Migrant social networks: a case for assemblage theory

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Chapter Three Research methodology and methods


Chapter two explored current debates relating to migrant social networks, ethnicity and social integration then outlined a theoretical framework based on assemblage theory. The choice of methodology has been inspired by this theoretical framework. This chapter draws linkages between the nature of the object investigated, its theoretical conceptualisation, the research questions and design and the methods used to study social networks amongst Indian migrants. The first section of this chapter begins with an outline of the philosophical assumptions behind my use of a qualitative approach in the study of Indian migrants and their social networks. In this section, I also pinpoint the limits of existing quantitative approaches. The next subsection reviews the methods used, the semi-structured interviews and social network analysis, as well as sample recruitment. Subsequent discussion focuses on the interview procedures, key ethical concerns addressed in the study and data analysis. Embedded in these sections are reflections on my position as an Indian researcher and the impact this had on the research.

Methodological framework: positioning a qualitative inquiry

Research methodologies are the fundamental outcomes of our assumptions of how the world is (ontology) and how we come to know it (epistemology) (Bryman, 2015). The central questions that guided me to an appropriate methodology for this study were: how do Indian migrant networks exist and what makes the study of their social networks possible? In chapter two, I discussed in detail the way in which migrant networks can be a product of their capacities, while also acknowledging that social networks do not exist “as atoms outside a social context” (Granovetter, 1985, p. 487). They can be viewed as occupying a constant state of flux, shaping migrant outlooks and lives and, at the same time, networks can be modified by migrant experiences and by critical reflection on such experiences. Since there is an element of inseparability between networks and their context, both the migrant and society can be understood only in relational terms. Accordingly, Indian migrant networks are viewed here as emergent and processual. Guided by this epistemological premise as a starting point for a methodology, social network analysis was identified as enabling not only understanding of the nature of existing network structures, but also helping to comprehend how they have come to be constituted in their present form and the conditions underlying their break-up and continuity.
My decision to undertake a qualitative inquiry was not only influenced by the above epistemological stance, but also by an evaluation of established methods and ongoing critiques in the migration literature. In particular, scholars (see Faist, 2012; Horner, 2012; Iosifides, 2013; Schiller et al., 2012) note the tendency to speak of identity in highly essentialising terms, for instance invoking notions that migrants are ‘invading’ a country (Horner, 2012). This often arises from methodologies that are nation-state centred, leading to what is called the problem of ‘methodological nationalism’. Methodological nationalism is the assumption or ideological orientation that the nation-state society is the natural social and political form of the modern world (Wimmer & Schiller, 2002). This positions migrants as if they are enclosed within the boundaries of nation-states of the society of origin based on shared characteristics (Schiller, 2012, p.185). Characterising them as culturally homogenous and as a coherent body, such methodologies lead to assumptions that all migrants act in the same way.
Such an essentialising of migrant communities has spurred calls among migration scholars for innovative and appropriate alternative methodologies to overcome this challenge of viewing migrants uniformly (see Faist, 2012). Attempting to overcome methodological nationalism and the tendency to take ethnic groups as the unit of analysis, studies have started to document “non-ethnic ties” and various modes of affiliation of migrants at their destination for instance to examine migrant political alliances, cross-ethnic ties and affiliations and religious networks (see Morosanu, 2012). This thesis examines ethnicity in the light of various sub-group differences based on region, language, religion. Further it examines the inter-ethnic networks such as ties with the members of the host society adopting a qualitative social network analysis. This helps in overcoming the ‘container model’ of methodological nationalism by directing attention to the individual migrants and their multiple pathways to establishing networks and ultimately the examination of networks that move beyond ‘nationality’ and ‘ethnicity’ in the usual sense.
It is notable that most studies which have adopted a social network approach have been quantitative. However, I believe that quantitative methods alone are not adequate to capture the complexity of Indian migrant networks that this thesis investigates. A quantitative focus on social network analysis guides researchers to answer what migrant networks exist, but has limitations in explaining how and why networks and actions develop in the ways that they do (see Edwards, 2010; Gold, 2005). Such limitations arise because overly quantitative approaches map and measure networks, simplifying them to a set of numerical data, leaving out questions of crucial importance relating to content and meaning (see Edwards, 2005). For instance, quantitative studies of social networks have examined formal properties such as the frequency, strength, intensity and direction of social networks (Heath et al., 2009). Data based on these measures help in providing an outsider’s view of migrant networks; nevertheless, they are limited in understanding the processes that lead to the formation of these structures and how and why migrants are embedded in particular type of networks. Thus, this thesis bridges structural and interpretive understandings of migrant social networks by adopting a qualitative approach to social network analysis.
Researchers using qualitative approaches seek a “deeper” level of information than that sought through surveys and questionnaires (Johnson, 2002). Knowledge is claimed to exist at three levels – the actual, where activities happen without researcher’s intention or knowledge of them, the empirical where knowledge can be observed and experienced and a “deep” dimension where we come to acknowledge that ‘something is going on below the surface’ (Baskar, 1998, p.16; Danermark et al., 2002, p.20). In this context, qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews mediate these levels of knowledge by moving from knowing what is manifested to understanding the mechanisms that generate them. Participant reflections help uncover what is usually hidden from ordinary view, offering deeper understandings about the nature of their experiences (Johnson, 2002).


