Hierarchies of Middling Transnationals: Indian It Workers in Singapore -- CANCELLED

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 301
Selvaraj VELAYUTHAM , Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia
Amanda WISE , Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, North Ryde NSW, Australia
This paper builds on emerging literature around ‘middling transnationals’ (cf Ho 2011).  Drawing on empirical research among Indian IT workers in Singapore, the paper advances two propositions.  It argues that there has been insufficient consideration of skilled migration in terms of national and racial hierarchies of opportunity, rights and conditions; and that so far, literature on skilled transnationals has been too receiving country centric. IT is an interesting example of a highly transnational skilled occupation that has become associated with workers from India. It is argued that IT has become associated with India in ways that naturalise precarious forms of employment and attracts less favourable conditions than occupational categories more associated with White professionals. Using the example of Singapore, we argue that conditioning occurs via four intersecting factors. First, Singapore has a long-standing tradition of visa hierarchies which situate White, European transnational elites at the apex of the occupational hierarchy, and dark skinned workers from the Indian sub-continent at the bottom.  Although ‘dark skinned’ workers have traditionally been low waged low skilled, perceptions of the recent flow of middling transnational skilled Indians builds upon this history of racial sorting. Second, we suggest consideration needs to be given to deeper social, cultural and historical analysis of how labour has been conditioned historically and in the present era in sending countries like India and how this in turn translates into conditions in receiving countries with respect to what workers accept as ‘their due’ and what they consider to be normal.  Third, we suggest a more global circulation of colonial era ideas of racial hierarchy continue to cast a long shadow even to the most modern of occupations like IT. Finally, IT as an industry has emerged as a quintessential post-industrial service industry characterised by highly precarious sub-contracting forms of transnational labour supply.