Workshop on Migration and Diversity in Asian Contexts

Singapore - This research workshop aims among others, to explore and understand the changing landscape of migration and diversity in various Asian contexts.

Date: 25/09/2008 - 26/09/2008
Venue: ARI Seminar Room
469A Tower Block, Level 10, Bukit Timah Road
National University of Singapore @ BTC
Organisers: The event is jointly organised by Asia Research Institute and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Migration Cluster, National University of Singapore

The increasing scale and quickening pace of transnational migration and mobility has brought about increasing levels and forms of social diversity in societies and communities in many parts of the world. In general, huge migrations and movements of peoples, along with their ideas, beliefs and practices, are taking place and resulting in unprecedented diversities of populations and communities living together. This has led to growing concern and widening debate on the ways and means of coping with difference. In Western ‘immigration countries’ such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark and Holland in the European Union and others such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the concerns and debates variously focus around the discourses and practices of ‘multiculturalism’, ‘integration’, `rights and responsibilities’, ‘social cohesion’, ‘social inclusion’, ‘cosmopolitanism’ and ‘unity in diversity’, with much attention paid to the often overlapping dimensions of class, ethnicity and religion.

In contrast, there has been relatively little attention given to the growing diversity in countries, cities and communities in Asia. While issues and debates are also variously emerging over `multiculturalism’, `integration’, `rights and responsibilities’, `social cohesion’, `cosmopolitanism’ and ‘diversity’ in some of these Asian settings, their processes, meanings and significances need to be understood within their contexts which are constituted by highly distinct and varied postcolonial histories, cultures, geographies, and political economies.

The increasing social diversity being woven into the fabrics of Asian societies and communities is fuelled primarily by a wide range of labour migration flows. Different migration (and citizenship) regimes fundamentally underlie the migration-diversity connections involved. In some Asian countries, a bifurcated labour migration system is predominant, with the unskilled and low-skilled regulated by a ‘use-and discard’ contract labour system which encourages transience and discourages settlement, while the highly skilled are encouraged to put down roots through more liberal immigration and permanent residency systems. The large numbers of undocumented migrants add further complexities to the landscapes of diversity – while they do not necessarily appear in the categories used by the state in policy formulations and are socially ‘invisible’ or `excluded’, they are tolerated for their labour which fills shortages in booming economic sectors but expelled in times of economic downturns and crises.

Other forces are also at work in infusing social complexity into various Asian settings. Cross-nationality marriages is on the rise in several Asian countries and ‘foreign spouses’ and ‘children of mixed marriages’ is now a reality for many families and communities, raising issues of difference and of intercultural and cross-cultural living. The phenomenon of ‘return migration’ – often encouraged by policies aimed at reversing ‘brain drain’ or replenishing dwindling or ageing populations – is also adding to the diversity of ‘home’ countries, often accompanied not only by a politics of difference but also of sameness.

The issues around migration and increasing diversity in Asia in some cases need to be understood within the contexts of already pluralistic societies, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Some of these societies have also historically encountered conflicts and tensions between ethnic groups but also experienced accommodation and integration efforts and processes. In other cases, they are occurring in relatively homogeneous societies such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China, and immigration pose a new challenge both to policymakers and to the public besides to the immigrants themselves. In general, for members of host societies, the tremendous speed and scale of immigration and the variety of immigrants’ backgrounds pose adjustment problems of perception and acceptance of immigrants and of changes to their existing social orders, cultures and identities.

Understanding the migration-diversity landscape and dynamics in Asian contexts requires examination at different levels: nation-state and society, cities and their specific characteristics, local communities, small groups, interpersonal relations and individual persons. It also requires simultaneous attention on the spheres of policy and management, and response and interaction by both immigrants and locals. These include migration policies, citizenship regimes and integrative approaches and mechanisms of diversity management; migrant settlement patterns and ‘contact zones’; and intercultural processes, events and experiences.

A focus on Asian contexts also entails more than just a comparison with existing scholarship on migration and diversity in western contexts. It is also important to scrutinise the relevance of some of the main approaches and debates on diversity and diversity management in the West when applied to Asian contexts.


This research workshop has the following aims:

1. to explore and understand the changing landscape of migration and diversity in various Asian contexts,
2. to understand the emerging major discourses, debates and issues on diversity,
3. to examine current dominant approaches in scholarship, policy and practice on migration and diversity, towards better understanding and management of diversities in Asian contexts, and
4. to identify key areas for further in-depth research.


This workshop will be based on suitable papers received from interested participants and invited speakers. We welcome papers which discuss any population groups and aspects of the migration-diversity connections in the context of any Asian setting. Population groups can include men, women, children and youths, ethnic and gendered minorities, families, workers, and communities. Papers may be of a theoretical nature, take the form of critical analyses of policy discourse and practice, or draw on quantitative studies or ethnographic work. Papers may be based on recently completed work or work in progress.

Aspects discussed in papers can include but are not limited to the following:
• discourses and debates on migration and social diversity
• reviews of theoretical, social and political approaches to migration and diversity in Asian contexts and development of new approaches
• class, cultural and religious diversity issues
• national and local governance responses to migration and social diversity
• role of cities as nodal points in migratory circulation
• influence of migration and diversity on the material and symbolic landscapes of cities and other localities
• roles of spatial planning and urban/housing policy and design
• labour market segmentation and integration
• sites of encounter - zones between citizens and foreigners
• events and incidents of tension and conflict and of dialogue, civic participation and collaboration
• everyday life experiences of migrants
• media portrayals and discussions of migration and diversity
• integration approaches, pathways and mechanisms
• roles of education, dialogue and collaboration
• civil society, NGOs and civic participation
• rights and responsibilities of migrants and locals
• inter-generational issues of migration, settlement and citizenship/belonging
• imagined communities and senses of being and belonging

Partial or full funding to attend the workshop is likely to be available for the presenting author of papers selected.

Selected papers of completed research may be published in a relevant journal. Projects in progress or completed projects with follow-up potential may be selected for participation in a future research project (tentatively 2009-2010).


The call for papers is closed. Acceptance of papers will be notified by 13 June 2008.

Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to both at the following email addresses:
Dr LAI Ah Eng (main organiser) [email protected]
Dr Francis Leo COLLINS [email protected]


Dr LAI Ah Eng (main organiser) [email protected]
Dr Francis Leo COLLINS [email protected]
Prof Brenda YEOH
Assoc Prof Robbie GOH

Workshop Secretariat:
Ms Valerie YEO
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore
469A Tower Block #10-01,
Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259770
Email: [email protected]
Tel: (65) 6516 5279
Fax: (65) 6779 1428

Contact Person: Mdm YEO Ee Lin Valerie
Email: [email protected]

From 25 Sep 2008
Until 26 Sep 2008
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