Social Remittances: an alternative approach to development cooperation                                               Jana ...
based quantitative approach to research of migration-related issues which is seen as overlysimplifying. It therefore intro...
as there are often secondary ones which are still socially desirable. [3, 4, 5]       To reflect these problematic areas t...
there is needed of further research on the social aspects of this phenomenon; including theattitudes to the official struc...
the above described post-developmental form of grassroots activities, the actual contentdefined by the receiving society i...
[3]    Skeldon R. (2008) Population and Development Review 34(1), p. 1[4]    Migration Policy Institute [2010-03-25]      ...
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Social Remittances: an alternative approach to development cooperation


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Jana Hasalová: Social Remittances: an alternative approach to development cooperation (paper), Študentská vedecká konferencia Prírodovedeckej fakulty Univerzity Komenského v Bratislave,
27th April 2011

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Social Remittances: an alternative approach to development cooperation

  1. 1. Social Remittances: an alternative approach to development cooperation Jana Hasalová University of Ostrava/Faculty of Science/Department of Human Geography and Regional Development/Kranichova 8, 710 00, Ostrava – Slezská Ostrava, Czech Republic;jana.hasalova@osu.czAbstract The introduction of term “social remittances” does not seek to increase the terminological heterogeneitybut to provide a possibility of researching the phenomenon of remittances in its complexity. The research onremittances can overcome the prevailing and limiting economic discourse by extending the term byincorporating migrant-led transfers of non-material character (e. g. knowledge, know-how, expertise, methods,values) to the wider communities extending the family ties. The research based on this alternative approach hasidentified a variety of grassroots, migrant-led development projects based in the local knowledge and aiming onthe areas of absent or ineffective development cooperation networks; thus being examples of the post-development movement. With the system of Official Development Aid (ODA) coming through both financialand ideological crisis, the concept of social remittances might provide an alternative worth further recognitionby both scientists and official development actors.Key words: social remittances; development cooperation; migration; transnationalismIntroduction The system of official development cooperation is highly complex one, with manytroubled areas which are aims of severe criticism. The current economic crisis clearly showsthe negatives of the dependency of the development coordination system on the political willand support in the donor countries. The ambitious projects lack a clear leadership so themultilateral agreements are usually of general character with no clearly stated means ofpursuing their outcomes or potential sanctions for failing donors. In the time of theirdecreasing economic efficiency the donor states fail to provide the pledged financial sourcesand aid decreases on the foreign policy agendas of the developed countries. [1] The currentdevelopment model remains state-oriented, dependent on the donors and according to manythus used mainly for confirmation of the dominant world view presented by the developedcountries. [1] Although there is an agreement on the need of reforms in the developmentmodel, there is not such clarity about their actual character. In this time the developmentalalternatives have a chance to get wider attention as state-independent and smaller-scalevariations to official development strategies are sought. With the economic crisis hitting majority of the most important ODA donors, theregrows the fear of cutting development funds by both official donors and the transnationalmigrant remitters and the scientific research in this field concentrates on providing statisticaldata supporting these gloomy predictions. This paper joins the critique of this economics-
  2. 2. based quantitative approach to research of migration-related issues which is seen as overlysimplifying. It therefore introduces an alternative – interdisciplinary qualitative-basedresearch method incorporating the social aspects into the research of remittances. In this waythe potential for understanding the developmental consequences of remittances is extended;enabling wider understanding of the complex networks created in the processes ofinternational migration.Theory and Methodology of Research on Social Remittances Research undertaken so far in the field of migration and development concentratespredominantly on the phenomenon of remittances; more precisely on their economic value e.g. volumes, routes, spatial distribution and use. This approach is connected to the neo-liberalperspective of migration as a predominantly economic phenomenon interconnected with thespread of unified global economic system and its increasing influence upon the state. Thismono-causal explanation unevenly emphasizes the economical background of globalprocesses – including migration. In this sense the migrants are seen purely as a labour forcemotivated by desire to