Professor Katy Gardner, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics

‘Our own Poor’ : Transnational Charity, Development Gifts and the Politics of Suffering in Sylhet and the U.K.


The metaphors of connection and its antonym, disconnection are a useful framing of discussions of migration.  Indeed, a huge amount of work has been devoted to describing migration as enabled via connections in chains or networks, whilst the framing of transnationalism points directly to on-going relationships and connections between so-called ‘receiving’ and ‘sending’ countries. Yet if connections are made, these are  inevitably accompanied by disconnection, in the form of ruptured relationships, loss and the yearning for an imagined ‘home’ that has been so well described in the literature on diaspora. In this paper I push the metaphor a little further,  using it to think not only about migration, but the broader processes and conditions that structure everyday struggles and opportunities in places such as Bangladesh.  What I hope to show is how whilst migration is enabled by informal, social connections, it can lead to formal connectedness, in which these informal, socially based links become less important, via citizenship and access to employment in the formal sector. From this, we can use the metaphor of connection to think more broadly about ‘development’ in its various guises. The paper is based on stories drawn from a place I’m calling Duniyapur in Sylhet, NE Bangladesh, plus a brief sortie to Burnley, north east England. The setting is notable not only for its long history of transnational migration, but also because since 2007 the oil company Chevron has been operating a large gas plant there. It’s also the place where I’ve been doing fieldwork, and visiting, since 1987.

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Marie Curie