In a globalised world, the actions of groups and individuals span across multiple geographical scales. In recent years, migration researchers have called for taking multi-scalar processes more seriously. In a multi-scalar global perspective, local, regional, national, and global are not separate levels of analysis; they are mutually constituted spheres of action in which people – both migrants and non-migrants – live. This perspective allows researchers to investigate not only the different opportunities and constraints created by nation states, but also the conditions produced by urban and regional contexts within specific nation states, as well as the transnational settings in which migrants act. Some research on transnational migrant entrepreneurship does exist but studies seriously addressing the global multi-scalar perspective by examining how entrepreneurs bridge urban, regional, national, and global spaces are scant. This session contributes to filling this research gap by examining the local, regional, national, and global contexts in which transnational migrant entrepreneurs (TME) are embedded, and how they bridge these different spaces through entrepreneurial activities and creative mobility strategies. We are interested in comprehending the diverse contexts of opportunity, or lack thereof, against the backdrop of entrepreneurship policies and mobility regimes in which cities, regions, states, and global spaces are imbricated. Understanding how transnational entrepreneurs creatively connect and transform such settings through the multi-scalar mobilities of people, goods, capital, and ideas is central. With this panel, we also want to examine how these multi-scalar processes (re)produce social, economic, and spatial power dependencies as well as social inequalities.
Entrenchments for commodities. Brokerage, transnational mobilities and low-cost Chinese goods in Mexico
José María Castro Ibarra (Leiden University)
This research focuses on small retailers and entrepreneurs' practices engaged in multi-scalar global channels of low-cost goods from China to Mexico. Some of these brokers travel intermittently to China, others import from Mexico, and others inhabit China. Their labor is linked to the economic globalization 'from below'. As a popular process, this opens the gates to a multiplicity of social actors to immerse themselves, individually or communally, in transnational business dynamics. As petty capitalists and brokers, they build global mobility systems of goods through (in)formal channels. Contemporary globalization is composed of overlapping and interdependent flows of goods, capital, information, and people. Despite being a macro-scale process, it is sustained by a multiplicity of local processes interconnected through social actors, enterprises, governments, and communities in transnational contexts. Usually, the existence of these flows of commodities is taken for granted by scholars. However, brokers must face various threats to set down these mobility systems: criminalization, business competition, bureaucracy, nationalism, and, currently, the COVID-19 pandemic. This study aims to understand how brokers build transnational circuits of goods while facing obstacles and risks.
Appropriating multi-scalar bordering processes: Deviant entrepreneurship and translocal anchors among illegalized sub-saharan migrants
Louis Vuilleumier (University of Fribourg )
European mobility regimes impose specific spatialities and temporalities on migrants through physical and social immobilization. Nation-states sort un/desired migrants through sets of precarious administrative statuses, which are translated into a limited access to resources and notably the formal labour market. However, facing enduring unemployment situations, impoverished migrants show themselves creative. Some start an entrepreneurial journey across Europe and thus find ways to navigate multi-scalar bordering processes (European migratory policies, multi-national contexts and local implementations). While most studies on transnational migrant entrepreneurs focus on “highly skilled” migrants and/or legitimate markets, I propose to capture the multi-scalar strategies of precarious migrants active in low-level street drugs dealing: a form of negatively labelled entrepreneurship. Drawing on the trajectories of precarious migrants, I use biographical analysis and participant observations of a squatters’ mobilization in a Swiss city to explore how illegalized migrants appropriate spaces of multi-scalar and asymmetrical power relationships. Instead of openly challenging those nested bordering processes, I demonstrate that illegalized migrants’ practices of appropriation oscillate between daily forms of discreet resistance and deliberate conciliation. Moreover, I grasp how the evolution of a deviant entrepreneurial journey relies on the capacities to develop, maintain and mobilize translocal anchors, which depend on networking and (im)mobility strategies and span across different localities. Neither victimizing nor romanticizing deviant entrepreneurship, this paper offers a multi-scalar perspective on the capacities of an impoverished population to appropriate imbricated European mobility regimes that attempt to constrain their physical movements and their financial opportunities by creating spaces of narrowed autonomy.
