On March 26-27, the Mobile Labour Symposium was held at the University of Lisbon. The symposium was organized by the Colour of Labour project in collaboration with the EASA Anthropology and Mobility Network. The aim of the symposium was “to combine and link ethnographic and analytical approaches to the worlds of ‘mobile’ work, whether contemporary or historical.” This international symposium featured 25 presentations, mostly from Portugal and other parts of Western Europe, but also included two presentations from Canada by On the Move team members Peter Sinclair and Sara Dorow.
Peter Sinclair recently sat down with On the Move to discuss his involvement with the symposium and what we can learn from research happening across the pond.
A mobile worker himself, Peter moved multiple times before landing at Memorial University in 1980 where he was a Professor of Sociology for 30 years. His research over that time included a broad range of topics from fisheries to oil, and now retired, he continues to do research on migration.
Along with Martha Macdonald and Barbara Neis, Peter has been working on a paper exploring employment-related policies that deal with mobility. They submitted this paper to the conference, but the organizers, unfamiliar with the On the Move Partnership and keen to learn more, asked the authors to instead give a final summary address to the symposium exploring how the papers presented complemented and contrasted with the work being done through On the Move. The trio agreed and Peter took on the challenge.
I asked Peter, how did the papers relate to or complement On the Move research?
Very well indeed. Six of the 8 papers under review for an upcoming special issue of Mobilities focused on aspects of racialization of mobile workers in various ways, generally those moving internationally. The issues of how racial identification enters into people’s experience of moving is not a primary focus of On the Move, though there are elements of that in the project, but these papers expand the scope of our understanding of that aspect of employment-related mobility. That’s a good connection in itself.
The other two papers were also quite interesting and relevant, especially one that dealt with the organization of work camps, and getting to and from work in Siberia and in a mining enterprise in the Yukon. The main focus of [Gertrude Saxinger’s] work has been in Siberia and how the journey to and from work could be done by air but in many cases was done on a three-and-a-half day train journey in which people would get to know each other even more than they did in the work setting. So the train becomes a center of social connection and a major part of that experience, because that is significantly adding to your time in the workplace.
I remember contrasting [that] to the experience of commuters on the Bell Island Ferry, which also constitutes a little social setting, but totally different. There the connection is based on people’s living experience on Bell Island and the journey to work adds to that, whereas in the Russian case, the journey to work creates the community. It’s different but complementary.
Another thing that struck me, one of the papers that we will be commenting on in our Afterword for the special issue of Mobilities, by Jaafar Alloul, is concerned with the way that children of immigrants to Belgium sometimes choose to leave because they experience a racially-connected discrimination process. They may feel like the only escape is moving somewhere else, and there are some really interesting cases of people who have moved from Belgium to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, and have developed their professional lives in this context where they did not experience this implication that they were somehow inferior because of their visual racial identification. That was interesting because their migration was a push out based on that, and in a sense resolved it at the other end, whereas a lot of what most of us have looked at in the past has been the impact of coming into the new place, which has been to experience a degree of discrimination that is connected to racial identity. I thought that was quite interesting because I hadn’t thought about it before, and it was one of the rare times when I go to a meeting and find something really fresh and exciting.
One paper [by Sylvia Ang] was based in Singapore where the recent immigrants from mainland China to Singapore, which is primarily a Chinese ethnicity type of setting, experienced marginalization. Singapore is a setting where those who may have been born to Chinese parents but are recent immigrants are treated in a negative way, as if they’re just there temporarily, for the money. It is assumed they’ll be going back, and criticized because ‘they don’t behave the same way as we do’. The roots on that I don’t recall but it’s an interesting but unfortunate situation where one part of the Chinese ethnic community treats the other part as different, Other, alien. I thought that was really interesting too as we don’t usually recognize that people of the same apparent racial identification don’t treat each other equally and in fact racialize the Other. That’s one thing that I don’t think is in the On the Move project analysis, though we do have all kinds of good work that is connected to the foreign worker program and other international migration work-related activities.
While many of the papers Peter discussed considered aspects new to On the Move, other papers found issues that paralleled the research and findings conducted by some members of the team.
One on trucking from the UK [by Debbie Hopkins] fit very nicely with our PEI-based trucking work [by Natasha Hanson]. The papers find very similar kind of problems with the loss of control of the truckers over their actual activities due to the high degree of electronic supervision and the gender-related issues in the trucking world. There was a lot of similarity there, rather than contrast.
The upcoming special edition of Mobilities to which these papers have been submitted is set to be published in 2022, and will include an afterword written by Peter Sinclair, Martha Macdonald and Barbara Neis, expanding on Peter’s presentation at the Mobile Labour Symposium.
To learn more about the papers presented, find the symposium program here.