Accepted Paper:

Precarious labour, legal ambiguity and contested cosmopolitanism in Moscow's migrant construction brigades  

Author:

Madeleine Reeves (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the experiences of Kyrgyz labour migrants on large “international” building sites to explore the relationship between precarious labour, legal uncertainty, social differentiation and cosmopolitan coexistence.

Paper long abstract:

For rural school-leavers of southern Kyrgyzstan, "going to town" to work as irregular labourers on the construction sites of Moscow has become a significant right of passage, with the remittances thus earned crucial to sustaining rural livelihoods and ritual expenses. Yet this overwhelmingly undocumented labour, in what for many young Kyrgyz people had been, imaginatively, a paradigmatically cosmopolitan space - the capital of the erstwhile "international" Soviet polity - is fraught with legal contradictions and moral ambiguity. On the one hand, the overwhelming majority of Kyrgyz migrants move between domains of "legal" and "illegal" residence and employment, developing complex and often friendly relations with local policemen, Russian pensioners and fellow villagers in order to remain nominally "documented". On the other, Kyrgyz migrants are acutely aware of the different degrees of legal protection, physical mobility, earning potential and vulnerability to police extortion that are felt to attach to the various groups of post-Soviet citizen (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Moldovans and Ukrainians) of which Moscow's migrant building-brigades are typically composed. Nationality, far from losing relevance in the space of competitive labour, comes indeed to figure centrally in migrant narratives as a key category of economic competition and legal differentiation. This paper draws upon the experiences of Kyrgyz labour migrants on large "international" building sites to explore the relationship between precarious labour, legal uncertainty, social differentiation and cosmopolitan coexistence. In so doing, it seeks to interrogate the place of law (and the ambiguous figure of the "illegal immigrant") in normative accounts of cosmopolitanism.

Panel W078
Mutuality's margins: contesting cosmopolitanism in the rescaled city