Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Morphogenetic Migrant "Illegality"

A conceptualization of migrant “illegality” in Japan that 1) considers the dynamics of its three vested actors; 2) is informed by the specific historical context of the last century; 3) juxtaposes the roles and identities that are inextricably linked to migrants’ agency will provide a robust explanation to the three paradoxes cited above.

Migrant “illegality” can be conceptualized in the following formulation:  its value is transacted by vested interests within accretive ideational contexts forged in history through which roles and identities are negotiated and from which emerges functional, practical benefits.  
In this formulation, migrant “illegality” can then be summed up in one adjective:  migrant “illegality” is morphogenetic.  The term “morphogenetic” means that the persons engaged in a phenomenon within a social system continuously transform both themselves and that phenomenon.   In the particular cases of Filipino migrants discussed in this dissertation, we saw migrant “illegality” as morphogenetic given that forging bilog savings amidst structural and cultural conditioning points impacted social structure in ways that eborated it.  This elaboration can be seen in how migrants’ reflexive agency transformed their skills and activated their social networks to produce income surplus.  Moreover, we also saw that in this same case of bilog savings, outcomes that preserve or maintain the status quo – that is, that migrant “illegality” is a zero-sum game – is possible (given the cases of Yumi and Subaru coming home broke).  In these cases migrant “illegality” is morphostatic since it reproduces the status quo of the social structure.

Now understanding that migrant “illegality is at once morphogenetic and morphostatic, let us reflect on its possible significance.

First, we may now appreciate better how the Filipinos persist and/or thrive in Japan.  Embedded as Filipinos are as a newcomer group, day-to-day logistics of living are transacted within the defaults of social structure.  From active and reflexive agency opportunities then emerges and these are negotiated to produce functional or practical benefits.  Compatriots without legal status are able to tap into this same process – anchored on their ethnic membership, producing a migrant “illegality” that is morphogenetic or morphostatic.

Second, since we now see that migrants without legal status in Japan may be on a morphogenetic level – that is, that they are able to overcome the liabilities of migrant “illegality” in order to effect elaboration of the status quo – then our understanding of the importance of the international labor market must be expanded to include migrants without legal status.  This brings to the fore issues such as labor protection and human rights and how these must be extended to include even migrants without legal status given an appreciation of their productivity despite their legal handicaps.

Third, we now see better that both host and source societies must recognize that the active and reflexive agency of migrants may (morphogenesis) or may not (morphostatic) overcome the current zero-sum status quo of migrant “illegality.”   This then makes both host and source societies rethink whether the resources put into implementing a single strategy (zero-sum status quo in migrant “illegality”) may be better invested instead in a dual-strategy:  one that leverages “illegality”’s possible morphogenetic outcomes against its equally possible morphostatic outcomes for the long-term benefit of both societies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Conceptualizing a Functional Migrant "Illegality"

The third way to think about migrant “illegality” is that there is always a point at which each vested interest can carve out – amidst both the structural and cultural conditioning forces I discussed above – a functional state of things that at once satisfies short term needs and provides potentially incipient elements for a still-to-emerge future state.  How that functional state is negotiated by vested interests and which constitutive elements are brought to bear is a result of both conditioning and agency.

To expound on this point, I discussed the case of savings by overstayer migrants arguing that the single fact of its possibility (as proven in the four cases of Bingo, Boy, Yumi and Subaru tabulated in Textbox 11) shows vested interests that may be instrinsically in opposition at some layers but also, at the same time, be tactically in cooperation in other layers.  As discussed, the stances of these three vested interests are, on the one hand, intrinsically in opposition at the political layer as this deals with sentiments of exclusion/inclusion based on membership entitlement by constitutents but, on the other hand, are simultaneously in tactical cooperation at the economic level as the benefits of cheap, compliant migrant labor powering industries that are constantly threatened with competition on a global scale immediately accrue to the same constituency.

