‘Precarity & Belonging,’ An Academic Look at Migration

Precarity & Belonging BELatina Latinx
Lewis Watts’ Refugee Camp in Calais, France (2015). Copyright © Lewis Watts.

Following the political turn experienced in the United States since the 2016 elections, some saw the migration phenomenon as political proselytizing. However, for UC Santa Cruz academics, it is about something much deeper.

After more than five years of collaborative research and discussion, an interdisciplinary group of scholars at the university has published a new book titled Precarity & Belonging. This compendium explores mobility (physical movement) and its relationship to migration, the legal and social elements of belonging, and precarity as a measure of vulnerability and socioeconomic risk.

The project began in the spring of 2016 when Latin American and Latino Studies professor Catherine Ramirez organized a series of events called “Borders and Belonging” to convene migration experts from across campus and around the world. From there, the conversation continued in fall 2016 and into spring 2017, thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that allowed UC Santa Cruz to host a series of Sawyer Seminar events on forced migration, labor, and citizenship.

“Ultimately, our book is about mobility and immobility, and by mobility, we refer to both physical movement and movement along socioeconomic lines,” Ramirez told the UC Santa Cruz Newscenter.

Precarity and Belonging Book BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Amazon.

Associate Professor of Sociology Steve McKay says the term precarity originated in Europe to describe rising unemployment and inadequate and shrinking social safety nets.

“In some ways, Europe was just catching up to the rest of the world, where that has been the state of things for a very long time,” McKay said. “Unfortunately, precarity has become more and more common, both as a theoretical framework and as a lived experience.”

Precarity & Belonging provides a global look at this concept, including a focus on the United States. 

“When we talk about the American Dream, it’s often celebrated as upward mobility: the ‘rags to riches’ story,” Ramirez said. “But what we’re actually seeing in this country, and what we’ve been seeing for decades, is decreasing wealth among the majority and downward mobility along many different indices of well-being, health, and wealth.”

“There is a spectrum of precarity and belonging that connects people who have very little formal claim to citizenship status with people whose full claims to status have been devalued by changing economic conditions, globalization, politics, and racism,” said literature professor Juan Poblete. “That includes undocumented workers as well as a blue-collar white citizen who has been laid off by a large disappearing plant in the Midwest.”

Ramirez explained that traditional notions of citizenship and belonging focus on “people who participate fully in society and its institutions: those who serve on juries and vote and own their homes.” 

However, and as seen in recent legislative decisions, for many U.S. citizens, economic participation in institutions such as homeownership is increasingly unattainable. 

For the authors of Precarity & Belonging, it is increasingly evident how institutionalized biases have long eroded Americans’ legal, social, and economic rights based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and many other factors.

Discussions like this, therefore, are more urgent than ever.

The Research Center for the Americas will host a book launch event for Precarity & Belonging on November 9, with a discussion among the co-editors.

With information from the UCSC Newscenter.