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Adapting to Crisis

Migration Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aydan Greatrick, Jumana Al-Waeli, Hannah Sender, Susanna Corona Maioli, Jin L. Li, and Ellen Goodwin


This article draws on our experiences of carrying out PhD research on migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all involved with the University College London Migration Research Unit (MRU), and our PhD research explores the lived experiences of migrants and people affected by migration. This is the first of two articles in this issue of Migration and Society addressing the implications of COVID-19 on migration research from the perspective of postgraduate researchers. In this article, we firstly reflect on how “crises,” including the COVID-19 pandemic, inevitably shape contexts of migration research. We then share how COVID-19 has shaped our relationship to “the field” and our formal research institutions. Finally, we share how we have adapted our methodologies in response to COVID-19 and, considering the complex ethical and practical challenges posed by this context, reflect on what it means to make methodological “adaptations” in times of overlapping crises.

Open access

Algorithmic Intimacy

The Data Economy of Predatory Inclusion in Kenya

Kevin P. Donovan and Emma Park


Kenya is a frontier market for ‘financial technology’, or FinTech. This industry – which merges mobile telephony and digital data with commercial lending – has grown spectacularly, with millions of Kenyans borrowing for household, emergency, and commercial expenses. This industry's frenzied growth has been fuelled by not merely the pursuit of profit, but also a decidedly more developmental aspiration, namely ‘financial inclusion’. This article analyzes the curious merger of public good and private gain, the technological innovations, and sorts of knowledge work that undergird this field. It particularly examines the novel manner in which digital lenders capitalise on intimacy, converting practices of kinship and entrustment into frontiers of extraction. Personal and social data are translated into credit scores, extended family networks are mediated by financial services, and interpersonal relations subsidise risky lending decisions. In contrast to a view of capitalism as abstracting and alienating, this analysis foregrounds the sorts of personal relations, sentiments and obligations that are incorporated. Through fieldwork with borrowers, industry members and regulators, we show that digital lending relies on a conversion between different registers of wealth – in people, in things and in knowledge – and we track the ethical negotiations and anxious attachments that constitute this curious utopia.

Le Kenya est un marché frontière pour la « technologie financière », ou FinTech. Cette industrie – qui fusionne la téléphonie mobile et les données numériques avec les prêts commerciaux – a connu une croissance spectaculaire, des millions de Kenyans empruntant pour des dépenses domestiques, d'urgence et commerciales. La croissance frénétique de ce secteur a été alimentée non seulement par la recherche du profit, mais aussi par une aspiration résolument plus axée sur le développement, à savoir « l'inclusion financière ». Cet article analyse la curieuse fusion du bien public et du gain privé, les innovations technologiques et les types de travail de la connaissance qui sous-tendent ce domaine. Il examine en particulier la nouvelle manière dont les prêteurs numériques capitalisent sur l'intimité, convertissant les pratiques de parenté et de confiance en frontières d'extraction. Les données personnelles et sociales sont traduites en scores de crédit, les réseaux familiaux étendus sont médiatisés par les services financiers, et les relations interpersonnelles subventionnent les décisions de prêt risquées. Contrairement à une vision du capitalisme comme étant abstrait et aliénant, cette analyse met en avant les types de relations personnelles, les sentiments et les obligations qui sont incorporés. Grâce à un travail de terrain avec des emprunteurs, des membres de l'industrie et des régulateurs, nous montrons que le prêt numérique repose sur une conversion entre différents registres de richesse – en personnes, en choses et en connaissances – et nous suivons les négociations éthiques et les attachements anxieux qui constituent cette curieuse utopie.

Open access

An analysis of Chinese students’ use of Chinese essay references

Another role for international students in the internationalisation of the curriculum

Miguel Antonio Lim and Zhuo Min Huang

Many studies have addressed the needs and challenges of international students in their host countries; however, there is relatively less work on the potential contributions these students make to their curricula. This article presents a bibliographic analysis of the academic references (n=7,273) used by Chinese students to construct their final essays on the theme of education and international development at a leading global university based in the United Kingdom. It examines (1) what knowledge resources are used in their essays; and (2) what the characteristics and patterns of these choices are. When allowed to construct their own essays, Chinese students appear to choose to use a significant proportion of Chinese knowledge resources within English academic essays. This use increases when their lecturers and tutors explain and accept the value of non-English academic resources. This article then discusses the implications of this result for lecturers.

Open access

Nikolai Goncharov

This article proposes a view of the Allaikhovskii district (Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)) located in the Russian Arctic as a “laboratory” in which various actors (the state, regional authorities, local communities) have been actively working on the production of food security. Based on both field experience and published literature, I describe a multilayered process of foodscape formation in this region. The unique elements that characterize the foodscape of the district are the nonautomated modes of food production caused by territorial isolation, unsatisfactory infrastructure, the high price of food delivery, and environmental changes. All these factors create fragile foodscape; the life of local residents can be characterized as “being with risk,” which inspires certain compensatory measures implemented by different layered actors. The impossibility of creating a consistent and reliable system of subsistence thus reinforces a “laboratory” regime of permanent experiments to maintain food security. The Arctic laboratory is not located in separate place with specialists (as in the case discussed by Bruno Latour) but distributed throughout the actors and their activities connected with their lifestyles in this specific territory.

