Discussion and concluding remarks on smartphone transnationalism
I have argued that much of the migrant transnationalism literature emanates from case studies of immigrant communities in Western democracies. As such, few studies have investigated these issues within non-Western migration contexts such as Russia, where a repressive and xenophobic environment leaves little room
Smartphone transnationalism in non-Western migration regimes 107 for (overt) transnational activism and the public expression of cultural identities. Referring to the sociopolitical and cultural differences between Western and post-Soviet societies, I argue that migrant transnationalism may cany different meanings, forms and functional roles in the Russian context. Furthermore, I contend that the bulk of the ‘migration and technology’ literature focuses on ‘older’ forms of ICT, such as email, mobile phones and diasporic websites. Thus, here, I update this scholarship by examining recent technological developments, including smartphones and social media, which provide almost unlimited opportunities for transnational interactions. I have described these processes by ethnographically attending to the everyday transnational lives of Uzbek migrants in Russia and their left-beliind communities in Uzbekistan. As the results indicate, unlike Western democracies, where migrants established relatively functional (also ‘physically’ visible) transnational communities and diasporic groups, very little in the way of an ‘Uzbek transnational community’ has been established in Russia given its repressive environment and antimigrant sentiments. Whilst Uzbek migrants’ transnational activism remains primarily invisible in public places, I demonstrated that smartphones and social media platforms enable Uzbek migrants to remain in touch with their societies of origin. Such technology has also allowed migrants to create smartphone-based transnational community in Moscow, typically centred around migrants who hail from the same mahalla or village in Uzbekistan. The existence of a smartphone-based transnational environment helps migrants cope with the hardships of being alien, allowing them to avoid or manoeuvre around structural constraints. Thus, by exploring the interplay between migrant transnationalism and smartphones in a non-Western migration context, this chapter moves the migrant transnationalism literature beyond a Western-centric paradigm, providing new insights into the role of new media in migratory processes.
Through my ethnographic study of the Shabboda village and its smartphonebased transnational form in Moscow, I explored the ways in which the home village is maintained in Moscow as a social association through smartphones and social media. As I have shown, rapid improvements in ICTs enabled Shabboda migrants to remain in touch with their home village and to create a smartphonebased translocal community in Moscow. Whilst most Shabboda migrants in Moscow do not share communal accommodation and meet infrequently due to the punitive sociolegal environment, they are actively engaged in transnational place-making owing to smartphones and social media. It is this virtual space that I call the ‘smartphone-based transnational community’. Whilst the Shabboda migrants’ smartphone-based transnational community does not take on a material or physical form, their daily practices are clearly linked to a physical place and the maintenance of village-level social norms and relations. That is, their daily actions and decisions are determined by the norms of their home village. Thus, the migrants’ smartphone-based transnational community orients towards the physical village—in this case, to Shabboda.
Empirically, this chapter adds to the post-Soviet migration literature (e.g., Atabaki and Mehendale 2004; Lamelle 2007; Ruget and Usmanalieva 2011; Round and Kuznetsova 2016; Reeves 2013, 2015). Most studies on post-Soviet migration, particularly those concerned with the Russian migration context, primarily focus on social processes occurring in either the sending or recipient society. By ethnographically exploring everyday transnational interactions between Moscow and the Shabboda village, this chapter moves beyond methodological nationalism (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002). Furthermore, it provides unique empirical material and insights on migrant transnationalism in post-Soviet societies (that may not be collected by other researchers). This results from my position—that is, my ethnicity, village background and language skills as well as through my extensive contacts—and my access to such practices.
Furthermore, this chapter offers important implications for the overall study of international migration. Through an ethnographic study of migrant transnationalism in Russia, I provide new empirical material on and comparative insights into migration studies in general. As previously mentioned, much of the migration literature relies on case studies of immigrant communities in Western democracies. This focus can be partly explained by the ongoing legacies of the ‘three worlds division’ of social scientific labour (Pietsch 1981; Chari and Verdery 2009), which continues to overlook the role and contribution of non-Western migrant-receiving contexts in the comparative and theoretical debates about contemporary migration systems. Simultaneously, non-Western societies have traditionally been viewed as ‘exporting’ migrants to Western Europe, North America and Australia (Castles and Miller 2009). Their role as magnets for labour migrants from other countries has, thus, been obscured. Addressing this research gap is particularly important when considering the fact that non-Western countries, such as Russia as well as Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have become ‘migration hotspots’ worldwide resulting from their improved economic conditions (e.g., Gülçür and ilkkaracan 2002; Garcés-Mascarenas 2010; Anderson and Hancilovâ 2011; Gardner et al. 2013). Given these global trends, here I argue for the need to move beyond Western-centric paradigms and developing alternative frameworks for understanding migratory processes and social change in non-Western migration contexts.
As an aside, I should emphasise that this study carries some limitations in terms of gender dynamics and its overall generalisability. First, my fieldwork primarily focuses on male migrants. Ideally, I would have included the experiences of female migrants. However, this was a conscious choice dictated by the reality of the gendered constitution of Shabboda migrants in Moscow—90% of such migrants were male. Another factor that led me to focus on male migrants had to do with my own gender (male). According to the cultural and religious norms in the Shabboda village, it is inappropriate for men to approach women when their spouses are not present. Not wanting to cause any inconvenience to female migrants, I decided to focus primarily on male migrants. Thus, this chapter highlights the need for further research covering the transnational experiences of female migrants in Russia. Another limitation to my research relates to the generalisability of my findings. Since I conducted an ethnographic study amongst Shabboda migrants in Moscow and their left-behind families in Ferghana, it remains to be seen how much and
Smartphone transnationalism in non-Western migration regimes 109 whether my findings can be extrapolated to other migrant communities in Russia. However, because both Central Asian and Caucasian migrants experience a similar sociopolitical environnent in Russia and given that the use of smartphones is common amongst various migrant groups, we can assume that the findings here may prove relevant to understanding the general environment within the Russian context. That said, clearly, further research is needed in order to develop a deeper understanding of migrant transnationalism in Russia.
Note on Transliteration
Throughout this chapter, Russian and Uzbek terms are spelled according to the standard literary form based on the following two criteria: (1) whether a Russian/ Uzbek word or phenomenon is central to the study and (2) if an English translation does not fully capture the meaning of the Russian/Uzbek word or phenomenon. Russian and Uzbek words are presented in italics.
This research was financially supported by the following funding agencies: the Swedish Research Council (dnr D0734401), the European Commission H2020-MSCA- IF-EF-ST (grant number 751911), the Kone Foundation (grant identification code f577aa), the University of Helsinki (Three-Year Grants Programme) and the European Commission H2020-MSCA-RISE-2019 ‘Central Asian Law’ (grant number 870647).