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  • Democratization through Migration? Political Remittances and Participation of Philippine Return Migrants by Christl Kessler and Stefan Rother
  • Carmel V. Abao (bio)
Democratization through Migration? Political Remittances and Participation of Philippine Return Migrants. By Christl Kessler and Stefan Rother. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2016. Hardcover: 181 pp.

This book presents a convincing narrative on the political socialization of Filipino migrant workers in both democratic and authoritarian host countries, and the extent and ways by which such socialization affects the workers’ attitudes towards politics in their home country. It is convincing because it nuances what is obviously a complex nexus: migration and politics.

The main strength of the book lies in the mixed quantitative-qualitative research methodology employed by the authors. The book draws largely from surveys among first time and returned migrants, but it also allows the migrants’ voices to speak for themselves. It is this combination of data and voice that makes the reader pay close attention to every page. Throughout the book there are tables and figures, as well as vignettes of real-life stories and first-person accounts. The “respondents” thus come to life and the reader is provided with a fascinating, broad picture of transnationalism, not just of migrant work but also of political ideas and values.

The research design is thorough from start to finish. The theoretical assumptions of the authors are carefully laid out in the first chapter and are backed by a comprehensive literature review on a range of pertinent topics such as social remittances, migration and development, the history of Filipino outmigration, issues and problems of Filipino migrants, and politics in the Philippines and the host countries. In addition, the development of the research design — from the selection of respondents to the choice of survey questions, to the choice of research implementers (i.e. Social Weather Station for the surveys and the Department of Political Science of the University of the Philippines-Diliman for the in-depth interviews) — is convincingly explained which further strengthens the book’s credibility.

The outcomes of the research are clearly useful. The surveys on the profiles of the respondents present baseline data that point to empirical evidence for narratives that hitherto relied on anecdotal evidence. The book, for example, has an entire chapter (Chapter 5) on the “migration experience” in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong where survey results [End Page 529] on working conditions and salaries, discrimination, freedom of movement and integration are presented (pp. 49–96). The chapter is capped with an “overall assessment” as well as “country differences” relating to the migration experience of the respondents.

The “overall assessment” of the respondents deserves particular attention. The survey results show that there was a “generally positive” assessment and that “only 21 percent reported any problems in the host country” (p. 87). It also shows that “more men often reported problems (26 percent) than women (19 percent)” (p. 87). Moreover, even in Saudi Arabia where the respondents had “the highest number of negative answers with 45 percent on the sad side… the happy OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers] were still in the majority (55 percent)” (p. 93).

These findings are noteworthy because they go against conventional, stereotypical notions that migration is a negative rather than a positive experience, and that women are more emotional and less resilient than men. The book does not stop at presenting these figures, and proceeds to show the necessary nuances that could explain the assessments. It reveals, for instance, that based on in-depth interviews, the notion of the “happy” migrant workers actually refers to “putting on a happy face” and is to be understood contextually, i.e. within the narrative of migrants having to make a choice between “the dollar versus being homesick” (p. 91).

At the end of the book, the authors present their findings regarding the political attitudes of the migrant workers and conclude that they do remit political ideas, and that conditions in both the host and home countries shape these ideas.

For this reviewer, the book’s most significant contribution is its assertion that the political ideas and values of migrant workers — and not just the dollars that they send...


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pp. 529-531
Launched on MUSE
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