CRS Special Lecture: Refugee and Migrant Labour and the Population Question under Global Capitalism

December 12, 2017 @ 2:30 PM – 4:30 PM
305 York Lanes
4700 Keele St
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3
Michele Millard

Guest Speaker:

Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group in Kolkata India and currently the O’Brien Residency Fellow, McGill University


Most writings on refugee economy or the immigrant economy refer to changes in the immigrant labour absorption policies of the Western governments. In these writings the refugee economy or the immigrant economy never features directly; refugees are seen as economic actors in the market. But we do not get a full picture of why capitalism in late twentieth or early twenty first century needs these refugee or immigrant labour as economic actors. The organic link between the immigrant as an economic actor and the global capitalist economy seems to escape the analysis in these writings. Yet, if immigration policies produce precarious labour, this has general significance for the task of theorising the migrant as living labour. The question of the production of living labour is important because it puts in a critical perspective the necessity of the states and the international regime of protection to synchronise the economic and the political strategies of protection. Yet the disjuncture between the two strategies of protection is not only typical of the postcolonial parts of the globe, the disjuncture is evident in the developed countries. Globally, one can say, capital sets in motion movements of labour within a specific field of force that dictates how and why migrant labour is to be harnessed, disciplined, and governed (for instance the dominant presence of immigrant labour in logistics, health care, agriculture, etc.), and that shapes the links between “strategies” (that control migrants once they are in motion) and the mechanisms that set these movements in motion. 

Hence the ambiguous position the category of the forced migrant occupies in the organisation of the reality called population and its division in various categories.  While governing people has become possible by turning population groups into administrative categories, yet the category of migrant, the footloose labour, or the forced migrant escapes these adminstrative categorisations. As migrant labour, they show that management of migrant labour is not simply a matter of rule, sovereignty, and management. Performing labour as parts of wandering bands of construction labour, or labour in sex, care, and entertainment industry,  various logistical services, petty shops and outlets, and various other sites of production, social subsistence, and social reproduction, the refugee or the migrant becomes the labouring subject of the capitalism of our time. They become one of the defining elements of the organisation of populations under global capitalism today. 


Ranabir Samaddar belongs to the critical school of thinking and is considered as one of the foremost theorists in the field of migration and forced migration studies. His writings have signaled a new turn in critical postcolonial thinking. His co-authored work on new town and new forms of accumulation Beyond Kolkata: Rajarhat and the Dystopia of Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014) takes forward urban studies in the context of post-colonial capitalism. Karl Marx and the Postclonial Age (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017) is his latest work discussing the relevance of Marx in the global age of postcolonialism and neoliberalism. He is currently the Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group.