Making Mobility a Market : An Economic Sociology of Migration Brokerage

This dissertation develops an economic sociological perspective on the ongoing practices and processes of migrant labour brokerage in Nepal. It uses Nepal as a case study to account for the recent developments in how labour migration is organized transnationally via profit-making actors called brokers or intermediaries. Existing scholarly work in the field of sociology and migration studies exhibits a bias towards a network-oriented approach to explaining brokerage. Such a stance assumes that brokers persist to fill structural holes or gaps in social relationships, and takes for granted the power dynamics that create an institutional space for brokerage. Questioning such assumptions, this thesis introduces the perspective of markets to understand migrant labour brokerage in Nepal. It keeps the interaction between the state and the market at the centre of its analysis as it traces the proactive role played by the state in organizing a market around facilitation of labour migration. In its examination of the state-market relationship, the study also sheds light on the scope and limitations of market regulation and the problem of control. It consequently claims that the interaction between the state and the market creates both opportunities and vulnerabilities for Nepalese migrant workers. It reveals how brokerage practices are deeply embedded in particular institutional settings, how network-driven theories are inadequate in explaining why brokers continue to persist, and what kind of consequences such intermediation has for the labour process and migrants’ experience of mobility. In doing so, the dissertation advances our existing understanding of brokerage in social and economic relationships.



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