Accepted Paper:

Work, reciprocity and migration: rebuilding biographies in the changing realm of work  


Svetlana Roberman (Hebrew University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on those zones of fluidity formed at the conjunction of the old, still dominant ethos of work, and the new realities emerging within the institution of work in the era of flexible capitalism.

Paper long abstract:

The venue of work has always been an influential factor in constructing immigrants' individual projects and civic identities in a new place. This paper is based on the ethnographic study of post-Soviet Jewish immigrants in contemporary Germany. The group of newcomers studied here face difficult realities: they are expected to rebuild their biographies and civic identities through the venue of work, even as the latter is undergoing drastic transformations. The paper inquires into the way that individuals experience and cope with changing realities of work in rebuilding their life projects following migration.

Focusing on a particular case, the paper shows that the field of work remains crucial in shaping relationships of social reciprocity in general and between immigrant subjects and the host country in particular. The immigrant's ability to give - in the form of work - and the state's ability to receive the immigrant as equal worker, symbolize this mutual recognition. The violation of this reciprocal cycle - either because of the state's inability to provide the immigrant with work or, in some cases, because of the migrant's unwillingness to engage in work and create a 'working biography' - stands at the core of unrealised individual projects, problematic civic identities, and the perpetuation of the migrant's social marginality and exclusion.

Panel W057
Flexible capitalism: new forms of mutuality and diversity at work?