The significant issue raised by this parallelism/coexistence of the political and economic manifestations of migrant “illegality” is not that this coexistence is possible but rather how that coexistence is achieved and maintained.   Given the highly polarized stances of the political manifestation of migrant “illegality” and its economic manifestation, I attempted to explain the inner workings of this co-existence thru Critical Realism’s concept of emergence.  I argued that the arrowheads of migrant “illegality” – the battlefronts, so to speak – are the day-to-day decisions (expressed through agency) of migrants where they negotiate roles and identities given both structural and cultural conditioning inputs.

To this end, we saw that this coexistence is made possible since from migrants’ reflexive agency on roles and identities emerges new elements that ultimately redound to a functional migrant “illegality.”  For example, I discussed how migrants with no legal status have a lower threshold on job satisfaction (i.e. they complain less about job conditions/pay and are more docile to job demands) and from this emerges skills transformation which, in turn, enables complementary sources of income.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Conceptualizing an Accretive Migrant "Illegality"

The second way to think (conceptualize) about migrant “illegality” is that it is accretive.  By “accretive” I mean that at any given point in time the specific and current nature of the “Illegality” that is transacted by its vested interests is at once initialized from its previous forms but not explained by them.

I must immediately qualify here that I purposely use the word “initialized” and not “produced by” or “determined by.”  This is so that I can qualify that, while accretion is, strictly speaking, a cumulative process, the accretive “illegality” I am suggesting here is a relationally emergent one (Elder-Vass 2010) with a constitution not wholly attributable to its component parts and coming into form as a result of the specific interaction and relations between these same parts.

This we saw through our interrogation of the concept of the unskilled through Japan’s recent history.  I argued that an accretive cultural or ideational conditioning of “illegality” that rendered the application of exclusion/inclusion rules vague, at best, make an “illegality” based on membership tenuous, at the very least, or unsustainable, at the very most.

To further this argument of mine I discussed the Korean and Filipino cases of ethnic pockets in Japan where historical events combined with the inability or unwillingness by the state to effect full integration conditioned a conception of “illegality” that is exhaustive in breadth and in depth. Ideational currents concerning “Illegality” in Japan can then be said to be, in a sense, “supersized” or “loaded,” waiting for triggers in the present era to unleash its hibernating venom.  In the case of the trivial or clinical aspects of “illegality” (its straightforward enforcement of duration and limitations on allowed economic activity), Japan is similar to other present day host countries.  But in the case of an “illegality” supersized by historical events, the Japan case is both unique and particular both in how it kept at arm’s length its once-colonized, now fully-embedded ethnic pockets.

That the cultural conditioning of migrant “illegality” is accretive in Japan has then at least two significant implications to consider.  Once again, how and where these points become relevant depends on the perspective of the vested interests interrogating each point.  And, the reader is cautioned here that my argued relevance does not automatically translate to or predetermined action as an accretive migrant “illegality” is a mere conditioning input that, in the end, is consummated into particular action by active agency.

The first significant implication of an accretive migrant “illegality” in Japan is to wonder if the current cumulative++ outcome of present day “illegality” manifests in themes that ultimately deter new “illegality” aspirants or still motivate current “illegality” participants to dig in and persevere longer.  In other words, in the case of the migrant, knowing that migrant “illegality” is accretive and thus banking on some kind of historical input to current action on “illegality” (which could be either leniency or strictness in implementing current migration policy) will he/she still invest in attempting legal entry but with the actual plan of overstaying or will he still persist longer?  On the other end of the spectrum, in the case of the host state, will an accretive migrant “illegality” be a conditioning input that argues for further repression of “illegality” or one that inspires policy aimed at leveraging unstoppable human mobility to secure Japan’s long-term demographic sustainability?

On this first point, I argued that Japan has chosen a continued path of repression of migrant “illegality” as seen in its recent actions (I cited three instances: 1) the APCCRS in 2003; 2) the further polarization in income gaps between the highly skilled and those doing “illegal” work;  3) the heightened racial profiling seen in recent policing trends.  On the side of the migrant – based on narrations of encounters with local authorities – I argued that there is a heightened dichotomy between local and national implementation of migrant policies with the former being more lenient given its relative invisibility and thus insignificance with national sentiments while the latter has to simultaneously project strict enforcement of status quo.

