From Framing Fellow Faranak MiraftabMy entry point in the Global Framing volume is “Displacement.” I chose displacement because it offers a clear example of how our framing matters and why we need a relational approach and theorization.

What within one frame would be represented as migration, suggesting a voluntary movement of people across localities within and across national borders; within another frame is represented as displacement –involuntary movement of people from one location to another forced by social, economic, political, cultural or environmental causes.


Key Terms

Accumulation by Dispossession and Displacement: The expansion of capitalism has its roots in the interconnected processes of dispossession and displacement that occur at multiple local, regional, and global spaces and scales. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, the creation of colonies by dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land and resources gave European capital a jump start for accumulation. Through colonial-era dispossessions, capital enjoyed free or extremely cheap labor.

This early form of accumulation, which Marx called “primitive accumulation” or “the original sin of capital,” was not a onetime occurrence, as David Harvey argues (2005). The contemporary neoliberal policies of privatization continue this original sin through processes that dispossess people from their communal goods and assets—be it privatization of communal land or of municipal services. In such instances, capital accumulates by taking assets from the public. Harvey calls this “accumulation by dispossession.”

If the colonial dispossessions allowed capital to enjoy free displaced labor through enslavement, the contemporary processes of accumulation by dispossession allow global capital to enjoy displaced laborers as “wage slaves.” In this light migrant labor is unpacked. It is not always individuals’ act but part of systematic and global processes of dispossession and displacement.

Social Reproduction: In a traditional sense going back to the classic Marxian definition by Fredrick Engels, social reproduction of a labor force was discussed in terms of the cost, activities and resources needed to reproduce at a low cost the labor force that capital enjoys. Feminist scholarship has expanded the notion of social reproduction beyond its cost to highlight the care work needed, and primarily performed by women, to maintain and reproduce labor force.

I expand the definition of social reproduction beyond biological care work. As I discuss in my work among transnational migrants, for social reproduction one needs not just biological care and existence (shelter, clothing food and education) but also a sense of self and humanity—including cultural obligations, imaginations, and the ability to gain respect and dignity.

Discussion Questions

1) Is emigration the result of individuals’ decisions and life choices? Is an individual’s decision to emigrate an outcome of broader policies that have impacted their lives? What processes took place and impacted their lives before they made the decision to leave?

2) What global and local policies and processes impacted the educated Togolese or Mexican farmers to emigrate to the US? What practices kept these workers in jobs that are hard and that many US born workers do not want?

3) Once families are displaced are they victims? Do displaced people make new homes in places of destination? Do these global migrants contribute to their home communities’ development? Do their friends, relatives, and institutions back in their communities of origin contribute to the development of places that receive immigrants—places like Beardstown? How? Discuss and explain.

4) How do global inequalities play out in the immigration stories we read in this chapter? Can we stop emigration and immigration in a highly unequal world? What does building tighter border controls do for people who have nothing to lose but their lives? In whose interest is to criminalize immigrant workers?

5) Imagine a world without national borders, what would be different? Discuss in your groups and write down all the various things that you can think of or imagine that would be different in a borderless world?

Supplemental Readings

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not)getting by in America. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books.

Romero, M. (2002). Maid in the USA. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ehrenreich, B. and Hochschild, A. (Eds). (2003). Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

Bacon, D. (2008). Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Harvey, D. (2005). New Imperialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Can be taught with these Framing the Global chapters

Gille (Materiality) for understanding how to link global and regional policies to local experiences.

McKay (Affect) for global nannies and global chain of care work and affect.

Mascarenhas (Sovereignty) for international development industry (that is policies, discourse and institutions) that ultimately dispossess and lead to displacement and uprooting of people in the global South from their home communities. His chapter gives us a glimpse of a tiny fraction of processes that down the line produce cheap and “illegal” workers for consumption in global labor market by employers like Cargill in the Rustbelt US.


In your daily lives record how you benefit from the work of an immigrant worker. From clothes you are wearing to food that is served, to cleaning of your college corridors, think about the aspects of your life  that are improved by  the availability of low cost immigrant labor.

  • What is the global cost of the benefits you identify above?
  • Identify relationships and institutions that pay for your privilege? They could be here or in the distant locations.
  • How would you help to organize for a more just and equal global community?