Two books about migration and displacement launch Thursday

Two new books edited by York professors, each looking at different aspects of human movement from one place to another, are being launched as part of the Founders College Resources of Hope Lecture Series.

The launch takes place on Thursday, Jan. 31, from 2:30 to 4:30pm in the Founders Senior Common Room, 305 Founders College.

Organizing the Transnational: Labour, Politics, and Social Change (UBC Press, 2007) is edited by York sociology Professor Luin Goldring and York PhD candidate Sailaja Krishnamurti, while Development’s Displacements: Ecologies, Economies, and Cultures at Risk (UBC Press, 2007) is edited by Professor Peter Vandergeest of York’s Sociology Department, Professor Pablo Idahosa, coordinator of African Studies at Founders College, and Pablo Bose (PhD ’06), a research associate with the Centre for Refugee Studies at York.

Radhika Mongia, a professor in York’s Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, and Professor Wenona Giles, from the Atkinson School of Social Sciences and the School of Women’s Studies, will speak at the event.

Organizing the Transnational explores the growing recognition that transnational practices and identities are changing the way scholars and activists ask questions about migration and incorporation, while articulating a multi-level, cultural politics of transnationalism to frame contemporary analyses of immigration and diasporas.

On the other hand, Development’s Displacements raises ethical questions about, and questions the practical effectiveness of, displacing millions of people for reasons of international development, supposedly for the common good. About 20-million people a year are displaced because of development projects, such as dams, mining, oil extraction, forest plantations and nature conservation. They are displaced from their residences, their environments and their livelihoods.

The book sprung from the Ethics of Development-Induced Displacement Project (EDID) led by principal investigator Peter Penz, York professor emeritus. As part of that project, students went into the field to study displacement first hand. These case studies make up the majority of the book, which Bose, now a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Vermont, was instrumental in pulling together, said Vandergeest.

The students’ work in the field brings the concrete issues of displacement to the forefront, beyond the theoretical. It explores the causes, the effects and the justifications for displacing people.

"You can argue these things in the abstract are for the common good, but to really get a handle on the more complex issue of how displacement happens and how it’s justified, you have to send people there," said Vandergeest, former director of the York Centre for Asian Research. "A lot of ethical questions emerge when people are displaced."

Whether it’s for reasons of strife or for development, displacement is harmful, said Vandergeest. Development’s Displacements looks at the harm done, what kind of voice displaced people are given in deciding their fate and what the broader policies are that need to be addressed.

"It looks at the anti-democratic way development is done by big development agencies," said Vandergeest. "This issue has drawn a lot of attention from critics of development because of how it gets at the underside of development that is imposed from above. It’s a form of forced migration."

In Organizing the Transnational the focus is on the connections people continue to have with their countries of origin, or identification with other locations or groups, after they have migrated elsewhere and how that is changing with advancements in technology, cheaper flights and more affordable long-distance phone fees.

"Transnational spaces refers to the idea of people not just occasionally sending a letter home, but retaining active communication and social ties with places of origin, that is, organizing their lives simultaneously in more than one location," said Goldring.

An example of that is the 40,000 Canadians of Italian origin who voted in Italy’s 2006 election. Another example is the frequent communication people have with relatives overseas, not just to keep up with their lives, but also to make decisions that affect family members living in different settings, said Goldring. Other examples include people going "home" to run for office; setting up businesses that rely on transnational social networks and supplies; or actively working on issues related to one’s country of origin or one’s ethnoracial diasporic group.

Right: Peter Vandergeest

"Transnationalism is a growing field in a Canadian context," said Goldring. "Only recently is there Canadian research on this and Canada really offers an interesting context for looking at transnational linkages as well as transnational engagements with a very wide range of national settings. So the book adds to the literature on transnational spaces and transnational social fields that currently exist."

Organizing the Transnational is based on a YCAR and CERLAC conference, titled "The Politics of Transnational Ties: Implications for Research, Communities, Policy".

Left: Luin Goldring

"The idea was to raise the profile of transnational studies taking into consideration the Canadian context and how it is different from the US or the European context," said Goldring. "Questions like what does it mean to belong to more than one place, community or polity, and how does that shape a person’s citizenship and identities, and how does that fit in with their sense of belonging as people as they migrate from one place to another, are explored throughout the book."

In keeping with one of the themes of the conference – to include the voices of non-academics and academics – there are several non-academic contributors. Nine of the contributors are current faculty and students, or former students.

The dual book launch is sponsored by YCAR; Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean; the Centre for Refugee Studies; Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts; Faculty of Environmental Studies; Graduate Program in Social & Political Thought; York University Bookstore as well as UBC Press.

To order the books, visit the UBC Press Web site at:

By Sandra McLean, York communications officer.