Transnational Serial Migrants and the Cultural Politics of Moving and Belonging

Prof. Brenda Yeoh2

2National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

The complexity of moves transnational migrants make on the global stage resembles “chess pieces making strategic moves across a chessboard criss-crossed with visible and invisible gridlines and rules, sometimes in forwarding a carefully thought-out plan of action, sometimes in unexpected [advance or] retreat, and with significant pauses in between moves” (Yeoh and Huang, 2011). Transnational migratory moves are hence negotiated moves, where the directionality (onward, return, circular, stepwise) and duration (temporary, permanent, open-ended) of mobility are shaped by economic opportunities and rationalities, familial and socio-political considerations, and individual aspirations and investment in social ties (Ley and Kobayashi, 2005). Drawing on biographical interviews conducted in Singapore with over 60 transnational subjects who are “serial migrants” (Ossman, 2013) – that is, people who have moved more than twice and call more than two countries home – we explore the cultural politics of moving and belonging in three interrelated spheres: (a) career advancement and family responsibilities; (b) legal citizenship and social belonging; and (c) planned versus provisional futures.  The study allows us to reflect on the possibilities and limits of the transnational optic in furthering understanding of ‘the tensions between integration and transnationalism, between flexibility and rootedness, and between citizenship and nationalism’ (Teo, 2011).


Brenda Yeoh is Raffles Professor of Social Sciences, Department of Geography, as well as Director, Humanities and Social Science Research Office of Deputy President (Research & Technology), National University of Singapore (NUS). She is also the Research Leader of the Asian Migration Cluster at the Asia Research Institute, NUS.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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