Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Kayly Ober

Kayly Ober

Kayly Ober is a research associate/PhD candidate at the University of Bonn, where she works for the TransRe Project. She has over five years of professional experience on issues relating to climate change, adaptation, migration, gender, and human security. She has previously worked at the World Bank, Overseas Development Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, and World Resources Institute, among others. CONTACT kober@uni-bonn.de

Oct 30th 2014 by Kayly Ober

Multilocality in the Global South and North

On 18-19 September 2014, the Technical University of Dortmund held a conference on “Multilocality in the Global South and North: Factors, features and policy implications.”

The name of the conference, although broad, has very real implications for our work at TransRe. In fact, Luise and Kayly presented on a panel about the spatial impacts of multilocality, using our project’s preliminary research as fodder for discussion.

First things first, what’s multilocality? It’s certainly related to our project concept of translocality.

In short, translocality asks for the connecting elements of migration (how are links produced between places and people, which connects and transforms them?). Whereas multilocality tends to separate places from each other (here and there) and suggests that multiple places exist in parallel to each other, without explicitly emphasizing the connecting practices in between, but instead focusing on the material implications of human mobility (such as environmental impacts of multilocality, infrastructural needs, etc). In general, multilocality is “the attachment to and participation in social and economic activities in several places.”

During the conference there seemed to be a superficial division between multilocality in the context of the Global South and North.  In terms of what the conference dubbed the Global South, “multi-locational households consciously live in two locations, which are sometimes far away from each other. Their livelihood strategy takes advantage of opportunities at two or more places, often a rural and an urban base.” While some presenters argued that the Global North’s multi-locational households came about for socio-cultural reasons, such as vacation homes or the desire to live in “cool” places. These differences are still being discussed and negotiated.

However, for us, what resonated most was not the discussion of theory, but rather the presentations on tangible results. In the morning of the second day, Dr. Prof. Loren Landau, of the University of Witswaterstrand and Tufts University, gave a keynote on “Implications of migration and multilocality for local government and governance arrangements: the example of South Africa.”

In it, he stressed the myriad problems in “governing nomads.” There are several barriers at the municipal level, especially at places of destination:

  1. Uneven, irregular data—not only does data just sometimes not exist, but municipal governments don’t request it or actively avoid it in order not to have to address it.

  2. Performance and delivery criteria discourage planning—if success is measured by delivery output, you’ll want to purposefully keep your numbers small and easy to reach in order to fulfill your goals.

  3. Normative values—migration is seen as a negative phenomenon. If your constituents move, it means you’re not providing for them.

  4. Population participation and budgeting—these processes are often retroactive and backward looking at old data, which makes it difficult to plan for the future.

These are important points to remember as we acknowledge that the world is becoming more mobile. What will it take for governments to accept this reality as well?

Afterwards, we wondered how far Thailand’s governance structures would echo these results. Could our own work be influenced by the same barriers? As we go into the field in 2015, we’ll be keeping these insights in mind.

Additionally, on the second day, Luise attended a working group on "Consequences of multilocality for international development cooperation." The session’s second presentation described a “good practice” example of a remittance flow to a West African community--where migration money has been used for setting up and improving the community’s infrastructure (schools and community center, for instance). This project was initiated independently by migrants, villagers who received such remittances, and community leaders. These villagers proved that remittances could be used in a deeper and more meaningful way than many traditional development interventions. What, then, should development practitioners and policymakers’ role be in light of multilocality? There are clear links between this question and that of post-development as a whole.

These lessons will help to inform our “knowledge to action” phase of the project. Stay tuned to see how it progresses.


This blog post was written in collaboration with Luise Porst.