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THEMIS: Flexible ethnography for practice stories of migration: (Elite?) migrants in Asia

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Duration: 0:15:17 | Added: 20 Jan 2014
Katherine Botterill presents her paper 'Flexible ethnography for practice stories of migration' co-authored by Karen O'Reiilly and Rob Stone in Parallel session I(C) of the conference Examining Migration Dynamics: Networks and Beyond, 24-26 Sept 2013

In contemporary migration research, the dynamics of migration systems and the processes that sustain them have been explained through a narrow focus on origin and destination. Increasingly, however, scholars recognise the importance of historical, social and cultural conditions of movement, institutional frameworks and interactions, individual agency and everyday practices in their analysis of migration patterns and processes. Any focus on a single aspect of the above leads to calls for more attention to other aspects. We argue that structural and agentic processes are always and continually interlinked through the practice of daily life and that the goal should be to tell practice stories of migration (O’Reilly 2012), using practice theory as a meta-theoretical framework. This is, nevertheless, a tall order for researchers, raising new methodological challenges.

Drawing on our experiences of researching lifestyle migrants in Thailand and Malaysia we consider the merits of utilising a ‘flexible ethnography’ that learns from and through the mobile, the virtual and the place-based, recognising the changing nature of migrant lives. Lifestyle migrants in Thailand and Malaysia occupy a relatively privileged position in global migration hierarchies, a status shaped by historical conditions and social reproduction. An understanding of their migration involves analysis of macro, micro and network factors as they interact and re-emerge in the practice of daily life. This research is informed by ethnographic methodology, recognising that everyday practices are acted out in the context of constraints that migrants themselves reproduce, create and shape. However, ethnography traditionally involves a long-term commitment, and has tended to be place specific. A flexible ethnography approach integrates traditional methods with virtual, mobile, multi-sited, and digital methods to produce practice stories of migration.

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