Volume overview and chapter outlines

This volume is organised in three sections, which focus on three interlinked themes: (a) labour, (b) mobility and (c) informality. The three sections may overlap in terms of their contents; however, our aim is to emphasise the central themes which cut across the chapters of this volume. The chapters highlight the ways in which mobile actors and entrepreneurs organise and negotiate their daily precarious livelihoods, navigating the multiplicity of rules, institutions, locations and networks within national, transnational and digital landscapes.

I: Labour in times of uncertainty

The chapters in this section explore how mobile actors and non-citizens deal with legal uncertainty, unequal power relations and precarity under the conditions of uncertainty, undocumentedness, a weak rule of law and a shadow economy. All four chapters demonstrate that the condition of legal uncertainty and precarity produces varying outcomes in different social contexts and arenas. On the one hand, such circumstances may indeed lead to unequal powerrelations and arbitrariness in decision-making. On the other hand, however, some actors can make use of this uncertainty as a resource and opportunity to structure navigation through the legal restrictions or to gain access to facilities and resources otherwise difficult to obtain within the official legal framework of their host country. Flexibility, navigation, street smartness and the ability to adjust to a weak rule of law environment and corrupt system represent important traits and skills actors need to possess when dealing with the challenges of mobile living.

Nikolaos Olma in his chapter, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Uzbekistan conducted between 2014 and 2016, examines the informal practices and experiences in the (informal) taxi sector in post-socialist Tashkent, which serves as a primary income-generating arena for many unemployed internal migrants originating from Uzbekistan’s rural areas. Taxiing is a quintessentially informal activity in Uzbekistan, given that it is not only a precarious profession practised outside the institutional and legal boundaries of the Uzbek state and its agencies but is itself also informed by multiple modalities of informality permeating the subjectivities and the everyday lives of the drivers involved in it. From acquiring a car to finding their way around the city to escaping regulatory pressure and paying bribes to traffic police officers and tax agency officials, informal taxi drivers continually navigate a wide array of informal processes, negotiate power relations, adjust to market forces and manoeuvre around various legal frameworks. The involvement of rural labour migrants in taxiing further exacerbates this informality given the informal character of most actions and activities pertaining to the settlement and employment of these individuals in Tashkent. In this sense, Olma examines the informal taxi as an index of how and where two seemingly independent mobility paradigms—that is, rural-urban labour migration and informal urban transportation—converge. Thus, Olma uses the informal taxi sector as a lens through which he explores the various informal processes and everyday livelihood strategies rural labour migrants employ in their attempts to deal with the uncertainty and precariousness accompanying relocation to Tashkent.

Round and Kuznetsova’s chapter on the labour relations of Russian businesses and other employers with migrant workers describes the daily struggles of migrants who attempt to formalise their work despite continuous barriers established by employers more interested in abusing the precarious existence of migrants. In doing so, Round and Kuznetsova show that even those migrants who possess all of the necessary papers and permits to work legally face difficulties securing work based on contracts, which employers avoid. This chapter provides a theoretical contribution to discussions regarding uncertainty as a resource and power relations within labour markets and the state regulation of labour markets.

Turaeva and Amon’s contribution on deportation regimes in Russia illustrates the consequences of the legal regulation of a deportation regime, namely, the new regulation adopted after 2012, which granted the police and courts as well as others even more power over the unprotected migrant population in Russia in order to abuse the system of deporting migrants. Here, the authors describe contradictory statutes within Russian law used to establish a deportation regime in order to remove unwanted migrants. This chapter also contributes to discussions of how uncertainty is used as a resource by those in power to abuse migrants by rendering them easily deportable.

The last chapter in this section by Voivozeanu explores the informality within the transnational labour market revolving around the recruitment process (or posting) of Romanians who work in the German construction and meat processing sectors. This migration infrastructure of posting involves numerous actors, namely, companies that facilitate posting, migration intermediaries, migration networks and migrants, who actively make use of grey zones and informal practices, creating transnational spaces that often do not fit within legal systems. As this chapter shows, in the context of the current European regulatory framework, the social fields created by posting are filled with informal norms and structures through which the actors involved negotiate across borders. Within recruitment for this type of employment, formal actors (typically, companies) rely on informal actors and practices to recruit workers and remain on the market. Arrangements which involve agents and/or networks might be beneficial for migrants, since they may bring (better) employment opportunities. Yet, they might reproduce powerrelations in favour of those actors controlling the recruitment process, thereby leading to exploitative contexts for workers. As a result, closely examining the entire migration process, where diverse actors develop both formal and informal relations and practices, it becomes difficult to differentiate between formal and informal arrangements amongst companies, agents and migrants.

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