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.

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