From Market to Market: Filipino-Canadian Entrepreneurs Refashion a Transnational Alternative Business Landscape
Lynne Milgram (OCAD University Toronto)
Studies of Philippine labour migration have rather grimly pictured migrants’ potential for upward socioeconomic mobility in their adopted countries. My research on small-scale Filipino-Canadian entrepreneurs demonstrates, however, that migrants, historically considered a disenfranchised group, have instead established successful enterprises by creating interstitial “gray spaces” of alternative-economy work while fostering social belonging. To engage this issue, I analyze migrant Filipino-Canadian entrepreneurs in Toronto, Canada whose businesses import packaged foods from the Philippines and locally prepare Filipino foods for sale to residents generally, and to Filipino-Canadian migrant communities, in particular. By operationalizing personalized transnational connections between the Philippines and Philippine-Canadian communities, selling local residents’ home production (e.g., prepared foods, garden vegetables), and contributing to their community’s social well-being, Filipino-Canadian migrant businesspeople emerge as edgy “barefoot” or social entrepreneurs redrawing the frontier of their transnational migrant enterprises. Navigating government constraints on importing certain foods, maintaining their appeal to both second generation Philippine-Canadians and to older immigrants while activating community outreach, these entrepreneurs fashion grass-roots transnational-to-local businesses “from below.” Responding to community requests, social entrepreneurs facilitate Canada-to-Philippines digital and shipping services while working in the Philippines with producers to process foods for final manufacture in Canada. By navigating formal/informal and “sharing economy” provisioning channels, entrepreneurs sustain their socially-responsible mandate while financially securing their businesses. Toronto’s Filipino-Canadian entrepreneurs thus problematize any assumed migrant marginality.
Migrant Entrepreneurs Striving to Build Businesses across National Borders: Dependencies, Fragilities and Alternatives
Laure Sandoz (nccr - on the move, Institute of Geography, University of Neuchâtel)
Christina Mittmasser (nccr - on the move, Institute of Geography, University of Neuchâtel)
Yvonne Riaño (nccr - on the move, Institute of Geography, University of Neuchâtel)
Lorena Izaguirre (nccr - on the move, Institute of Geography, University of Neuchâtel)
In recent years, scholars have highlighted that migrant entrepreneurs increasingly conduct their businesses beyond national borders, which provides them with new opportunities to achieve social mobility not only in a local and regional context but also in a transnational one. In this paper, we examine the kinds of dependencies, fragilities and alternatives that emerge when migrants strive to develop businesses across multiple scales, and apply the lens of 'globalizations from below'. We ask to what extent social, economic and spatial dependencies affect migrants’ agency and efforts towards social mobility. To do so, we develop a typology based on a three-country-case empirical study in Colombia, Spain and Switzerland. Our research partners include tertiary educated and transnational entrepreneurs with migration experience (migrants and returnees) in Switzerland, Spain and Colombia. We use multiple methods including 95 biographical and semi-structured interviews, geographical and mental maps, ethnographic observations, and participatory Minga workshops. To study dependencies, we focus on the diverse spatial and social connections upon which transnational entrepreneurs rely in both private and professional life. To examine fragilities, we assess the level of risk and vulnerability associated with the former socio-spatial connections. To grasp alternatives, we analyze the strategies that migrants develop to overcome the former fragilities. We contribute to the broader debate on 'globalizations from below' by showing that globalization builds on dependencies not only on a large scale (between geographical regions, social groups and economic sectors), but also on a micro scale in the local spaces where individuals live and experience their daily lives.
SFM Neuchâtel and nccr - on the move
University of Neuchâtel, Institute of Geographie
Jose Maria Castro
University of Fribourg
B. Lynne Milgram
nccr - on the move, Institute of Geography, University of Neuchâtel