Broken storylines: How the economics of flexibility is affecting international migration discourse
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is about shifts in narrative conventions. During the nineteenth century, at the height of industrial capitalism, certain rhetorical conventions were established in migration discourse, which were borrowed from neoclassical economics. Europeans who emigrated to the colonies sought a better life, the prospect of land, and better opportunities. Others who faced religious or political persecution experienced immigration as a condition of exile. In both cases, however, the migrants' reasons for coming and going were borrowed from neoclassical economics. More recently, the rhetoric of 'intentionality' and 'place' can be seen as shifting in stories told by international labor migrants. As the demands of temporary work contracts rapidly change, the where, when, and why of international migration becomes problematic in comparison with the rhetoric of neoclassical liberalism. This dissertation argues that the economics of flexibility and the flexible organization of work hinders the production of future-oriented narratives that inscribe economic rationalism, planning, and individual intention. 'Broken storylines' are examined in three sites: the stories told by temporary labor migrants, the planning structures of multinational corporations (managing the international transfer of employees), and the policies designed by state immigration bureaus (designing visa programs for the entry of skilled laborers). In each case, rational technologies are shown to be short-lasting and/or ineffective. Research was conducted among temporary labor migrants living in Australia and the United States between 2001 and 2005. The theoretical framework for the thesis is borrowed from Max Weber's comparative sociology of economic actions, which stresses the importance of state regulatory mechanisms to the predictability of economic behavior and the construction of substantive rationality. Following the deregulation of state regimes in the 1970s and the 1980s, I argue that a lack of economic stability hampers the production of new ideological narratives by economic institutions. Notably, a deconstructionist approach is adopted whereby historical narratives are viewed as inherently unstable. Tools of analysis are borrowed from literary criticism. The project contributes to the theorization of the relationship between historical narratives and the operations of state market capitalism. It also argues against the claims being made about the rise of a new transnational capitalist class.
Comparative literature; Cultural anthropology