increase income and lower economical risks. [2] This way of rationalanalysis of migrant behaviour is also applied upon their remitting activities; which arepredominantly researched in the quantitative categories of volume or share on GDP. The research on remittances therefore aims predominantly on the financial andmaterial outcomes of migrants’ economic activity transferred to country of origin. [3] In thisway remittances are recognized as potential additional source for development and as statedabove the economic crisis pressures researchers, development professionals and remittersthemselves to investigate on the most effective use of remittances in development. The matteris further unbalanced as there are serious drawbacks in the institutional and societal structureswhich prevent the effective use of provided aid. The economical assessment of remittances asdevelopmental tool therefore puts a disproportional amount of responsibility onproportionally small group of migrants without providing them with adequate recognition andassistance. Blaming the migrants themselves for the lack of development can be thus analysedas tactical approach of drawing the attention from the actual drawbacks in political,economical and aid structures. [3, 4] The criticism of remittances also aims on lack of control,creation of dependency, unequal distribution and consumption use. This attitude omits thefact that remittances are just one part of a complex socio-economic system; their income cantherefore release other resources which would be otherwise linked to primary consumption.The analysis of their influences should therefore look further than just on the direct outcomes
  3. 3. as there are often secondary ones which are still socially desirable. [3, 4, 5] To reflect these problematic areas there emerges new concept of remittances. Its aim isto include the social aspects of remitting activities and the transnational reality of migrants’lives and activities. The main difference lies in going beyond the simplistic optics viewingmigrants as market driven economic actors. The actual reality of migration is a complex anddynamic process driven by mix of social, political and economic motivations. Thereforeexplaining migration in the context of free market is at least biased as there are present bothindividual and collective motivations, influences and outcomes. [3] Concentration onfinancial remittances also omits all other forms in which migrants may contribute todevelopment of their home countries. The perspective of social remitting enables to payattention to activities going further than to material and financial transfers. Therefore theconcept of social remittances also gives space to alternatives to the prevailing developmentdiscourse by research of post-developmental strategies of development which concentrate ongrassroots, community-based projects using the local knowledge and traditions. [6] The inclusive definition of social remittances was created, recognizing them asmaterial and nonmaterial transfers such as skills, know-how, knowledge, techniques, methodsand values used for and by wider community exceeding the family relationships; submitted byindividuals or groups of international migrants or refugees and used in various forms ofcollective projects with the motivation of giving back to the community and improving itswelfare. [7, 8] This unofficial definition became a base of research on remitting activities ofIrish immigrants undertaken by the author in years 2009 – 2010. The research aimed onidentification of concrete forms of social remitting projects, their motivation and availablenetworks of cooperation. As remittances are considered to be one of the main alternatives tothe failing structures of development cooperation, the main focus was paid to the post-development characteristics of social remitting projects. It was proved that migrant organizerscreate mainly community-based, self-sustainable and small scale projects which originatefrom the needs and skills of the target community. The great advantage of this approach is thepossibility to create alternative power structures and channels and enable emancipation oflocal communities which are often marginalized in the global system of developmentcooperation. The new concept of research on remittances is therefore innovative thanks to theextension of the understanding of the processes beyond the financial, family, kin and ethnicbonds of migrants. The research has shown that remittances have many forms and therefore
  4. 4. there is needed of further research on the social aspects of this phenomenon; including theattitudes to the official structures of development cooperation. Social remittances thereforeextend the theoretical understanding of “transnationalism from below” – the specific localgrassroots reactions to the processes of globalization enabling the use of personal potential toindividuals and communities in otherwise marginalised regions and positions. [9]Outcomes and Discussion The pilot research helped to identify the migrants as active, though officiallyunrecognized actors in the field of development whose activities aim mainly on the grassrootsprojects. These projects form an important alternative to the areas of non-existent orineffective official development cooperation networks. The migrants themselves localize theirprojects