Chapter One Introduction
Why study Indian social networks?
Indian diversity
Why study migrant social networks in New Zealand?
How do social networks help us understand social integration?
Thesis structure
Chapter Two Migrant social networks: a case for assemblage theory
Social networks and economic integration of migrants
The role of homophily and strength of the ties in determining the formation of networks
Negative effects of social networks
Social networks and inter-ethnic integration
Critique of ‘ethnic’ and ‘groupist’ approaches
Theoretical approach to the study of social integration of Indian migrants
Chapter Three Research Methodology and Methods
Methodological framework: positioning a qualitative inquiry
Research method and design
Semi-structured interviews
Interview procedures
Methods of data analysis
Chapter Four Differences in the structure of Indian migrant networks and capacities
Why network diversity in Indian communities?
Network profile
Benefits of associational membership
Possible downside to co-ethnic associational memberships
What propels intra- and inter-ethnic networks?
Religion, gender and co-ethnic-occupation as capacities
Co-ethnic occupational linkages as a capacity
Gender as a capacity
Religion as a capacity
Chapter Five Journey to permanent residence: The role of co- and intra-ethnic networks in the acquisition
of legal status for onshore Indian migrants in New Zealand
Territorialising networks for study, work and residence
What does it mean to study in New Zealand and why depend on networks?
What form of support did co-ethnic networks provide onshore migrants?
What deterritorialised onshore migrants from co- and intra-ethnic networks?
Chapter Six Social networks as pathways to the economic integration of Indian migrants
Why are social networks vital for labour market participation?
The importance of “New Zealand experience”
Capacities as means for dealing with labour market problems
Co-ethnic capacities of employers and self-employed migrants
Co-ethnic capacities of skilled employees
Why are capacities important for inter-ethnic networks?
Perceptions of discrimination and a glass ceiling
Chapter Seven Co-ethnic networks as pathways to community integration
How are co-ethnic networks a means for achieving social integration?
Deterritorialising co-ethnic networks and the question of embeddedness
Reterritorialised co-ethnic networks
Chapter Eight Inter-ethnic networks as pathways to societal integration
Who am I? Multiple identities in a post-migration context
Affiliation with Kiwi values
New Zealander identity not a substitute for Indian and co-ethnic identities
What territorialised the inter-ethnic networks of cosmopolitans?
Chapter Nine
Conclusions and future directions
Research contributions
Indians in Aotearoa New Zealand: A study of migrant social networks and integration through an assemblage lens

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