'Youth in transregional flows: an ethnography of mobility and instant product consumption among cross-border Chinese Malaysian youth' with Fangfang Li

Past Event

08 June 2016, 2:00pm - 3:00pm

Queen Elizabeth House
Oxford Department of International Development, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB

This seminar is organised by the International Migration Institute, an Oxford Martin School Institute

Speaker: Fangfang Li, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research

Summary: The favourable currency conversion rate of the Singaporean Dollar to the Malaysian Ringgit has triggered a large and continuous flow of Chinese Malaysian populations seeking job opportunities in Singapore in recent decades. However, a great proportion of those workers are temporary cross-border mobile youths, who live in a Malaysian border city (Johor Bahru) but commute to Singapore via the Johor-Singapore Causeway to reduce living costs.

Based on my twelve-month ethnographic fieldwork following these youths, initially from a rural town, Segamat, onward to Johor Bahru and later Singapore, I found that frequent mobility at a younger age increases both the quantity and variety of instant product consumption, including food, drink powders (mostly coffee and tea) and nutritional supplements, most of which promise certain ‘health benefits’ (e.g. maintaining brain energy). These youths’ consumption of instant products like these is often believed to be concerned with their physical and mental health, and also intersects with their identity, self-esteem, body image, and personal hopes and desires during their transition to young adulthood.

By focusing on the linkage between youth mobility and the resulting increased consumption of instant products, this presentation will illustrate the narratives of how such patterns of consumption have been formed and how they connect to mobile youths’ everyday routines in various settings and in various social transactions. The ways in which these instant products are consumed will be discussed in depth in conjunction with their materiality, effects (e.g. as a source of pleasure and excitement), and symbolism (e.g. as a desire to be healthy, or as an expression of care).