Book review: Handbook of Translocal Development and Global Mobilities
Edited by Annelies Zoomers, Professor of International Development Studies and Maggi Leung, Kei Otsuki and Guus Van Westen. 2021. Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing. 150 pages.
In this late stage of the coronavirus pandemic, the shifting rules on international access, mobility, and economic activity have prompted a plethora of commentaries. These discussions have focused on the capacity and potential of building back the economy, the exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants and the many ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted key international cooperation frameworks on migration including the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Within this context, the importance of locally led development has (re)gained relevance as the so-called Global North’s unrestricted access to developing contexts was shuttered when borders rose and thickened across the world. In this regard, the recently published Handbook of Translocal Development and Global Mobilities, edited by Annelies Zoomers, Maggi Leung, Kei Otsuki and Guus Van Westen, is a fitting contribution to discussions on what localisation really is and how it relates to mobility and migration.
This handbook is an edited anthology comprised of a rich collection of analyses and case studies from contexts spanning Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. It seems to elaborate on an earlier special edition of the journal International Development Planning Review on ‘Translocal Development, Development Corridors and Development Chains’, featuring many of the same editors and authors. In the book, the authors argue that flows and circulation of people ‘merit a more central place in theorization about development’. The editors of this book present a key interdisciplinary contribution that benefits specialists in urban, development or migration studies. Across sixteen chapters, the authors put forth various cases in which they argue that local development should be analysed from the perspective of mobility of people and resources. The book explores translocal development across five landscapes: migration, value chains and agribusiness, nature and wildlife conservation, large-scale mining, and, lastly, new city development and urban infrastructures.
A well-balanced text between empirical and theoretical critique, its contributions emphasise the ways in which the role of networks and networking in development is crucial. While focusing on the influence of external relations, the authors are careful not to understate the agency of local individuals and their immediate networks. This is reminiscent of the ‘new economics of migration’ theory on household-level decision-making in labour migration, put forth by Oded Stark and David Bloom, wherein households and communities invest in migrant movement and collectively make decisions on individual mobility. More recent work by Andreas Benz highlights the role of ‘translocal family networks’ in facilitating and hindering individual decision-making through the expectation of solidarity, in form of remittances, to support relatives with food, accommodation, contacts, and other needs. In Chapter 3 of this book, Ingrid Boas focuses on the network function itself and details how social media and digital networking support the evolution of careers and economic aspirations within migrant households. While these networks play an essential role in future migration planning, migrants and their families share and hold on to this information and decisions, which become ingrained in their day-to-day living.
Especially with the influence of external players, development measures can very easily become a subverted way to stifle migration flows. In Chapter 4, Joris Schapendonk elaborates on the role that foreign investments and partnerships play in a broader aid landscape organised around anti-migration initiatives, as well as the contradictions of using ‘development’ both to stem migration (as a tool for deterrence) and to promote migration (to benefit the countries of origin). In this sense, the ‘development’ sought after benefits the international community more than the local actors that host the efforts, and therefore, with these anti-migration initiatives in place, West Africans have to manoeuvre any aspirations for migration through their own forms of networking, such as participating in visa lotteries, irregular migration, and pursuing online friendships.
Contributions to the book also highlight critical, underexplored perspectives on globalisation and the transmission of knowledge and expertise. Importantly, the editors do not limit the varying external influences on development initiatives to donor interventions such as aid and foreign investment. In Chapter 5, for instance, Guus van Westen provides a critical view of the pitfalls of inclusive agribusiness models. He goes on to highlight how these processes often exclude rural, small shareholder farmers by setting high-cost standards that require higher, more profitable production levels. This chapter also sheds a light on ethical consumerism, showing – much like the critique in the previous chapter – that these questionable methods for rural development serve the interests of international actors over the locals.
In current conversations on ‘building back better’ following the pandemic, development and social equity are still often considered as mutually exclusive and independently of each other. In Chapter 15, Murtah Shannon provides an essential supplement to this discussion: the relevance of development-induced displacement to urban development. She examines instances of well-lauded development projects and schemes in Mozambique that, unbeknownst to many, involved the forced resettlement of many communities. While networks of community activists managed to negotiate better terms of resettlement, the movement itself was never prevented. Her analysis of modernist discourses exposes authorities’ and investors’ stances against informal residences, veiled by the guise of development and the SDG agenda. The author then highlights the juxtaposition of infrastructure and development and poses the question – is there such a thing as sustainable development? A direct challenge to much of the current discourses around climate change, economic recovery and migration, this chapter emerges as particularly critical and thought-provoking.
Perhaps one shortcoming of the book is in the thematic landscapes defined at its onset. While these provided for interesting and enriching takeaways throughout, it is unclear why these particular landscapes were selected and what their significance is in relation to other possible thematic areas of exploration, for instance forestry or trade. Similarly, migration as a singular landscape stands out, as mobility and movement, both voluntary and forced, are also a theme throughout the other sections. At the same time, some of the concepts remain ambiguous. Both the strength and pitfall of the concept of translocal development through established networks is its breadth. The formation of networks and how they come to be, for instance, remains unclear. Furthermore, while the authors go on to state that much of the function of the network with regard to local development is dependent on the actors’ positionality, how these relative positions are obtained by those within the networks is only explored on a case-by-case basis. However, these cases and analyses still provide an astute look at the concept of translocality in development.
This timely work provides a view into both the potential benefits and downsides to the increasingly globalised nature of development and economic interwovenness. Throughout the book, there is a recurring theme on the relevance of local knowledge and networks in supporting sustainable development initiatives – especially fitting in the light of the Grand Bargain initiative of 2016. The book highlights a key argument for the need to put the spotlight on networks and global linkages in discussions and theorisations about development. This centres the concept of mobility and moves much of the discussion away from a sedentary bias. This effort is particularly relevant in a time of pandemic recovery, wherein lockdowns and border closures have proved themselves detrimental to even the most advanced economies in the world today.
The eBook version is priced from £48/$68 from eBook vendors while in print the book can be ordered from the Edward Elgar Publishing website – or found at your local college library.
Shaddin Almasri has just embarked on a PhD Migration Studies programme at the Danube University Krems, preceded by completion of an MSc Migration, Mobility and Development at SOAS, University of London. Shaddin has three years of experience in the development sector in research and advocacy roles. Her work has covered numerous topical areas including inequality, austerity, economic justice, gender justice, refugee livelihoods, and access to rights. She has presented her work at various events and panels including Salzburg Global Seminar, IMF-WB Civil Society Policy Forum, and numerous working groups. Shaddin’s current research, and the topic of her PhD, critically assesses international cooperation and multilateral aid agreements as they pertain to refugee support. This has a particular focus on Syrian refugee deals including the Jordan Compact and the EU-Turkey deal as well as refugee inclusion policies across several refugee host states. Additionally, Shaddin also has a particular interest in decolonising research dynamics and questioning Global North dominance of research narratives, journalism and fieldwork surrounding refugees from the Global South. Shaddin is an editor at Routed Magazine.