According to Julie

Living locally, working globally

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I am re-uploading my BA thesis in International Studies (it was hosted on a university website, but the link is broken now).

I wrote about high-skilled labor migration and offshoring between the US and India, mainly within the IT industry, and discussed the importance of this international labor market both historically for India, and theoretically for International Relations theory. My main argument was that offshoring is a form of labor migration without physical migration, and that this duality makes offshoring both a globalizing and a localizing force.

Living locally, working globally

If you are not as geeky about population-related matters like high-skilled labor migration and location-insensitive work as I am, why not do the busy grad-student trick of reading just the conclusion, which I have pasted below…


I started this paper by quoting Churchill: “The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.”

This sentence can be interpreted the way it was understood in the article where I found it: “The battles of the future will be battles for talent (The Economist 2007)”, meaning that brain power is a sought-after commodity and that in an increasingly integrated and meritocratic world, having the right skills may become more important than being born in the right country. While states, companies and universities may compete for talented individuals, this does not mean that the battle for brainpower is a zero-sum game. Talented emigrants did not prove to be a loss to India, and offshoring is economically rational and beneficial for both the offshore worker and the offshoring corporation. Nor is it a game played only by states. An MNC with workers all over the world who collaborate without actually meeting each other can also be called an empire of the mind. Some of the more creative predictions of the future even foresee a world where MNCs are empires, having replaced the state entirely.

Another way to interpret the quote is to think that empires, nation-states and other cultural communities are still of the mind, even if they do become less influential as physical or legal entities. If all states liberalize and allow free flows of information, migration, investment and borderless knowledge work, people still care about where they come from. British people prefer to speak to someone who sounds British, Indian workers prefer working for an Indian company and books are written reminding American businessmen that Indian businessmen do not attend meetings in shorts (Davies 2004:89). Emigrants maintain contact with their country of birth, and some are willing to accept lower wages if that means working in their own country (Chanda&Sreenivasan 2006:231). The  Indian diaspora network is a way of maintaining national connections in the mind, regardless of where one lives physically. These localizing forces may in some cases constrain offshoring, but in other cases offshoring allows for economic integration with only a minimum of cultural integration, reinforcing the  importance of geography and identity. Perhaps technology, skill and liberalization policies can give us “(…) a world with a rich smorgasbord of cultures but without the frictions that cultural differences usually engender. Not one flat common culture (Leamer 2006:7).”

The extraordinary thing about being able to live locally and work globally is that it opens up a possibility for dramatic change – for a new “labor market reality.” Technology and to a certain extent government policies enable mobility and interaction regardless of state borders. However, as Friedman (2005:375) writes in The World is Flat: “I know that the world is not flat”, meaning that possibility does not equal action, because people are still people.

One thought on “Living locally, working globally

  1. Pingback: Moving abroad means going back to the Dark Ages « According to Julie

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