scales must weigh on the side of the advantages for all those who choose to do it. The overall impact on human development, though, is variable.

Read the article in Migration News about the 2009 Human Development Report on mobility

Read Ben Rogaly’s article in Geography Compass about unorganised temporary migrant workers

Precarious work conditions in London’s top hotels

London at night

London at night

By Rosa Mas Giralt

BBC Newsnight reporters went undercover to investigate the exploitation of cleaners in some of London’s leading hotels. The hotels contract with cleaning agencies to undertake the servicing of their rooms; however, there is evidence that agency staff are often paid less than the legal minimum wage of £5.73 per hour. Furthermore, the pressure to service the rooms quickly is detrimental to the standard of cleaning. Many of the protagonists in this documentary are migrant workers from other EU countries who are facing the harsher side of the neo-liberal labour market in the UK.

Exploring the experiences of low-paid migrant workers in the UK highlights cases of precarious labour conditions and may help balance public perceptions of the reality that many migrants face once in the country. In a recent article in Geography Compass, Louise Waite argues for a critical geography of precarity.

Watch the full documentary on the BBC Newsnight website

 Read the full article: Louise Waite (2008) “A Place and Space for a Critical Geography of Precarity?” Geography Compass