This special issue takes the migrant broker as a starting point for investigating contemporary regimes of transnational migration across Asia. The articles, which span large parts of Asia—including China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as New Zealand—show that marriage migration, student migration and various forms of unskilled labour migration, including predominantly male plantation and construction work and female domestic, entertainment and sex work, are all mediated by brokers. Although much is known about why migrants leave home and what happens to them upon arrival, considerably less is known about the forms of infrastructure that condition their mobility. A focus on brokers is one productive way of opening this “black box” of migration research. The articles in this issue are thus not primarily concerned with the experiences of migrants or in mapping migrant networks per se, but rather in considering how mobility is made possible and organized by brokers, most notably in the process of recruitment and documentation. Drawing from this evidence, we argue that in contrast to the social network approach, a focus on the migrant broker offers a critical methodological vantage point from which to consider the shifting logic of contemporary migration across Asia. In particular, paying ethnographic attention to brokers illuminates the broader infrastructure that makes mobility possible while revealing that distinctions between state and market, between formal and informal, and between altruistic and profit-oriented networks are impossible to sustain in practice.
Xiang, B., Yeoh, B. and Lindquist, J. (2012) ‘Opening the Black Box of Migration: Brokers, the Organization of Transnational Mobility and the Changing Political Economy in Asia’, Pacific Affairs, 85(1): 7-19