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Gujarati Immigrants Transnational
RESEARCH QUESTION: How does the integration of Gujarati immigrants in Britain affect their participation in transnational activities?
This proposed research aims to understand links between social and economic integration and participation in transnational activities. I will focus on Gujarati immigrants as they are widely regarded as being amongst the most affluent, successful and religious of Britain’s South Asian settlers (Dwyer, 1994). The proposed research is a case study (Marshall & Rossman, 1999) exploring patterns of integration and participation in transnational activities within this particular group.
The research question is important because I want to challenge both the idea that all Gujarati immigrants are rich and successful and simplistic understandings of segmented assimilation theory (Kivisto, 2001; Portes, 1995; Yu & Greenman, 2005). Empirical evidence for this purpose will be gathered by a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. The results will give a detailed picture of a particular group of immigrants but will be relevant to understanding other groups as well.
As a theoretical starting point, I will refer to the work of Portes, who defines transnationalism as referring to:
“…a growing number of persons who live dual lives; speaking two languages, having homes in two countries, and making a living through continuous regular contact across national borders. Activities within the transnational field comprise a whole gamut of economic, political and social initiatives”. (Portes et al, 1999, pp. 217-218)
For Portes (1995), to understand the relationship between transnational behaviour and immigrant integration we have to understand the theory of segmented assimilation. This theory makes an effort to understand the individual and contextual factors that determine into which parts of the host society second generation immigrants become incorporated: in the case of Gujarati immigrants, these areas will be social, economic, cultural and religious. Many writers have emphasised that transnationalism is in part an adaptive strategy a reaction to the hostile reception and downward mobility that immigrants face in post-industrial nations (Basch et al 1994).
However, transnational behaviour and immigrant integration is discussed differently by Kivisto (2001). Kivisto argues that contrary to the transnational view of immigrants living in two countries at the same time immigrants are located in one and the immediate concerns of the receiving country take lead in to the more distant concerns of the sending community. For Kivisto, for example, Portes’ theory of transnational immigration does not look at the variation of transnational behaviours among immigrants with comparable family and social link with the country they are from. He provides an assessment of transnationalism that is a subset of assimilation theory, rather than an alternative to it and suggests that the following factors should be considered in research on this topic:
- The costs associated with travel
- Access to communication technologies
- The salience of homeland political issues or economic conditions versus similar issues in the host society
- How institutions in the host society may limit immigrants’ access and the nature of their involvement
- The impact of popular culture
- The role of nation states (p.573).
Yu and Greenman (2005) criticize segmented assimilation theory on the basis of an empirical study on immigration adolescents yielding two main findings: First, for immigrant adolescents living in non-poverty neighborhoods, they find assimilation to be positively associated with educational achievement and psychological well-being but also positively associated with at-risk behavior.
Second, there is little empirical evidence supporting the theory of segmented assimilation. For these writers, future research would be more fruitful focusing on differential processes of assimilation rather than differential consequences of assimilation (http://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/abs.html?ID=3443). Bearing this in mind, the focus of my study is on Gujarati immigrants’ participation in terms of its relation to integration process.
I am also drawing on Ballard’s (1994) Desh Pardesh: The South Asian Presence in Britain. The book contains a collection of essays about the diverse, multicultural South Asian communities in Britain, including Gujarati immigrants. The of the book ‘Desh Pardesh’ means 'home from home' and 'at home abroad'. The book attempts to look at some of the issues relating to processes of the reconstruction of social, economic, religious and cultural life in order to integrate in the new country.
The case of Gujarati immigrants
There are over half a million Gujaratis in Britain (Dwyer, 1994). Britain remains a popular destination for immigrants because of its strong economy. However, the jobs that immigrants generally take on are in the secondary sector and typically unskilled manual labour (Massey, 1987); I suggest that this is also the case with many Gujarati immigrants. Social networks both in Gujarat and Britain also account for a large number of migrants coming in from abroad (Boyd 1989).
In the research I aim to focus on Gujarati immigrants who are in search for better employment opportunities in Britain and are wishing to settle. As for Portes (1999):
“For purposes of establishing a novel area of investigation, it is preferable to delimit the concept of transnationalism to occupations and activities that require regular and sustained social contacts over time across national borders for their implementation. Thus defined, the concept encompasses, for example, the travels of a Salvadoran viajero delivering mail and supplies to immigrant kin on a monthly basis or those of a Dominican garment shop owner going to New York several times a year to sell her wares and acquire new fabrics and designs for her business. By the same token, it excludes the occasional gifts of money and kind sent by immigrants to their kin and friends (not an occupation) or the one-time purchase of a house or lot by an immigrant in his home country (not a regular activity) (p.219).
I will apply this idea to immigrants from Gujarat, India who represents the latest ‘wave’ of migration. The group will consist of middle-class people with only Indian school qualification aged 18-28 years and who enter into unskilled manual labour, e.g. working in restaurants, cleaners, groceries, retail and so on.
My aim is to try and understand the people who face difficulties in Gujarat, India due to unemployment. Many writers have written about different Gujarati communities abroad, for example about the success of East African Gujaratis in terms of education achievement and business (Ballard 1994; Bughart 1987; Bhachu 1985). I want to also look at the poor Gujaratis who lack educational qualifications and are struggling to find work in Gujarat.
Key questions regarding the orientation to the conduct of the research are: 1) Is my strategy ‘deductive’ or ‘inductive’? 2) Is my research qualitative or quantitative? and 3) Is my epistemology positivist or interpretivist?
First, deductive research strategy is concerned with the testing of theory, or a pre-given hypothesis. As a result, hypothesis is confirmed or rejected. Inductive approach is more relevant in my research because it allows categories emerge from the data (Marshall & Rossman, 1999).
If for example I was trying to research first generation immigrants rather then second then I would have to modify theory of segmented assimilation to apply it to the right group. If I use the inductive approach I will begin with findings and observations from which I will generate theory. Second, my research will be both quantitative and qualitative in that it will look at numeric population patterns as well as individual lived experiences (ibid). Third, my research will be interpretivist in that it is ‘guided by a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied’ (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p.13).
Exploratory Data Collection
The method I will be using to collect data will be participant observation during my field work in Britain. I will study groups of Gujarati immigrants who are either unemployed or have low-paid jobs. This approach attempts to understand ‘what is going on’ and that is why participant observation is a suitable method for this research (ibid). This method will help me in developing useful interview questions.
It will also allow me evaluate data collected through other methods (Pelto and Pelto 1978). ‘Participant observation’ as a method involves observing as well as participating with those who are being studied, and it also involves social interaction as well as engaging in their way of life (Spradley 1980). The extent to which a researcher participates in a social setting ranges from non-participation to complete participation, in the latter case becoming a member of the group. I will participate moderately with the Gujaratis’ daily activities (ibid; Dewalt et al 1998).
(a) I need to gain entry into the community and begin building my relations with immigrants. I will be working in two main areas which have the highest number of Gujaratis, Wembley (NW London) and Leicestershire (Midlands). I will have to find accommodation in these two regions of Britain. To gain access into the community I will also volunteer to work as a sales assistant for retail shops in these areas. By doing this I will be able to build comfortable relations with my respondents. This will also encourage informants to talk normally as they would with a friend or community member (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).