Socio-spatial transformation in trade and education migration hubs: the relational constitution of the local

Dr. Henryk Alff and Dr. Andreas Benz

Empirical case studies on bazaar traders in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and on education migrants in Pakistan and India, conducted in the first funding period of the project, have provided important insights in the socio-spatial positionality of actors in everyday practices, imaginations and representations. The increasing uncoupling of spatial proximity and social propinquity, the emergence of new social identities in migration contexts, the securing of economic prosperity through intensive participation in translocal networks and exchange relations as well as the reproduction of socio-cultural boundaries are exemplary for these. From the empirical-conceptual findings, a number of practical implications have been derived and identified, such as the need to adapt spatial conceptions of development policies to the translocal and mobilized social realities of people. Also the importance of actors’ shifting socio-spatial positionalities for gaining an emic understanding of development processes should be noted in that regard. The processes through which specific places or locales are relationally constituted and reproduced will form the main focus of research in the second project phase. We thus explore conceptually the intersections of flows, interactions and networks of people, objects and ideas in their function for the production of place(s). This will be exemplified in the context of migration processes and translocal linkages to urban centres of the high-mountain regions of Gilgit-Baltistan/Pakistan and Uttarakhand/India as well as the dynamics of trade centres in the border regions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to Xinjiang/China, which form newly emerging and highly dynamic educational and commercial hubs.

Based on the empirical and conceptual findings and insights from the first project phase, the work package will contribute to the elaboration of the aspired ‘Crossroads’ research perspective, particularly with respect to the conceptual framing and incorporation of spatial theory. With our commitment to processes of relational constitution of spaces and places/locales we engage in current discussions on questions of (postcolonial) spatiality. By scrutinizing modes of access to emic perspectives, the socio-spatial positionality of actors in a web of asymmetric power relations, we underline the importance of ‘reflexivity’ in the ‘Crossroads Perspective’.