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Title:Literacy remains: learning and loss in the brain drain of Filipino migrant labor
Author(s):Lagman, Eileen
Director of Research:Prendergast, Catherine J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Prendergast, Catherine J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Arends-Kuenning, Mary P.; Manalansan, Martin F.; Vieira, Kate
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
brain drain
Abstract:In economics, migration policy, and literacy studies, literacy education has been positioned as the primary factor in transnational migration. “Brain drain” in particular is traditionally understood as the phenomenon where skilled migrant workers from developing countries use their literacy skills to gain work in developed countries. Through qualitative research with Filipino migrant workers, educators, government employers, and labor recruiters, Literacy Remains argues that in the brain drain of Filipino migrant work, it is not simply “brain power” but instead affect management that supports the structure of transnational labor migration. In an economic flow characterized by skilled-labor vs. unskilled labor, high-skilled vs. low-skilled work, affect management, became the “high-skilled” work through which skills-based labor migration functions. Literacy, traditionally defined by language acquisition and writing tasks, is often valued as high-skill ability in human capital formations, but for the Filipino migrants I interviewed, language acquisition and writing tasks were in practice experienced as lower-order thinking—tasks that included rote memorization or mechanical application. In contrast, when migrant workers engaged in affect management, consisting of embodied, cognitive, and emotional ways of thinking and learning, they engaged in critical thinking, problem-solving, mediation, and analysis—all practices existing under the rubric of higher-order thinking. I argue that affect management is a kind of literacy practice, intricately related to and including an ever on-going project of mediation. Affective literacies, I argue, offer the means for migrants to practice critical literacy work when professionalized literacies and intellectually constraining workplaces offer little room for critical engagement. Based on forty-eight semi-structured interviews, text analysis, and observations in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines and the Midwestern region of the US, this project examines the ways that Filipino migrants, across different age groups and occupations, engage in affective literacies to survive the daily traumas of migrant life. Once called the “temp agency to the world” (Diamond), the Philippines offers a unique context to study migrant literacy and learning. To examine what exactly is lost in the brain drain of human capital, I first trace the emergence of the individual as a viable and valuable economic subject in human capital formation and, by extension, an individual with tremendous effect on national well-being. If the story of human capital relays a myth of the autonomous individual, then brain drain offers a story of how individuals get constituted in the first place by focusing on the effects of human capital loss. I argue that this work of creating viable economic subjects is affective literacy work, and I specifically detail a Philippine education system that creates a culture of regulation and competition fueled by the affective dynamics of heroes, winners, and “topnotchers.” I argue that affective literacies move differently than we have previously understood literacy to move. Rather than thinking of literacy as moving from point A to point B, affective literacies move through a continuous series of affective attachments to the state, where literacy is used to mediate an ongoing dynamic relationship between state and migrant citizen. Because of this, brain drain functions for migrants as a form of literacy remains—a way of indexing “what hurts” (Eng 172) about literacy. Brain drain, I argue, is a valuable signifier for migrants, acting as a marker for the losses experienced in the pursuit of literacy and modernity, as well as a marker for the loss of the responsibility of the state for the welfare of its citizens. But migrants still find ways to use their affective literacies to treat the state as employer, demand efficiency, and question the state’s performance of authenticity and authority. I illustrate these dynamics through case studies of migrant professionals, temporary care workers, Filipino educators, and documentation employees. Together these chapters reveal a vast architecture of production by economic, political, and social actors who do the work to create mobile workers. However, workers are not just moved abroad—they also move. They engage in affective literacies to make their losses visible and to imagine new possibilities for themselves and the nation.
Issue Date:2015-07-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Eileen Lagman
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-29
Date Deposited:August 201

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