So I have been working with Brenda Yeoh (NUS) and Shanthi Robertson (Western Sydney) on a workshop – regrettably we did not have time to do a call for papers – on youth mobilities and immobilities in the Asia-Pacific region. The workshop idea first conceived when Shanthi approached Brenda, who then enrolled me into the project. Great to be part of the team. This will take place at Asia Research Institute’s new home, back at the Kent Ridge Campus, National University of Singapore, on 7-8 November 2016. We hope to have a diverse and excellent line-up of speakers to explore and renew an agenda for youth mobilities in the region. I think it will be a great 2 day workshop and am looking forward to it!
Youth Mobilities and Immobilities in Asia-Pacific Region
Young people in the Asia-Pacific increasingly move around for work, education and leisure. Traditional typologies of ‘sending’ and receiving’ countries in the region are changing, with countries such as Australia and Singapore serving not only as significant hubs for incoming and outgoing youth migrants, but also as places of transit, stop-over and temporary stays. Current national policy frameworks tend to encourage much of this mobility, reflecting the widely accepted view that transnational mobility will provide young people with enhanced life chances and competitive job skills, as well as benefit national and local communities more broadly through remittances, skills transfer, cultural diplomacy networks and an increasingly cosmopolitan and agile workforce. Furthermore, significant and increasingly diverse commercial interests facilitate youth mobilities throughout the region. This covers a wide spectrum of processes, from the trafficking and recruitment of marginalized young people into unskilled and undocumented labour flows, to the development of commercial enterprises around international education, voluntourism, internships and ‘working holidays’ that target a burgeoning population of middle-class youth. Varied forms of mobility, whether residential mobility out of the family home, rural-urban mobility, inter-urban mobility or cross-border mobility are increasingly connected across young peoples’ pathways to adulthood, and are positioned as desirable and desired experiences for many youth. Virtual mobilities and digital spaces play an increasingly important role both in these mobility aspirations as well as in the facilitation of mobile realities.
Desires for mobility are, however, equally underpinned by senses of global interconnectivity, and senses of increasingly precariousness of local and emplaced social and economic security. As such, the realities faced by varied groups of youth on the move are often obscured by aspirational positionings of mobility. For young women and men caught at the margins of enduring patterns of social division, mobility often engenders a set of new challenges and vulnerabilities. And, even for ‘middling’ and elite mobile youth, the actual outcomes and ongoing impacts of different forms of mobility across social, civic and economic domains are still poorly understood, and could be unevenly experienced. Further, in a context in which mobility is often seen to confer advantage or social capital, the consequences of immobility for contemporary youth, and a sense of how mobility and immobility work together across young people’s lives at various stages, warrants further attention.
This workshop seeks to open a dialogue between youth studies and migration studies within a mobilities paradigm to begin to set a renewed research agenda around youth and im/mobilities in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Youth studies has often focused on young people as emplaced, rather than mobile subjects, and, with a few exceptions (e.g. Coe et al 2011), migration studies seldom foregrounds youth experiences (Cairns 2014:2), tending to focus on adult migrants or transnational families. In addition, while there is a wealth of literature on particular forms of youth mobility, such as the prolific amount of work on student mobility and education, and the more emerging studies into voluntourism and leisure mobilities, connections across and between these literatures, and their connections to other forms of mobility are yet to be fully explored.
Within this context, we identify three key aspects around youth and im/mobilities that require further attention. First, very little research examines the actual impacts of different constellations of mobilities on young people’s experiences, including how these are configured in relation to immobility, friction and other ‘less-than-mobile’ states of being (e.g. Cresswell, 2010). Second, how are contemporary processes of youth migration and mobile practices intertwined with historically specific local and regional narratives about places, political regimes, and cultures of class, gender, ethnicity etc.? Third, the concept of ‘youth’ needs to be problematised both as an age-related category and as a set of discourses informing the work of governments, actors in different social institutions, and young people themselves (Durham, 2000; Ruddick, 2003).
We gather scholars whose works are related to Asia-Pacific youth im/mobilities to begin a conversation, in the format of paper presentation and discussion. The aim is to carefully examine the types, motivations, conditions and outcomes of mobility amongst a diverse set of young people across the region of the Asia-Pacific in order to understand its actual effects at various scales – from the impact of im/mobility on individual life choices and chances, to how im/mobility is changing forms of social and economic infrastructure, including how nation-states are seeking to govern and direct youth on the move to specific ends. Some of the key framing questions we seek to address include, but are not limited to:
• How are different spatio-temporal forms of mobility (cross-border, intra-national, temporary, permanent etc.) and motivations for mobility (work, leisure, lifestyle, education) interconnected for youth on the move?
• How do immobility and stasis also configure into the interconnection?
• What critical concepts and methods can bring together developments in critical youth studies and migration studies to further youth mobilities research?
• How are infrastructural processes (state policies but also commercial enterprises) implicated in the facilitation but also the construction of emerging youth mobilities?
• What are their implications for the lived experience and the outcomes of im/mobility?
Prof Brenda S.A. YEOH
Asia Research Institute, and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
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Dr Shanthi ROBERTSON
Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia
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Dr CHENG Yi’En
Division of Social Sciences, Yale-NUS College, Singapore
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