II: Mobility as blurring legal, physical and digital boundaries

The four chapters in the second section of this volume all illustrate the ways in which mobility blurs all kinds of boundaries such as legal, informal, physical or geographic, digital or real world. As a result, rigid institutional structures, physical boundaries and legal landscapes become blurred within mobile transnational and digital contexts. Mobile actors, drawing upon their premigratory cultural legacies, practices and social capital, negotiate and redefine the rules and norms and innovatively navigate bureaucratic, institutional and legal constraints within national, transnational and digital contexts. These navigational strategies serve as an alternative adaptation venue, enabling mobile actors to organise their precarious livelihoods in repressive legal environments.

These processes are vividly illustrated in Urinboyev’s ethnographic study of smartphone transnationalism amongst Uzbek migrant workers in Russia—a migration context characterised by a weak rale of law, malfunctioning institutions, large shadow economies, a poor human rights record, widespread xenophobia and a weak civil society. Hence, given the restrictive sociopolitical environment, corrupt legal system and widespread xenophobia, Uzbek migrants in Russia can hardly engage in collective action or transnational activism and instead attempt to minimise their visibility in public places (e.g., parks, streets, shopping malls and on public transport). Although Uzbek migrants’ transnational activism and diasporic identities are barely visible in public places, rapid improvements in communications technologies (e.g., smartphones and social media) have enabled Uzbek migrants to remain in touch with their home societies, as well as create efficient, smartphone-based translocal communities in Moscow, typically centred around migrants who hail from the same neighbourhood community or village in Uzbekistan. The existence of this smartphone-based transnational environment helps migrants cope with the challenges of musofirchilik (being alien) and avoid or manoeuvre around structural constraints such as complicated residence registration and work permit rules, social exclusion, racism and the lack of any social security. These smartphone-based transnational interactions serve as a ‘legal order’, regulating contractual relationships and obligations amongst migrants, exerting an identifiable impact on the outcomes of many practices Uzbek migrants (and other actors) engage in whilst in Moscow.

Eraliev and Heusala’s chapter is an important contribution, primarily because it extends the scope of this volume to include the transnational experiences of Central Asian female migrants in Russia. Because the vast majority of migrants in Russia are male, the bulk of the literature on migration and informality in Russia has focused primarily on male-dominated transnational social spaces. Whilst the reasons prompting labour migration might be similar for both men and women, the consequences of migration can be drastically different for more vulnerable immigrant groups within migrant communities and, particularly, for women. Eraliev and Heusala argue that vulnerable migrant groups such as women often do not fit into transnationalism, informality or legal cultural narratives without taking into account the specificities ofthe female experience. To examine the transnational social spaces of Central Asian female migrants in Russia, the authors explored the life stories of four female migrants originating from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, all residing in Moscow. In contrast to the previous chapter by Urinboyev, Eraliev and Heusala found that transnational social spaces did not include informed or equal choice for women. Informality, which includes multiple types of actors and reasons, currently sustains a transnational social space where the relatively well connected—typically, men—acquire rights and exercise these rights, whilst leaving other groups such as women and children in highly dependent positions. Female migrants as representatives of vulnerable migrant groups have limited opportunities to endure the precarious migrant life. They are not in a position to manoeuver around the official state structures using individualistic strategies. The revolving door migration between Central Asia and Russia, a lack of social capital and financial resources, their dependent position within migrant communities and strict family traditions limit the real agency of many female migrants. Instead of representing an empowering source of survival for female migrants, the current transnational social space in which Central Asian migrant women live recycles organisational pathologies of Russian authorities and the inequalities of their home countries. Thus, the decisions female migrants take regarding legal matters in Russia are often random, unpredictable and depend upon informal networks.

Mobile transnational actors not only carry their premigratory cultural repertoires, traditions and morality to their host country, but they can also reproduce their informal spiritual practices in their new environment. The transfer of unconventional healing practices from Tajikistan to the Russian Federation is at the heart of Cieslewska's contribution to this volume. Her chapter explores the development of the healing practices industry (such as writing amulets, divination, cupping therapy, etc.) in Russia. In doing so, she presents three case studies of migrant spiritual healers and/or religious leaders from Central Asia who perform spiritual services in Moscow. In particular, she examines how migrants create informal and formal spaces for expanding spiritual healing, and the ways in which those practices function in the local market as alternative medicine. Cieslewska argues that the informal nature of healing practices relates to the migrants’ status in Moscow. That status also reflects the role and function of these healing methods within a particular spiritual tradition. Various healing practices have come to Russia with migrants from Central Asia as part of their religiosity, becoming services offered on the ‘spiritual market’ to migrants and nonmigrants. Transfertakes place primarily informally through trust networks and is embedded within social relations. Some migrants use the informal healing sendees as a coping strategy due to their limited access to medical care in Russia. They also view certain practices as part of their identity, which helps them in their experience as migrants by connecting them to their country of origin. In Moscow, the spiritual/ healing practices serve as a source of support for individuals, but also become a means to improving one’s social position and increasing their income. Migrants find a niche amongst various alternative forms of healing, gradually changing the spiritual market in Russia. Their social and geographical dislocation also triggers their transformation, since they adapt to the local conditions and reformulate the meanings of their practices. Some of these meanings are transferred back to the countries of origin, influencing the local market for alternative healing practices.

Finally, Stanisz’s chapter focuses on road regimes, where mobility created economic niches for a variety of actors in suburban Western Poland. Here, Stanisz draws upon an ‘ethnographic study of roadside villages and towns located along Poland’s national road no. 92, exploring how local and mobile people—that is, ordinary citizens, representatives of local governments, entrepreneurs, passing immigrants, road workers and truck drivers—adapt, change and maintain informal and/or semi-legal economic strategies’.

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