Seb primarily interested in how ‘normal people’ experience, are affected by, and engage with, the inequalities and power relations of the global capitalist system. This may be termed ‘everyday political economy’, which he applies to the realms of religious transformation and rural development in my PhD. However, this concept has far wider-reaching applications, as he plans to demonstrate during his Leverhulme fellowship at Birmingham. His empirical expertise is focused on Southeast Asia in general, and Vietnamese speakers in particular.
Current project: “The everyday politics of undocumented Vietnamese migrant lives in the UK”
On 23rd October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Essex, temporarily bringing the plight of undocumented Vietnamese immigration to the news headlines. While this tragic episode has been largely forgotten amidst the tumultuous events of 2020- 21, the migration networks and journeys have not disappeared. Estimates of the number of irregular Vietnamese immigrants in the UK vary massively from 20,000-70,000, most of whom end up working for Vietnamese employers in nail salons, restaurants or illegal cannabis farms. Yet we still know very little about this dynamic and expanding community, which has remained ‘under the radar’ and largely isolated from the more established UK Vietnamese diaspora (descendants of the ‘boat people’).
Informed by my previous research, this fellowship will allow me to undertake the first ethnographic study with undocumented Vietnamese migrants in the UK. It will explore how migrants navigate and respond to home office threats and state bureaucracy, informal labour and exploitation, changing gender divisions of labour and conflicts within the Vietnamese community. The aim of this research is to gain an in-depth understanding of the aspirations and lived experiences of precarious Vietnamese migrants, which breaks new empirical ground within a politically sensitive context as well as providing an illuminating case study with which to contribute to theoretical discussions of migration and exploitation.