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Interdisciplinary Islamic Studies Seminar. "‘Bidesh Kara’ (Doing Abroad): Circular Migration and Bangladeshi Contract Workers."

Thursday, March 19, 2015
12:00 AM
1644 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

Transnational contract work and circular migration—the fastest growing trends within the field of international migration today—bring millions of workers from poorer parts of the world to affluent economies every year as more countries experiment with this form of non-permanent guest-worker arrangements. Defined as a fluid movement of people between countries, circular migration requires workers to tack back and forth between "home" and typically a number of different "abroads" in the course of a single working life. While this form of repeat sojourns can involve both "highly-skilled" professionals and "low-skilled" manual labor, the speaker's concern is exclusively with the latter, with particular focus on male contract workers from Bangladesh, who work in Singapore, Malaysia, the Arab Gulf, and the Middle East and North African regions.

Rather than approach transnational contract work/circular migration in terms of a socio-economic cost-benefit analysis, or as a problem of human rights and adequate management of labor-flows—two dominant trends within the literature on international migration—this talk situates it within a larger, historical question of the status of labor, especially the debates over the slippery line between free labor and forced labor. Drawing on ethnographic research among Bangladeshi migrants in Singapore, Malaysia, and parts of Europe, as well as among return workers and their families in Bangladesh, Professor Sarkar seeks to develop a critical understanding of “low-skilled,” transnational contract work as it evolves once again into widespread practice since final decades of the twentieth century. In the process, she hopes to offer insights into the complex interdependencies among different regions of the world—some with a surfeit of wealth but an ageing and hence shrinking laboring population, and others with endemic poverty, but a surplus, young labor force.

Co-sponsors: Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Center for South Asian Studies