The space-times of return migration: migrant worker men and staying in the home village in China
AffiliationSchool of Geography
Document TypeHonours thesis
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Despite the ubiquity of rural-urban migration in contemporary China, the mobile dynamics of the enormous, and growing, population of migrant workers remain little understood. Although acknowledging that movements are incredibly diverse, existing research on migration in China is narrowly quantitative, aiming to take stock of broader trends, but with a limited focus on how migrants are experiencing and navigating their complex mobilities. As an entry point to these mobile lifeworlds, this thesis examines the return migrations of working men in a village in Shanxi province, with a focus on the role of household and home in contemporary configurations of translocal mobility. Drawing predominantly on 25 semi-structured interviews with return migrant men, I deploy a relational epistemology of time and im/mobility to apprehend the gendered processes shaping returns to and stays in the home village. Following the 'mobilities' critique, this thesis finds that, contrary to the paradigm focus in migration studies on the production of movement, the distinct processes shaping stasis are equally critical to the construction of a return migration, a perspective that is largely obscured by existing conceptualisations of migration. Masculine experiences of the village space are set within the increasing embeddedness of mobility in China, as practices associated with the persistently uneven distribution of economic opportunity become normalized in the rural household. This research demonstrates that continued stays in village are shaped at the conjuncture of social networks, household needs and possibilities of livelihood, manifesting as particular and contingent expressions of translocal circularity. However, despite the pervasiveness of mobility, transitions from place-to-place are not frictionless, marked instead by differentiated experiences of waiting and diverse orientations to the past, present and future. I conclude with a broader discussion of masculine return migration within contemporary practices of rural mobility in China, explicating the notion of an 'asymmetry of place' to reflect the continuing significance of the village home in migrant lifeworlds.
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