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"The promise of Happiness: Migration and Mobility among Bangladeshis in UK", by Katy Gardner

Presented by CESAU research group on migration and mobilities.

29.01.2014 | Kristian Lindegaard Svendsen

Dato tor 13 mar
Tid 10:00 12:00
Sted Department of Education, Aarhus University, Campus Emdrup. Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen NV. Room D165.

Does migration make people more, or less, happy? Whilst most migrants move in order to improve their lives, academic research as well as popular cultural representations present a picture of sorrow, separation and ambivalence or what Ahmed calls ‘the melancholic migrant’ (Ahmed, 2010: 121-159). Within Sylhet, Bangladesh and its transnational fields in Britain these contradictions are palpable. Whilst movement to foreign countries (bidesh) is passionately desired the stories and experiences of those who have moved abroad are often resonant with loss and disenchantment. That the majority of migrants have been successful in achieving a better life for themselves and their families appears obvious. Their large houses, well fed bodies and consumer goods are surely testimony to the local dictum that if one wishes to progress, migration is the only way forward. And yet in my research into Sylheti transnational communities in Britain and Bangladesh the stories of those who have succeeded are filled with loss and conflict.

One way to understand these contradictions is to think of migration as a happiness project. Whether or not the project leads to actual happiness is beside the point; what matters is that it is based around a plan of movement between places and an imagining of those places in which one will bring more happiness than the other. I am not making assumptions about what migration’s promised happiness involves, though prosperity, economic opportunities, security and improved social status are likely to feature. In order to illustrate these processes I recount the stories of two men, both of who have pursued migration as a path towards what Sara Ahmed has dubbed ‘the promise of happiness’. Both embody well known characters within the anthropology of migration. The first, Ahmed, is cast in the first act of his story as an excited would be migrant but ends up as an ‘unhappy husband’ (Charsley, 2005). The second, Mr Hossain, starts off as an adventurer but ends up as a disillusioned elder, whose belief in the ‘myth of return’ has led to disappointment (Anwar, 1978). Through consideration of their stories, I hope that we might learn not only of the inevitable discontents involved in being human (cf Jackson, 2011) or indeed the deep tensions and contradictions that transnational migration brings, but also how what Sara Ahmed has termed ‘the promise of happiness’ helps to order peoples’ relationships to places and their movements across the world.


Professor Karsten Pærregaard, University of Gothenburg
Associate Professor Karen Valentin, Aarhus University

Katy Gardner is a professor at the Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics. Her work focuses on issues of globalization, migration and economic change in Bangladesh and its transnational communities in the U.K.; migration, ageing and generation; the relationship between anthropology and development.

Her publications include:

  • 2012. Discordant Development: Global Capitalism and the Struggle for Connection in Bangladesh (Pluto Press: London).
  • 2002. Narrative, Age and Migration: Life history and the Life Course Amongst Bengali Elders in London (Berg: Oxford).
  • 1996. Anthropology, Development and the Post-modern Challenge (with David Lewis).
  • 1995. Global Migrants, Local Lives: Migration and Transformation in Rural Bangladesh (Oxford University Press: Oxford).


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