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The Migration-Development Regime: How Class Shapes Indian Emigration

Asian Community Lecture Series

Lecture by Rina Agarwala, Johns Hopkins University

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

5:00 PM - 6:15 PM (Pacific Time)
Live via Zoom

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How can we explain the causes and effects of global migration from the perspective of sending states and migrants themselves? Professor Rina Agarwala introduces a novel analytical framework to help answer this question in India, the world's largest emigrant exporter, and the world's largest remittance-receiving country. Drawing on archival analysis of Indian government documents, a new database of Indian migrants' transnational organizations, and unique interviews with poor and elite Indian emigrants, recruiters, and government officials, Agarwala will foreground the vital role of the Indian state, as well as its poor and elite emigrants, have played in forging and legitimizing class inequalities within India through their management of international emigration. Since the 1800s, the Indian state has differentially used poor and elite emigrants to accelerate domestic economic growth at the cost of class inequalities, while still retaining political legitimacy. At times, the Indian state has forbidden emigration, at other times it has promoted it. At times, Indian emigrants have brought substantial material inflows, at other times, they have brought new ideas to support new development agendas within India. But throughout, Indian emigration practices have deepened class inequalities by imposing different regulations, acquiring different benefits from different classes of emigrants, and making new class pacts--all while remaining invisible in political and academic discussions on Indian development. On the flip side, since the early 1900s, poor and elite emigrants have resisted and re-shaped Indian development in response to state migration practices. This long and class-based view recasts contemporary migration not simply as a problematic function of "neoliberalism" or as a development panacea for sending countries, but as a long and dynamic historical process that sending states and migrants have long tried to manage. Doing so redefines the primary problems of migration, exposes the material and ideological impact that migration has on sending state development, and isolates what is truly novel about contemporary migration.

Rina Agarwala is Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. Agarwala publishes and lectures on international development, labor, migration, gender, social movements, and Indian politics. Agarwala is the author of Informal Labor, Formal Politics, and Dignified Discontent in India (Cambridge, 2013) and The Migration-Development Regime: How Class Shapes Indian Emigration (Oxford, 2022), as well as the co-editor of Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia (Routledge, 2008, 2016). Agarwala has worked at the United Nations Development Program in China, the Self-Employed Women's Association in India, and Women's World Banking in New York. She holds a BA in Economics and Government from Cornell University, an MPP in Political and Economic Development from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a PhDin Sociology and Demography from Princeton University. 

This public webinar is presented in conjunction with the UCLA winter course "Asian Community: Border-Crossing, Diasporic Formation, and Social Transformation in the Asian World" (Sociology M139 / Asian American Studies M179), with generous funding from the Eurasia Foundation (from Asia).

For questions about the event, please contact

Sponsor(s): Asia Pacific Center, Center for Study of International Migration, Center for India and South Asia

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