The Charging Migrants : Male Vietnamese Migrants in Contemporary Japan and the Negotiation of Sexualities and Masculinities in Transnational Migration

The development of transnational migration studies within the last three decades has shown how contemporary migrants partake in different forms of social, economic, religious, political, and individual engagement that span across nation-states. However, dimensions in migration that are not overtly expressed yet deeply felt and embedded such as aspiration, imagination, emotions, gender, and sexuality have been commonly overlooked in mainstream sociological studies of migration. Moreover, research on these aspects in the migration journeys of Asian male migrants within Asian contexts remains limited. Venturing from such a scholarly context, this dissertation explores how transnational mobility, sexuality, and masculinity tangle through the unpacking of the social meanings of transnational migration among male Vietnamese migrants in contemporary Japan, a population that has been rapidly increasing within the last decade. Featuring empirical evidence from ethnographic fieldwork and the life histories of seventy male-identifying Vietnamese migrants in Japan and returnees in Vietnam, this dissertation foregrounds how migrant men’s sexualities and masculinities act as influential power dimensions that affect their transnational migration decision-making, behaviors, and experiences. At the same time, it also illustrates how the experience of transnational migration influences migrant men’s gender and sexuality in terms of performance, subjectivity, identity, and status.

The dissertation’s main arguments are demonstrated through the notion of the “charging migrants”, which is proposed as an umbrella theoretical thread embedded in every empirical chapter. Such a notion is elaborated in the dissertation in three ways. First, it demonstrates how migration to Japan is a social process during which many male Vietnamese migrants “charge up” their socioeconomic and masculine statuses through the accumulation of cultural, economic, social, and masculine capital during their stay abroad to achieve upward mobility upon the expected return migration to Vietnam. In that sense, the notion indicates how Japan is a “charging station” for many Vietnamese migrant men and connotes a gender aspiration in the decision and experiences of migration. Second, the “charging migrants” notion is analyzed as a condition in which the sexual and social bodies of Vietnamese migrant men are charged with different and sometimes contradictory perceptions and sentiments during dissimilar migratory phases. It also attends to the various strategies and tactics that male migrants employed to negotiate such a charging situation of their social and sexual bodies. Last but not least, the dissertation investigates the “charging effect” that transnational migration can bestow on migrants’ identities and mobility trajectories after having returned to Vietnam from Japan. The analysis of the “charging effect” of transnational migration allows the identification of different return outcomes based on the four factors of aspiration, capability, expectation(s) regarding the return, and the actuality of such expectation(s). The dissertation also shows that not all returnees enjoy such a maximum “charging effect” and advocate paying attention to the temporal and spatial variances when researching migrants’ identities, mobility trajectories as well as the possible changes that migration has on different aspects in migrants’ lives.

Through the multi-level reading of the entanglement between transnational migration, sexualities, and masculinities, this dissertation sheds light on how transnational migration is more than a mere wish for economic betterment but also a gendered, sexual, and social strategy that migrant men employ to assert and negotiate their social positions and identities. As a result, the dissertation connects migrants’ transnational negotiation of sexualities and masculinities to their aspirations for positive transformation and upward mobility and, subsequently, contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of contemporary transnational migration.





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