The Precarity and Persuasion of Migration in Rural Bangladesh
The issue of human migration has never been more pertinent than now. The World Bank’s latest Groundswell Report[i] predicts that Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050. Simultaneously, the International Migration Report[ii] found that 3.4 per cent of the world’s population are international migrants, up by 49 per cent since 2000. But what do these numbers mean for the experience of migration? How does this ever-increasing flow of migrants shape lives of those who move and those who are left behind? And do remittances really help improve quality of life?
Remittance Income and Social Resilience among Migrant Households in Rural Bangladesh answers these questions by drawing on rich empirical evidence from Bangladesh, a country at the interface of poverty, rapid development, and a large, increasingly mobile population. The book focusses on the impacts of remittances on migrant households, especially on those who are left behind, to draw conclusions about how households use remittances to change their life circumstances, adapt to crises, and plan for the future. To study the impacts of remittances, Mohammad Jalal Uddin Sikder, Peter Harry Ballis, and Vaughan Higgins use the lens of social resilience, commonly understood as the ability to bounce back or cope in the face of substantial adversity. Early in the book, they rightly question the idea of remittances only being ‘inflows of money from migrants to their families’ saying they go beyond monetary flows to encompass technological transfers and social remittances such as skills, practices, and identities.
The book draws on in-depth interviews with 36 migrant households – a small number that compensates in depth what it lacks in breadth. Chapters 1 and 2 set the context through a review of the extensive literature on the role of remittances in household income and consumption. Importantly, rather than exploring this seemingly binary relationship of remittances and household spending, the authors expand the ‘uses’ of remittances by assessing their impacts on social resilience.
The uneven geography of remittances
Across chapters 3–6, the authors use their rich empirical evidence and an intimate understanding of the study sites to elaborate on three key aspects of migration. First, they discuss ‘life chances’ (p. 119) or circumstances that allow remittances to be used to create opportunities to improve quality of life. These are explained through examples of how remittances are used to improve food security and enable spending on clothes, durable assets, constructing houses, and children’s education. Encouragingly, the discussion demonstrates the dynamic nature of livelihoods and the opportunistic nature of household risk management, thus making an important contribution to studies around the ‘climate-migration-development nexus’.[iii]
Second, the authors demonstrate how remittances change the household economy, by providing people required finances to invest in other income-generating activities. The analysis also highlights the intangible benefits that accrue from remittances such as promoting individual status and prestige, and increasing personal satisfaction. In this way, the book corroborates existing evidence on the positive aspects of remittances; as a means of livelihood diversification and a form of insurance.
Finally, and most importantly in my view, the book discusses the ‘uneven geography of remittances’ (p.191) to demonstrate that not all households benefit equally through remittances. They show that the socio-economic benefits of remittances are differentiated based on factors internal to the household (e.g. idiosyncratic events such as illness, the centrality of remittances to total household income), and external to the household (e.g. availability and nature of jobs in destination areas).
Remittance Income and Social Resilience among Migrant Households in Rural Bangladesh is a useful read for migration researchers, development practitioners, and students interested in development studies and livelihoods research.
Overall, an engaging read, what adds depth to the analysis are the extensive quotes from migrants and family members left behind and the pictures that give readers, even those unfamiliar with the Bangladeshi or South Asian context, an opportunity to understand local conditions and everyday living. While I would have enjoyed a deeper conceptual engagement with social resilience, the book definitely adds to the current migration and livelihoods literature.
[i] Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, The World Bank, 19 March 2018, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461, accessed 10 January 2019.
[ii] The International Migration Report 2017 (Highlights), United Nations, 18 December 2017, https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/international-migration..., accessed 10 January 2019.
[iii] Giovanna Gioli et al., Human mobility, climate adaptation, and development, Migration and Development 5(2), 2016: 165.