Lifestyle Migration in the Political Economy of Migration

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Michaela BENSON, Goldsmiths, United Kingdom
In this paper, I critically reflect on the question of who is a migrant; or rather, how might our understandings of what counts as migration need amending to recognise what current global economic structures do to population movements? It takes as a starting point my experience of working with relatively privileged populations who have moved to and settled in other parts of the world, primarily to enhance their lifestyles. As this panel makes clear, such movements are often positioned as a case apart from migration studies. And yet, as I argue, careful observation reveals how neoliberalism articulates with postcoloniality in the practice of privileged migration. I illustrate this through my research into North American migration to Panama, outlining the structural and material conditions that support such migrations alongside their agency in this process. While labour migration was a solution to industrialised and agricultural economies, the creep of financialisation—and profit without production—into capitalist economies, similarly makes migrants. The difference is that these migrants are drawn as consumers, attracted to relocate their finances to other economies through individual property and business investments.

This case, and others like it, demonstrate that the relationship between economics and migration would benefit from being reconceived so that it better reflects contemporary economic realities. Such a move would permit the recognition of such privileged populations as migrants, and bring further into the light those structures—currently obscured from general view—that facilitate the migrations of the world’s elites and relatively privilege in ways that fully recognise the contemporary political economy of migration. Simply put, in a world economy that functions not only through labour, but is being increasingly financialised, might we also need to reconceive of who is a migrant?