according to the needs and requirements of the local communities which areinsufficiently involved in the official development networks. As the amount of these localitiesmight increase with the withdrawal of main donors from the development projects, theactivities of migrants grow on importance as they have tendency to grow nevertheless theeconomic crisis. This characteristic is given by the non-financial character of the projectswhich are oriented on giving back to the community. The motivation of the social remittersoriginates from religious beliefs, family upbringing or philosophy, which are thecharacteristics that are not influenced by the economic downturn in the developed world.Although many of the social remitters struggle with financing in the current environment,they seek to sustain their activities by other means. [10] The declared disregard of social remitting activities by majority of officialdevelopment bodies leads to a set of further research questions. The marginalization ofmigrants in the social, political and economic structures of the host countries seems to beconnected to the prevailing negative public image of migrants. In the area of developmentmigrants become representatives of the passive and drawback imagery of developed countriesand their inhabitants; that makes their incorporation into the official structures seeminglyimpossible. The low levels of cooperation among the migrant and official development actorscan be according to A. Escobar interpreted as the outcome of the differences in boththeoretical and practical understanding of the concept of development given by the existenceof different development discourses. The transnational position of the migrant social remitterscreates their specific position in between the local and official development discourses whichexist in hybrid coexistence. [11] The research has thus identified interesting inconsonancebetween the form and content of the development projects. Although the social remitting has
  5. 5. the above described post-developmental form of grassroots activities, the actual contentdefined by the receiving society is in accord with the official development discourseconcentrating mainly on the infrastructure, education and healthcare.Conclusions This paper aims on the insufficient research of migration and development issuesoriginating from the economics-based discourses of these two fields of research. Bothmigration and development are influenced by complex system of social, political, economicand cultural factors which need to be reflected in the theoretical research on the relatedphenomena. Interdisciplinary, holistic and complex approaches that reflex the specific time-space context are getting wider support, however they are still handicapped by their relativenovelty, unstable terminology and missing specific methodology. However the describedresearch has proven the necessity of new approaches for grasping the complexity oftransnational networks and the importance of personal agency of many individuals. Theirpersonal skills, knowledge and intellect are used for development of otherwise neglectedcommunities abandoned by the main networks of distribution of power and resources. The outcomes of the research social remittances proved that further research on theissue can help to replace the economic view on migrants by the one recognizing their personalagency, intellectual, manual and organizational skills, experience and expertise. Furtherresearch may therefore achieve the full recognition of migrants as agents of development andgain access to their abilities and experiences to various development bodies. Such approachesshould be supported by the need of grasping the complexity of migrant agency which in manyways possesses the currently proposed characteristics of post-development tactics of self-empowerment led by the developing communities themselves. Therefore social remittancesprovide a chance of creating an alternative to development structures struck by inefficiency,administrative costs and bureaucracy. Overall it is clear that the processes linking migration and development are complexand highly influenced by all the included actors; this fact should be reflected by any furtherresearch. In this way it is possible to reflect that although the transnational networks seem tobe influenced by various policies and structures, they still can be created and changed by theindividuals.References[1] Thérien J., Lloyd C. (2000) Third World Quarterly 21(1), p. 21[2] Massey D. (1993) Population and Development Review 19(3), p. 431
  6. 6. [3] Skeldon R. (2008) Population and Development Review 34(1), p. 1[4] Migration Policy Institute [2010-03-25] <>[5] Ozden C., Schiff M. (2006) International Migration, Remittances and the Brain Drain. World Bank, Washington, p. 201[6] Johnston R. (2000) The Dictionary of Human Geography. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, p. 615[7] The Hague Process, UNESCO [2010-25-4] <>[8] Immigrant Council of Ireland [2010-26-5] <>[9] Nyberg-Sorensen N., Van Hear N., Engberg-Pedersen P. (2002) International Migration 40(2), p. 3[10] Hasalová J. (2010) Beyond Globalization: Exploring the Limits of Globalization in the Regional Context, Ostrava, ČR, p. 147[11] Escobar A. (1995) Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton University Press, Princeton, p. 52