restricted access Chapter 8: Migrant Landscapes: A Spatial Analysis of South Asian Male Migrants in Singapore
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142 8 Migrant Landscapes: A Spatial Analysis of South Asian Male Migrants in Singapore Junjia Ye Introduction Did it ever occur to you that the people we interact with daily are as different as we are similar? (Singapore Heritage Festival Website) The question above was featured on the homepage of the Singapore Heritage Festival that took place in August 2010. It makes reference to Singapore as an immigrant port-city that is, and has always been, diverse. The transnational movement of migrants into a global city such as Singapore means diverse groups must work, live and play in a shared urban setting (Yeoh 2004). Drawing from personal interviews conducted as part of a larger research project, this chapter focuses on the lives of low-waged and temporary male migrants in Singapore to illustrate the constraints and exclusions they experience in Singapore. This chapter further shows that there are instances of spontaneity and informality that arise in the urban spaces used by lowwaged male migrants in Singapore during specific times of the week when they have a rest day. I use examples of public spaces in Boon Lay that are popular amongst Bangladeshi low-waged male migrants to highlight the power relations that undergird these landscapes when migrant workers appropriate public spaces. 08 C-Landscapes.indd 142 7/30/13 10:35:48 AM Migrant Landscapes 143 The next section contextualises the Singaporean case within broader patterns of regional labour migration. It also discusses briefly the gendered implications of these migration processes. The gender dimension is crucial because much of the current research on migrants’ identities and experiences have been analysed from the perspective of female migrants. While a number of scholars have examined the reproduction and experiences of masculinities, research on the experiences of migrant men remain limited (for exceptions see Jackson 1991; McDowell 2003; Datta et al. 2009). The chapter addresses this under-researched dimension by showing how low-waged migrants, in particular Bangladeshi men, are incorporated into the labour force. Bangladeshi male migrants experience a segmented labour market in Singapore and spatial constraints in terms of work and accommodation. However, they claim particular public spaces to illustrate their agency as gendered actors in urban space. The chapter highlights how certain informal landscapes have been used by these workers to negotiate the inequalities they face in everyday life. It further argues that public spaces are not only sites where state and institutional responses towards these migrants manifest but are also landscapes of co-presence where migrants live their lives alongside locals. The chapter refers to an example of a pathway in Jurong West to suggest how public space is claimed informally by migrants as they congregate there regularly. The discussion demonstrates how these processes unfold into a spontaneous space where migrants share a common physical space with Singaporeans. Segmented Labour and Masculinity in Global Cities: The Case of Singapore Featuring both “source” and “destination” countries, Southeast Asia is an important location for the development and emergence of dynamic migratory flows. The movement of people to and within Southeast Asia offers an important perspective into the economic geography of labour migration. On one level, migrants are entering the region as highly paid, highly skilled workers recruited to facilitate knowledge transfer to local skilled workers (Beaverstock 2002). On another level, other migrants from places with surplus labour move to fast-growing, export-oriented economies in the region that are experiencing labour shortages, particularly in sectors that locals regard with disdain. Within this regional context, Singapore illustrates the case of an aspiring global city with a high dependency on, and an unusually high 08 C-Landscapes.indd 143 7/30/13 10:35:48 AM Junjia Ye 144 degree of control over, migrants in various sectors of its labour force. The bulk of its recent population growth is made up of migrants (The Straits Times 2 June 2012). Singapore’s segmented labour market creates a mobile, cosmopolitan labour force of highly skilled workers who are willing and able to embrace social and career mobilities while low skilled workers become increasingly exchangeable, replaceable, and most vitally, cheapened (McDowell 2003; Yeoh 2006). Gender emerges as a significant factor in the way migrants are positioned in the labour market. Indeed, it has been argued that women from developing economies are seen to be suited for jobs in the textile and electronics industries because of persistent assumptions about their obedience, patience and dexterity. As a result of such attributes, they are also paid low wages, denied...


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