In our new project “Remitting Belief to the Global South,” Faculty Fellow Jaimie Bleck (political science) and I are bringing together fieldwork and “big data” methodologies to explore how international migration influences norms and values among migrants and their communities of origin. Our focus is migration from Mali (where Jaimie has previously worked) and Sri Lanka (where I have) to Europe and the Gulf States.

We intend to study differences in values relating to religion, social status, and gender among three groups: migrants currently living abroad, returned migrants, and young people who have not left their home communities. In addition, studying the array of social networks among migrants currently living abroad and among their families at home can help us understand how information flows in relation to migration patterns, ultimately influencing these norms and values.

We believe this research is important to develop a better understanding of this additional outcome from international migration – the impact of international migration on such beliefs and norms – as well as of motivations for migration and information deficits that may endanger prospective migrants.

Initial research

In the first stage of our project, we are using focus groups and interviews with Malian youth – both in Mali and among Malian migrants living in Spain – to understand differences in values and perceptions of social status as well as how information exchange differs. The data we are gathering related to Malian migration will help us understand motivations to migrate, communication between migrants and families at home, and differences in beliefs among migrants and non-migrants

At the same time, our Ford Program research associate Ali Lodermeier ’18has been analyzing data from Sri Lanka that reveals interesting patterns about how migrant recruitment operates and the systemic nature of abuse in migrant workplaces.

A unique administrative dataset from the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) allows us to track over 2.5 million individual episodes of labor migration from Sri Lanka and includes information on recruitment sites, job types, destination countries, and cases of migrant abuse. We hope to examine how differences in the origin and destination of these migrant workers relate to changing religious, political, and gender-based beliefs across different regions of Sri Lanka.

Future aims

Our next steps will involve continuing to collect data from focus groups and interviews with Malian migrants and Malian youth while we supplement our data on Sri Lankan labor migrants with corresponding data on religious communities, female labor force participation, and political beliefs. We also intend to apply for external funding for the project.

Through this research, Jaimie and I hope to document how international migration from both Sri Lanka and Mali influences the norms and values in these countries. In addition, we expect this project will lead to additional research avenues that target the problem of migrant abuses in the Gulf states and identify policies that can be used to stop these abuses and preserve the dignity of domestic workers.