Language, Migration, and Sociological Imagination

The Book in Space and Time

Down the street from the building where our graduate department was housed, there was a popular coffee shop. For those faculty who had attended graduate school in the same university decades ago, they also had nostalgic memories of it once being a bar. For those in our cohort, it had always been a coffee shop with somewhat old chairs. There were also different contemporary understandings of the place: as the location where our advisor held his office hours, as a place to pick up coffee before class, or as a place to work on projects. While there were some general norms there, such as throwing away your own trash when you left, other norms depended on the day of the week, such as two-dollar lattes on Wednesdays, which was appealing to regulars. It was a good place to work because, even though you were expected to buy coffee at the beginning of your time in the shop, you were allowed to stay and continue working even after you had finished your drink.

Many of the ideas for this book were at some point discussed in this place. One time, in particular, we were sitting side by side and staring at the same computer in order to draft some of these ideas, when the head of our department stopped by our table. He made a comment on the fact that we were “always there", and in response to our explanation of what we were working on, he joked, “You are literally co-authoring!”. Our increased time at the coffee shop had made us a recognizable feature of the place from his perspective, while our collaborative writing in the same place at the same time was what made it a ‘literal’ co-authorship. Writing ‘at the same place’ and ‘at the same time’ has continued throughout most of the work on this book - although the particular times and places have varied. Now, writing this introduction, we may not be together in the strictest sense - as one of us is in Maryland and the other in Hong Kong, one writing at night and the other in the morning. However, in another sense, we are writing within the same time and place of an online interaction facilitated by various types of new technologies. This points to the complexity of what we consider locality and synchronicity - that even though we are writing together ‘in real time’, there are multiple times and places that are relevant in the interaction. For example, one of us will say ‘Good morning!’ while the other will say ‘Good evening!’, and based on what one person can observe in the other’s background during the video call, we might comment ‘Oh you are back at home’ or ask ‘Where are you?’. At the beginning of each meeting before starting to write in earnest, we often also discuss more broadly ‘what is happening’ in the U.S., Hong Kong or Iran, in relation to relevant news across time - not to mention that this is never an optimistic way to start writing, given the events of 2019 and 2020 during which most of our focused writing took place. We also often discuss our job environment; particularly when we were both new faculty members at our respective institutions, we talked about our experiences in learning and adjusting to new practices and values. We have thus interacted across different times and places (coffee shops, Maryland, Hong Kong, and online spaces such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger, and Google Docs), while also discussing other times and places (i.e. through our talk about world events and workplaces).

Similarly, the data in this book were obtained from various places and times, while also consisting of talk about other places and times. That is, we collected data in different cities in the United States between 2013 and 2017, and not only in different cities but also in relation to more specific times and places - e.g., meeting a participant for dinner at a restaurant, speaking with another at their house in the morning while getting ready for the day, or meeting a number of people at gatherings during social events and holidays. In these meetings, our participants spoke from these various spaces and times in the U.S. about other times and places, e.g., post-soviet and independent Uzbekistan and postrevolutionary Iran, the particular neighborhood in which they grew up, or the events at school that they remembered. In these ways, our writing process, our lives, and the lives of our participants involve many different times and spaces in a number of different ways. Some are the times and spaces from which we speak, some are the times and spaces we speak about, and at any particular moment, these different times and spaces may become more or less relevant. All are linked to particular normative practices and values (e.g. buying coffee, greetings, using particular languages, talking about specific topics), and there may be interactions between these different times and spaces - particularly as a consequence of mobility.

While mobility can be as simple as moving from a university building to a nearby coffee shop, it is transnational mobility - the movement of people across national borders - that has made the interaction of these multiple times and spaces, and its impact on identity and discourse more salient to scholars. This mobility is both horizontal and vertical in that when people move across geographical boundaries, they also cross social hierarchies. For instance, for one of our participants, their geographical

Language, Migration, and Imagination 3 move from Uzbekistan to the U.S. also meant a change in their occupation and social status, as they went from working as a physician in their home country to working as a home care assistant for an older Russian woman in the U.S. The social mobility is not always downward as can be seen from the examples of other participants who came to the U.S. to study, and in so doing, were seen as raising the social status through obtaining education and professional qualifications abroad. These different histories people have before and after migration impact how they imagine and navigate their day to day lives. Regardless of the specifics, theorizing migration is a complex task, and attention to the intertwined nature of time and space has been shown to be useful in describing and understanding these diverse experiences. As is shown by our brief description of the process of writing this book, and some references to our own and our participants’ experiences of mobility, time-space is both complex and relevant to all aspects of social life. Thus, what we aim to discuss in this book is time-space configurations theorized through chronotopes, and what this can bring to understandings of subjectivity and language in contexts of contemporary migration. We start with a discussion of key notions in scholarship on transnational mobility.

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