Despite the burgeoning literature on a wide range of transnational migratory flows in Asia, research on “return” remains scarce. Return migration is not just a form of reverse flow; “return” is a highly emotive and contested notion. Why, for example, is the Nikkeijins’ journey from Latin America to Japan called “return” although for most of them Japan is but a foreign country? Why are the governments of China, India, the Philippines and Singapore, to name a few, actively encouraging “return” which supposedly becomes less relevant due to globalization and circular migration? How should we understand the recent proliferation of bilateral “readmission agreements” between migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries aimed at enforcing return?
“Return” is both emotional and political because it is regarded as at once an unquestionable right and an uncontestable duty, and is by definition bound to such primordial notions as “home,” “roots,” and “belonging.” In this workshop, we attempt to problematize these conventional understandings and open up the concept of “return” as a strategic moment of redefining economic, social and political relations in contemporary Asia:
Firstly, at the individual level, return constitutes a defining moment in a migrant’s life cycle and social relations. Return as an important life experience provides a powerful lens for analyzing how individuals interact with local societies, particularly in terms of social stratification, gender relations, family ideologies and identity, within a transnational context.
Secondly, return (re)defines states’ relations to mobile citizens and mobile foreigners. The admission of unskilled foreign workers in Asia is typically based on the assumption that the migrants would return. Indeed, deportation programs, often legitimated as a duty of return, have been crucial for the formation of migration policies in several Asian countries in the last decade.
Thirdly, return redefines Asia’s relations with the world. Historically, large-scale return migrations are always related to changes in international relations. The migration of South Asians back to the subcontinent following independence in 1947, Chinese descendants in Southeast Asia to the newly founded PRC in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recently, Viet kieu to socialist Vietnam, are just a few examples. Today, in most parts of Asia, return is an enterprising project instead of an exercise due to nostalgia. Returning to China or India from the West, for example, is perceived as a “return to the future”—to be ahead of global business and technology curves. Returnees are significant because the action of return reinforces allegiance and loyalty, yet the returnees are expected to rejuvenate and even revolutionalize the old. Return energizes nationalism in the globalizing world.
In sum, return destabilizes and alters some social relations, and at the same time serves to valorize and reinforce others. Return is as much an experience as a discourse. We thus see return as part of the project of remaking order in an increasingly mobile, open and inter-connected Asia.
We welcome papers which develop these themes in conceptual terms and through in-depth analysis of empirical cases. Papers may address, but are by no means limited to, one or more of the following sub-themes:
1. The process and experiences of return migrations that complicate the notion of “return” (e.g. return as a transitory phase leading to a further migratory project, and return as a continuation of mobility by moving to a major city instead of home village in the country of origin);
2. The social and political production of return migrations (e.g. ethnonationalism in South Korea and Japan that encourages the return of ethnic Koreans and Japanese from overseas, and the 1997 financial crises that triggered large scale expulsions of migrant workers in Southeast Asia);
3. Return and the changing economic order;
4. Return programs and policies, both those aimed at pulling desirable returnees and those removing the undesired;
5. Return as a dream, a topic, a metaphor, and an idea (for example, return as a recurrent theme in arts, and the linkage between the meaning of return and the politics of return on the ground).
Those interested should submit an abstract of about 400 words, outlining the main theoretical and methodological approach as well as empirical findings to Miss Alyson Rozells (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 31 October 2007. Please also include a brief CV which contains your main publications. Authors of selected papers will be informed in late November. Accommodation will be provided in Singapore for all participants whose abstracts have been accepted and limited travel funding will be available.
Miss Alyson ROZELLS
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore
#10-01 Tower Block,
469A Bukit Timah Road,
Tel: (65) 6516 8787
Fax: (65) 6779 1428
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