The second significant point that an accretive migrant “illegality” brings to the fore is to wonder which of the previous layers of ideational conditioning have been subsumed/integrated to the core issue (of membership) to a degree that they are mainstreamed/institutionalized and thus become constant inputs to present-day decisions; and which layers remain peripheralized and are thus still largely dependent on the whims of policy makers if they are to be considered at all in present-day policy making.

On this second point, I argued that the “unwantedness” layer on oldcomer ethnic pockets has largely been resolved on the level of legality but not on the level of continued heightened stigma (recall case of errant bus driver found to have Chinese ethnicity).  This unwantedness layer could not be projected to newcomer migrants (and the overstayers among them) given that the legal basis that spawed their entry was instituted by the host state itself.  But the trivial layer of duration and activity limits is now selectivey applied by the host state depending largely on the visibility of the decision.

To summarize this second section, the view that migrant “illegality” in Japan is accretive is significant in explaining that current decisions by the host state on human mobility are impacted by both ideational conditioning and by present-day imperatives.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Conceptualizing a Transacted Migrant "Illegality"

The first way to think (or to conceptualize) about migrant “illegality” is that it is transacted.  By transacted I mean that “illegality” represents some form of “currency” or “value” which a vested party uses or employs, at any given point in time and within any given set of defaults, as leverage towards the achievement of some advantage.

The perspective I am proffering that “illegality” is transacted may be beyond the conservative imaginations of “illegality” main actors.  Stated differently, a migrant may not be able to conceive, let alone see, that leveraging and transactions are possible even if the relative size, clout, and influence of the parties involved are different, even intrinsically in opposition.  Indeed, “illegality” by the term itself presupposes a monolithic, all powerful party (the host state) applying a status and its corresponding sanctions on a subjugated party (the migrant).  How can the subjugated, recipient migrant hope to transact “illegality” with its very applier, its source?  Conversely, the host state may by default assume that given all the resources and infrastructure at its disposal controlling mobility through the status of “illegality” is quite straightforward and necessarily unilateral.

But despite the relative implausibility of a transactionable “illegality,” as we saw in the discussion “illegality” is dynamically transacted even among intrinsically opposite vested interests.  The social system within which “illegality” exists is subject to structural conditioning elements that predispose (without predetermining) the agency of its vested interests.   These structural conditioning forces impact intrinsically opposite vested interests in different ways.  Their agency, issued in direct response to these structurally conditioning forces and other relevant conditioning elements, may or may not be consistent with their vested interests which at any given point in time is in flux and thus a moving target, so to speak.

A patent example of this situation I describe above is the Japan Labor Protectionism Matrix (see Figure 4).   A progression (or regression) of the agency of Japan as a host state is plotted in a matrix that shows that it has virtually exhausted the whole gamut of responses on the variables of bases and location.  Each of the plotted 12 responses may be argued to be consistent or inconsistent or a combination of both with the vested interest of labor protectionism as it was currently interpreted and assessed in response to structural conditioning forces at a given point in time in the century-and-a-half span covered by the matrix.

This thus helps explain the possibility of the first paradox that actions of vested interests in “illegality” may at times be incoherent.  This incoherence is due to the continuing evolution or redefinition – processes which I aggregate under the concept of emergence in Critical Realism – of each actor’s interests amidst the ever transforming social system.

As an example of this continuously emerging agency that reflect ever-transforming vested interests I developed the concept of a Compatriot Mechanism as a virtual snapshot of a crystallized response given the imperatives and nuances of the reality of embedded ethnic pockets in Japan.   The particular aggregation of structural conditioning forces that I argue were ultimately traceable to recent historical events were met with specific agency that catalyzed in four distinct expressions of vested interests that I argued all contribute to the sustenance of migrant “illegality” in Japan.

