Theses Doctoral

Remittances and the Moral Economies of Bangladeshi New York Immigrants in Light of the Economic Crisis

Stevanovic-Fenn, Natacha

Remittance flows to Bangladesh during the 2008 global financial crisis presented an exceptional case of resilience while most remittance recipient countries were experiencing a drastic decline, as was predicted by leading world economists (World Bank, Ratha 2009). The question I seek to resolve in this dissertation is: Why did remittance practices from Bangladeshi immigrants keep on flowing when the majority of remittance flows to many other developing countries declined following the 2008 economic recession? One reason is the strong presence of what I call a "moral economy of giving and sharing" that is guided by cultural or religious repertoires on family obligations, kinship, gender, hierarchy, and charity. Drawing on empirical narratives and biographies that combine open-ended interviews with 65 Bangladeshi male immigrants in New York (the majority being Muslim) as well as ethnographic interviews of 7 families in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I use the concept of moral economies to analyze the motivations behind remitting under variable conditions. My results suggest that Bangladeshi remitters invest in remittance practices because they allow the remitter to have control over his role as the main provider, while at the same time enhancing his self-worth. I model three mechanisms by which the Bangladeshi men I interviewed evaluate their self-worth: 1/ the practice of remitting enables Bangladeshi male migrants to maintain their role as the main provider, thereby guaranteeing hierarchical social roles; 2/ sending remittances serves as a strategy to maintain status and honor in both New York and Bangladesh; and 3/ not sending has social and affective consequences for both remitters and recipients. These results are consistent with transnational scholars who argue that remittances have a cultural dimension, allowing for the maintenance of family ties (Levitt 2001, Nyberg Sørensen 2005). They are novel in that they suggest that Bangladeshi immigrants' underlying motives are culturally specific moral concerns, which in the case at hand, are shaped by Islamic scripts on ideas of sharing, being the care provider and giving alms. Analyzing how Bangladeshi male immigrants articulate the remittance practice into their daily lives, this study demonstrates that elements of culture are a fundamental framework through which to understand how remittances persist or decline. My findings are generalizable to other Muslim male immigrant groups. These results allow researchers of migration and remittances to understand better international migration that comes from Islamic countries. Particularly, it adds to the conventional economic analyses that see remittances only in terms of profit maximization or risk minimization that is rooted in Western economic rationality. This study is important because of the dearth of research on the Bangladeshi population to the US which constitutes today one of the fastest growing immigrant groups, reaching 92,237 in 2000 (U.S. Census) and estimated at 200,000 in 2010 (2008 Census estimate while awaiting the 2010 Census to be published).



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Barkey, Karen
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 12, 2012