Open access

Bato-Dalai Ochirov

A Buryat Activist at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Robert W. Montgomery

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a native intelligentsia took shape among Siberia’s Buryat Mongols that, combining indigenous and Russian influences, pursued cultural survival alongside social, political, and economic modernization. One of its significant, yet relatively unsung, members was Bato-Dalai Ochirov (1874 or 1875–1913). He is best known as the only Buryat ever to serve in the Russian State Duma (in the short-lived Second Duma in 1907). Yet over the course of his short life, Ochirov also was an administrator, political activist, author, philanthropist, and supporter of culture and science. This article provides an overview of Ochirov’s life and seeks to elucidate his worldview, which stressed the defense of Buryat interests using the possibilities available within the existing autocratic order.

Open access

Between Tyranny and Self-Interest

Why Neo-republicanism Disregards Natural Rights

David Guerrero and Julio Martínez-Cava Aguilar

The first contribution of this article is a politico-philosophical map that, drawing upon two common sets of arguments against modern natural rights, might help to explain the prevailing neo-republican position on natural rights. Under the label ‘abstraction argument’, we explore the view that natural rights are a metaphysical construct that usually ends in a violent application of speculative principles to society. Under ‘self-interest argument’, we discuss the notion that natural rights endorse an atomistic and selfish conception of the human being. Second, we show how Cold War authors replicated these two arguments, conveying a biased, largely anti-republican and anti-democratic view of natural rights to the twentieth century. Third, drawing on these two arguments, we critically assess the narrow view of natural rights inherited by neo-republican scholars.

Open access

Beyond debt and equity

Dissecting the red herring and a path forward for normative critiques of finance

Aaron Z. Pitluck

A recurring theme in academic, moralizing, and religious discourses laments the individual and societal perils of debt and praises equity. Contemporary Islamic banking and finance is one conspicuous example. This article recontextualizes this conversation by demonstrating that since the 1980s financial practitioners have been interpreting debt and equity as increasingly illegible cognitive schemas that nonetheless retain their historical and moral connotations. This line of argumentation suggests that normatively contrasting debt and equity is a red herring—a literary device and theoretical construct that misleads and distracts from the fundamental discussion of what constitutes salubrious or odious finance. Little will change in social life if we seek to replace “debt” with “equity.” Rather, since all financial instruments describe social relationships, our conversation should turn to normatively proscribing the kinds of financial instruments that match our normative values for contractual relationships.

Open access

Beyond Deliberative Systems

Pluralizing the Debate

Hans Asenbaum

Normative democratic theory with a focus on civic engagement is increasingly interested in how participatory instances connect into democratic systems (Dean, Rinne, et al. 2019; Elstub et al. 2018). The deliberative perspective has pioneered this debate and proposes a systemic view that observes how everyday talk and media discourses connect deliberative forums including parliaments, mini-publics, and protest formations (Mansbridge 1999; Mansbridge et al. 2012). While various approaches within the deliberative systems debate can be differentiated (Owen and Smith 2015), they commonly understand deliberative qualities as distributed within a broader system and focus on scaling up democratic deliberation through the transmission from the public to state institutions (Chambers 2012; Dryzek 2009).

Open access

Beyond Failure

Bureaucratic Labour and the Will to Improve in Kenya's Experiments with Universal Health Care

Ruth Prince


In a radical move that recalled the egalitarian promises of Kenya's post-independence years, the Kenyan government recently made all public health care free, for residents in four counties, for a period of one year. Drawing on ethnographic research on these ambitions for ‘universal health coverage’, this article follows civil servants tasked with the delivery of public services as they attempt to translate an experimental policy into practice and encounter repeated and ongoing failure. These officials had long experiences of health system failures and did not expect success this time either. Yet, they planned and delivered interventions in a hopeful mood, maintaining a sense of purpose and bracketing a sense of doubt and cynicism. Utopian projects like universal health care offer interesting sites for ethnographic research – not only because of what they set out to achieve, but because of what they generate along the way, including hopeful engagements. I study how bureaucracy may be a site of hope and optimism in the post-colonial state's capacity to improve lives, even while bureaucrats have ample experience of its failures. I explore how bureaucrats sought to engage failure and success as partial and productive, allowing a space in which they could deliver some form of public good.

Dans un geste radical qui rappelle les promesses égalitaires des années post-indépendance du Kenya, le gouvernement kenyan a récemment rendu tous les soins de santé publics gratuits pour les résidents de quatre comtés, pendant un an. S'inspirant d'une recherche ethnographique sur ces expériences ambitieuses de « couverture sanitaire universelle », cet article suit des fonctionnaires chargés de fournir des services publics alors qu'ils tentent de mettre en pratique une politique expérimentale et se heurtent à des échecs répétés et constants. Ces fonctionnaires ne s'attendaient pas à la réussite et avaient une longue expérience des échecs du système de santé ; pourtant, ils ont planifié et réalisé des interventions dans un état d'esprit marqué par l'espoir, en maintenant un sens de l'objectif et en mettant entre parenthèses leurs doute ou leur cynisme. Les projets utopiques comme les soins de santé universels offrent des sites intéressants pour la recherche ethnographique, non seulement en raison de ce qu'ils visent à réaliser, mais aussi en raison de ce qu'ils génèrent en cours de route, y compris des engagements pleins d'espoir. J'étudie comment la bureaucratie peut être un lieu d'optimisme dans la capacité de l'État post-colonial à améliorer les vies, même si les bureaucrates ont une longue expérience de ses échecs. J'explore comment les bureaucrates ont cherché à engager l'échec et le succès comme partiels et productifs, permettant un espace dans lequel ils pourraient fournir une certaine forme de bien public.

Open access

Ellen A. Ahlness

Once Upon the Permafrost: Knowing Culture and Climate Change in Siberia, by Susan Alexandra Crate. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2021, x +327 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8165-4155-3