By drawing on a relevant case study, discuss how global migration contributes to the ‘global cultural economy’ (Appadurai 1990)

Appadurai (1990) describes the “global cultural economy” as consisting of “complex” and “overlapping” dimensions that co-exist and intermingle but are often disconnected from each other. These dimensions are created as different cultures are brought together and adapt to each other in our increasingly globalized world, where there is a constant flow of information, ideas, goods, services and people.

This constant transnational flow of cultures is powered by various forces, including technology, the media and the financial, economic and political imperatives of wealthy nations that result in the migration of human resources to satisfy labour shortages (either skilled or unskilled) in the Western world.

“Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy”

In his essay “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy,” Appadurai (1990) defines five cultural dimensions; (1) ethnoscapes, (2) mediascapes, (3) technoscapes, (4) finanscapes and (5) ideoscapes.

He explains that these “scapes” encapsulate cultural norms, symbols and meanings as understood by an individual or group of individuals. This understanding is of course influenced by the circumstances and point of view of the people in question, so different people can perceive the scapes in totally different ways and use them to create personalized fictional cultural worlds (Appadurai 1990).

Case Study – Overseas Filipino Workers

In this essay I will be looking at the different cultural dimensions in the “global cultural economy” that result from the migration of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). There are currently over 2.2 million Filipinos working in around 160 countries worldwide (2019 Survey on Overseas Filipinos 2020), forming a “a reserve army of cheap labour wholly dependent on the unpredictable fortunes of business” (San Juan 2011). Over six thousand people (in the large part women) leave the Philippines, and their families, every day to work as domestic helpers, carers or nannies (Compoc 2018).

Cultural Dimensions (Appadurai) – Ethnoscapes

Ethnoscapes, as defined by Appadurai (1990), refer to groupings of people in a society. OFWs are part of and interact with multiple ethnoscapes.

The first consists of the barangay, the community the OFW was a part of in the Philippines (San Juan 2011).

In this ethnoscape the OFWs are perceived as bagong bayani (modern heroes) who sacrifice themselves to provide for their family and their nation (Tiatco 2013). The interactions of the OFWs with their kinship network and neighbourhood, both while they are working abroad and sending remittances, as well as when they return, creates an incoming flow of cultural information that is assimilated by local society.

The second ethnoscape is the one they inhabit as workers, which includes both locals as well as other foreign workers in the country. As the Filipinos experience new cultural realities, they do not adopt them as is, but rather “they indigenize and thus hybridize them; they negotiate with them to create their own cultural world” (Mutman 2013).

Obviously, the locals perceive this ethnoscape from a totally different perspective, often characterising the OFWs as the “other” and resenting their visibility and the resulting transformation of the spaces they inhabit. Examples abound – in Singapore hundreds of Filipino maids meet on Sunday at the Ion Orchard Shopping Mall; in Hong Kong they congregate in Central Victoria Park and other landmarks such as the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (Tiatco 2013).

The third ethnoscape is the global diaspora of deterritorialized OFWs “integrated into larger transnational networks that transcend the borders of several nation-states, being based on affective ties, practical requirements and common experiences of economic dislocation, racial discrimination and legal, social and political exclusion from Western citizenship” (Liebelt 2008).

Cultural Dimensions (Appadurai) – Mediascapes

As Appadurai (1990) points out, deterritorialization creates a longing for “home,” and spawns mediascapes that portray an idealized vision of a homeland that mainly exists in the collective imagination of the diaspora.

A good example of such a mediascape is the AlDub Nation, which is the name coined by fans of the “supercouple” Alden Richards (Al) and Maine Medoza whose character in Eat Bulaga, a famous Filipino show, is called YayaDub (Dub) (Ganzon 2019).

Eat Bulaga has regular segments transmitted live from different Filipino barangay districts, with the slogan Magbayanihan tayo (Let’s do bayanihan). This translates as “a spirit of communal unity, work, and cooperation to achieve a particular goal” (Yumul as cited in Ganzon 2019), evoking a spirit of selflessly helping the community that resonates with OFWs.

Cultural Dimensions (Appadurai) – Technoscapes

The rapidly changing global technoscape enables instantaneous communication and makes it possible for the OFWs to connect and overcome barriers of distance by using messaging apps and social media (Uy-Tioco as cited in Ganzon 2019).

These technologies made it possible for the AlDub mediascape to be disseminated globally, pulling together a massive following that brings together Filipinos in the country with those in the international diaspora, in a global coming together of Filipino identity and belonging (Benguan as cited in Ganzon 2019). The fandom has created a feeling of community that transcends borders and even the show itself. Groups of AlDub fans in different countries meet and organise fundraising events to help impoverished communities in the Philippines (Ganzon 2019).

The show presents a nostalgic mediascape that is totally divorced from the reality on the ground, portraying “premodern traditional Filipino values, such as respect for one’s elders and the value of patience and perseverance, and to traditional Filipino courtship practices” (Marquez as cited in Ganzon 2019). This explains its success in the diaspora, as it enables OFWs to remember “the people, the places, and the things one has left behind” (Cabañes as cited in Ganzon 2019).

Cultural Dimensions (Appadurai) – Financescapes

The financescape of the Philippines and of the countries of employment are also impacted by the OFWs. The remittances received from migrant workers are one of the mainstays of the economy of the Philippines, with over $29.9 billion in cash remittances flowing into the country in 2020 (Venzon 2021). This money funds the OFW’s close family and often the entire kinship network, enabling them to educate their children and purchase property, injecting money into the local community.

In the country of employment, the presence of Filipino nannies makes it possible for mothers to work outside the home (Tiatco 2013), thus changing the ethnoscapes of the workplace and also the financescape of individual families as well as the whole nation.

Cultural Dimensions (Appadurai) – Ideoscapes

The final “scape” as defined by Appadurai (1990) is the ideoscape, which refers to the flow of ideas and ideologies. One good example is Migrante International, a movement that transcends boundaries, organizing rallies in Manila and several other countries to protest the conditions suffered by many OFWs and agitate for reform (San Juan 2011).

In conclusion, what we see emerging because of rapid globalization is a complex, hybrid transnational culture that is developing in a decentralized manner and “a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility” (Appadurai as cited in Mutman 2013). 1104words


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Compok, K., 2018. PInay: Culture Bearers of the Filipino Diaspora eds. by Virgie Chattergy and Pepi Nieva (review). Biography (Honolulu), 41(2), pp. 402-406.

Ganzon, S.C.V., 2019. Fandom, the Filipino diaspora, and media convergence in the Philippine context. Transformative works and cultures, 29.

Liebelt, C., 2008. “We are the Jews of today”: Filipino domestic workers in Israel and the language of diaspora. Hagar : international social science review, 8(1), pp. 63.

Mutman, M., 2013. Signs in flow: transnationalism, media, and racism. University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication; Journalism.

San Juan, E., 2011. Contemporary Global Capitalism and the Challenge of the Filipino Diaspora. Global society: Journal of interdisciplinary international relations, 25(1), pp. 7-27.

Tiatco, A.P.,2013. The Silenced Body of “The Silent Soprano”: The Overseas Filipino Worker as Silent and Erased in a Global City. Asian theatre journal, 30(2), pp. 415-444.

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