Now, our new understanding of a transactionable “illegality” must go beyond its immediately manifest usefulness, that is, in explaining the first paradox.  Informed by the methodology of Analytical Dualism (Archer 1995) anchored on Critical Realism, we saw that a transacted “illegality” is not in itself a conditioning element external to agency.  A transacted “illegality” is itself an emergent phenomenon arising from (but not wholly explained or attributed to) the instances of Necessary Complementarity that I argued existed in the 1980s and 1990s.   Thus, the monolithic and unilateral powers of Japan as a host state transacted “illegality” in response to the imperatives of embedded ethnic pockets and rising globalization forces by institutionalizing the SRS.  This particular instance of agency that embodied a transacted “illegality” by the state set in motion succeeding structural forces which, in turn, conditioned(not predisposed) the responses by other actors.   On the other end of the spectrum of size/influence/power of actors, the migrants themselves seeing this window of opportunity transacted “illegality” with the host state in their brazen appropriation of any SRS status that allowed them continue working toward their breadwinner role in Japan.  I argued that from this situation of Necessary Complementarity embodied in the transacted “illegality” by migrants emerged the newcomer phenomenon which in the case of the Filipino ethnic pockets gave birth to its particular Compatriot Mechanism.

To summarize this first section, the first way to conceptualize “illegality” is that it is transacted by its vested interests in ways conditioned (but not determined) by structural forces but ultimately consummated by their agency.  In and through this transacted “illegality” vested interests crystallize both their role in and impact to it.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Three Compelling Paradoxes of Migrant "Illegality"

What is so compelling about migrant “illegality” that it has warranted this dissertation?

At its core, migrant “illegality” is a strategy aimed at preserving the status quo.  The “status quo” we are referring to here is the desired quality of life (economic well-being, shared beliefs, etc) of nationals of a host state.  

How migrant “illegality” preserves this desired quality of life is fairly straightforward.  National boundaries and ethnicity effect group membership and thus entitlement to that group’s quality of life. Whoever is non-compliant with that group’s membership rules is “illegal.”  To be sure, even endemic members can be non-compliant (criminals, offenders) and thus “illegal.”

But indeed, such is the paradox of migrant “illegality” because while the “illegality” of endemic members is subject to punishment, reform and subsequent resumption of full membership privileges upon their re-entry into society, migrant “illegality’s” “illegality” is subject to punishment and expulsion from the national boundaries.  “Illegality” in the former case is determined by one layer of group rules (local laws).  “Illegality” in the latter case is determined also by those same group rules and by a second set of rules legitimized solely on the principle of membership.

Thus in migrant “illegality” a distinct and otherwise impotent, inconveivable even, class of offenses to endemic members – such as entry without permission, staying beyond a finite duration, and working in a job other than that which was authorized – become wieldy political currency transacted at will by the host state to address concerns of its constituents.  These concerns on the status quo may include, among others, peace and order (recall the discussion on the APCCRS) and job availability (recall the discussion on labor protectionism).

What is compelling then in the subject of migrant “illegality” – especially as applied to the particular case of Japan – are three paradoxes that arise given the situation I describe above.

The first paradox: actions by vested interests in migrant “illegality” are at times incoherent, producing outcomes inconsistent with their avowed goals.  One example of this, among others I cite throughout this paper, is the Status of Residence System which defines the limits on duration and productivity of migrants but also launches “backdoors” which non-compliant migrants easily exploit, in turn becoming their staging point to “illegality.”

The second paradox: the particular nature of the concept of social membership in Japan – that is, that embedded foreign ethnic pockets, forged thru specific events in its recent history (imperial/colonial/war defeat/1980s influx of newcomers), are at once members and non-members, renders a migrant “illegality” based on membership inclusion or membership exclusion highly tenuous.  I cited the cases of the Koreans and the Filipinos and argued that what I call a “Compatriot Mechanism” effectively negates the control function of the SRS, resulting in the sustenance of migrant “illegality.”

The third paradox:  inspite of the label of “illegal,” migrants unabashedly persist, some even thriving, beating the zero-sum immigration control system in Japan.  To further this contention, I discussed the case of Bilog savings and showed that “excluded” does not necessarily mean “non-functional.”