Migrant Users of Mobile Phone and Money Transfer Services in Catalonia

A review of Contested Discourses on Migrant Connectivity: Migrant Users and Corporations of Mobile Phone and Money Transfer Services in Catalonia. An Interdisciplinary Approach, by Cecilia Gordano Peile.

Migrant workers, long rendered invisible by their labor in domestic and marginalized spheres where they are paid minimal salaries, have not been the subject of much corporate attention. The massive movement of border-crossing migrant workers in recent years, however, means that where they lack in spending power, they compensate for with sheer numbers. Migrant workers have thus become a key segment for marketing initiatives, particularly for, using Cecilia Gordano Peile’s preferred terminology, trans/national products and services such as remittances and mobile telephony.

Gordano Peile’s work surfaces the complexity at the intersection between the personal discourse of the migrant worker experience and the corporeal narrative that appropriates it for profit. Following a very readable structure, the nine chapters of Gordano Peile’s dissertation details the nuances of migrant work from praxis and theory, contextualizes these in the contemporary Moroccan and Ecuadorian migratory flows to Spain, develops and implements a rigorous framework and methodology to analyze personal and mediated discourses, and concludes by extrapolating her findings with practical concerns and conceptual lenses.

Chapters 1 and 3 locate the dissertation’s questions in the historical foundations and contemporary realities of migration in Spain, particularly the inflow of migrants from Morocco and Ecuador. In particular, Gordano Peile explores the layers of connectivity, from integration concerns to informational and technological divides, and their various implications on migrant life. In the process, Gordano Peile poses critical questions that are at once grounded and scholarly. She interrogates the commodified representation of migrants and asks how migrants perceive this discursive construction of their own connectivity by mobile phone and money transmission companies.

Chapter 2 focuses on the dissertation’s theoretical foundations. In this chapter, Gordano Peile demonstrates her ability to navigate and interlink complex concepts to make sense of the following strands: spatiality, which founds Gordano Peile’s use of the trans/national in globalization theories; mobility, which explores familial relationships across borders; connectivity, which draws from critical approaches to new media and society; and markets, which introduces the for-profit motivations behind what Gordano Peile refers to as “the migration industry of connectivity services” (p. 20). Chapter 4 details the epistemology and methodology that Gordano Peile constructs from the literature and subsequently applies to her research. The interdisciplinary approach links and studies the discourses of migrants and corporations through a series of interviews and content analyses. Gordano Peile uses humanistic approaches such as social semiotics and critical discourse analysis as well as social scientific lenses like the social actor theory to analyze corporate messages which include advertisements and informant interviews. Moreover, she uses critical studies approaches to interpret the data from her Moroccan and Ecuadorian participants.

Chapters 5 to 8 contain the dissertations’ findings. Through a critical discourse analysis of corporations’ websites, including press releases, mission statements and corporation social responsibility statements, Chapter 5 shows how migrant phone and money transfer companies use two discursive strategies, needs-talk and polarization, in their supposedly positive and inclusive framing of migrants. Gordano Peile, paraphrasing Fraser (1989), refers to needs-talk “as a top-down discourse that defines and institutionalizes what people need in various spheres of life, generating conflict and contestation from below when their needs do not necessarily match the ones defined by institutional powers” (p. 192). Polarization, meanwhile, presents a dichotomy between positive self-affirmations and the negative attributes of other people. Ultimately, however, these companies appropriate and present a uniform migrant experience.

Chapter 6 examines the depiction of migrants in 16 examples of outdoor ads using a socio-semiotic approach. It shows how visuals reinforce the positive framing that aligns with earlier findings. Whereas the state was absent in the texts analyzed in Chapter 5, however, Gordano Peile finds national cues as a key design element in the ads. Gordano Peile also notes the companies which present themselves to help migrants render in fine print pertinent information about the actual cost of their products and services.

Using a socio-semiotic approach, Chapters 7 and 8 discuss interviews with company spokespersons and migrants respectively to understand how the producers and users make sense of the mediated discourse. In Chapter 7, the corporate spokespersons note the international, controlled, and mobile nature of migrants, which Gordano Peile gleans from her analysis, but there seems to be a difference between this understanding and the eventual design of their messages. The informants spoke of the richness of migrant life yet their corporate messages present it in a fairly uniform manner.

In Chapter 8, Gordano Peile analyzes her interviews with 30 migrants who reveal the importance of trans/national services even if they avail of these in limited and appropriated ways. The interviews reveal similar experiences and concerns across the otherwise heterogeneous group of migrants. Gordano Peile constructs intensity (cost and frequency), activities (routines, rituals, and crises), and velocity as dimensions with which to array and understand migrants’ use of trans/national services.

Chapter 9 summarizes the assertions as regards commodification and appropriation across the dissertation. Gordano Peile also presents the difficulties that compel and inform her ingenious approach to the study of personal and mediated discourses on migrants. She argues that her discursive and multi-theoretical approach at once exemplifies and addresses the challenge of making sense of the multiplicity of migrants’ voices and experiences as well as those organizations which purport to work for and represent them. It is this power which Gordano Peile emphasizes must be further investigated as regards its political and ethical implications, especially since the sphere of influence of these organizations over migrant communities resonates across both home and host societies in which migrants are increasingly becoming visible and empowered.  For future research, Gordano Peile also recommends situating the study across locations, including non-migrants, using other media forms and content (such as TV ads), and employing other research methods such as participant observation.

Gordano Peile’s dissertation is a significant contribution to the understanding of trans/national migrants and the organizations which purport to serve them. It explicates, in a rigorous manner, the increasingly complex personal and corporate discourses that emerge and circulate with the growth of the trans/national movement of people. It explains how corporations, even if they have shown a keen understanding of the diversity of migrants and even where migrants themselves articulate their own polysemy, have artfully appropriated and commodified the migrant experience into a homogenous depiction.

Fernando de la Cruz Paragas
Assistant Professor
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
fparagas@ntu.edu.sg

Primary Sources

Corporate advertising from mobile phone service provider Lebara and money remittance agency Western Union
Service advertisements from various companies that cater to migrants
Focus interviews with corporate spokespersons and migrants to Spain from Ecuador and Morocco

Dissertation Information

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. 2013. 418 pp. Primary Advisor: Adela Ros.

Image: Used with permission by the dissertation author.

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