Parvati Raghuram - The Open University (London)
June, 15 to June 16, 2017
Mobility can be an important part of the making of academic careers. From conferences to fieldwork, postdoctoral positions to jobs, especially those at the top of the career ladder, mobility and ‘exposure’ are crucial to career development.This paper begins with a theoretical outlining of what international academic mobility means and how best to theorise this at the current conjuncture. It explores four ways of thinking that have been used in much of the international mobility literature: thinking comparatively, relationally, constitutively and topologically. First it explores how comparison is one way in which mobility is theorised. Academics purportedly compare here and there and decide where and when to move. The here and there are usually marked through a vector of difference and that difference is summarised by notions such as North-South, East-West, rural-urban and so on. The hyphen between these becomes the comparative gesture. Increasingly, the hyphen sits within the context of unemployment or poor employment and some employment – a choice without choice. Much more productive has been a trance of work which uses relational thinking. Places are seen as interconnected either through historical and structural factors or through the mundanity of lived experience. The former has been adopted by dependency theorists and was applied to mobile academics in the 1970s and 1980s when the mobility of academics and students from South to North was seen to have a detrimental effect on those in the South. Its effects were encapsulated by terms such as brain drain and later by brain waste. Drawing on notions of emotion and on everyday practices the rich vein of work which adopts transnationalism as a lens has, instead, looked at the simultaneity of lived experience across distance places as a way of theorising. This model of theorisation focuses on connection but draws on contemporary relationalities as a way of thinking through these connections. A third model of theorising academic mobilities is through their constitutive role in educational systems. It appears in familiar places such as newspaper articles about Nobel laureates and academic awardees. This vein of celebrating the contributions of academics is much more popular in the US academic system and has contributed to the US being seen as a space where individual abilities will be allowed to flourish. However, there are limits to thinking about the contributions that academics make as this assumes a pre-formed field of study to which these contributions can then be made. The paper will argue that instead, knowledge must be seen as occurring in a mobile field of circulation where mobility is productive of knowledge in all places. Finally, the paper will look at how academic mobility inhabits a world of mobility more widely. This section will argue that in order for academics to move they must already be wooed, to be produced as desiring subjects. This requires a range of mobilities – prospectuses, agents and recruiters, websites that reach across distance to publicise the benefits of mobility. These forms of mobility are crucial to producing international academic migration. The first half of the paper thus outlines how spatial thinking can contribute to theorising international academic mobility.
The second half of the paper will then go on to explore how to think of place within this context. Using a more tentative and autobiographical approach it will think through what the implications of thinking place are for conceptualising academic mobility. What difference does place make to these theorisations and how is colonial and postcolonial history played out in these ways of thinking relationally about mobility? Moreover, the paper will look at how disciplinary differences constitute place in multiple ways. The kinds of mobility that are required for different subjects of study will vary and they require new forms of reattachment to place during and after study. Using an autobiographical approach the paper will suggest that certain forms of locatedness, of Indianness along with a simultaneous but equally necessary distanciation from their countries of origin is demanded from international students and academics. The complexities of these kinds of place making and place attachment will be discussed.
The paper will conclude by suggesting that international academics form a crucible for thinking migration in more useful and interesting ways. Theorising academic mobility relationally offers a way of going beyond the binaries that have plagued migration study.
Parvati Raghuram is Professor in Geography and Migration at the Open University. She came to the UK after her MA in India. She completed her PhD at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1993 and worked in Middlesex and Nottingham Trent Universities before joining the Open University in 2005. She has published widely on gender, migration and development and on postcolonial theory. Her most recent ESRC funded project is titled Gender, skilled migration and the IT sector: a comparative study of India and the UK and Facilitating equitable access and quality education for development: South African International Distance Education. In this project she is looking at decolonisation of education as a pedagogical challenge in interdisciplinary and intercontinental research.
Her previous project was on the experiences of South Asian geriatricians in the UK. As part of the work on skilled migration she has written several papers on International Student Migration, setting out a new way of theorising this form of mobility. She has also been exploring the use of ‘care’ as a concept in social policy, postcolonial theory and feminist ethics. She has co-authored Gender, Migration and Social Reproduction (Palgrave), The Practice of Cultural Studies (Sage), Gender and International Migration in Europe (Routledge) and co-edited South Asian women in the diaspora (Berg) and Tracing Indian diaspora: Contexts, Memories, Representations (Sage). She has written for policy audiences having co-authored research papers for a number of think-tanks such as IPPR, UNRISD, the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, IPPR and UNRISD and co-edited a special issue of the journal Diversities for UNESCO. She co-edits the journal South Asian Diaspora with the Centre for Study of Diaspora, Hyderabad and the Palgrave Pivot series Mobility and Politics with Martin Geiger and William Walters both at Ottawa.
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