Superdiversity, exploitation and migrant workers

Shaun Wilson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


World migration flows have reached record numbers (International Organization for Migration 2015), bringing with them many successful transitions and new beginnings. For many other displaced people, the experience of migration involves constant uncertainty, hardship and even tragedy. In the rich democracies, scholars have captured the changing patterns and complexities involved in migration and multiculturalism via the concept of superdiversity. These trends are rightly celebrated as a distinct accomplishment of a multicultural project of greater diversity and global openness. However, the experience of many migrants in the rich democracies is one of temporary work and limited visa rights (OECD 2016: 22-28, 33). Moreover, the same rich countries, most notably the United States, rely on undocumented workers (Fussell 2011). These developments therefore raise questions for social scientists about how transnational labour flows are implicated in emerging patterns of socio-economic inequality. Australia’s situation illustrates my point. The last few years have witnessed a disturbing number of accounts of severe exploitation of migrant workers. Many of these workers were employed on the now-notorious temporary work visa scheme (called '457s’). The extent of these problems has caught a nation comfortable in its self-image as a tolerant land of the ‘fair go’ off-guard. Perhaps these discoveries represent something for Australians that the publics of other rich democracies have already come to tolerate. Indeed, migrants will risk exploitation at the bottom of the labour market in their struggle for resettlement and better lives. This chapter considers the tension between the positive experiences of superdiversity and worrying signs of migrant exploitation coexisting with these developments. This problem remains largely out of sight for policymakers, and is not fully recognized in the migration literature. The first section deals with the concept of superdiversity. Despite its contribution, this concept is yet to encompass the range of experiences that can be brought under its umbrella. Here, I refer to evidence of the unequal treatment of migrant workers that can be traced to superdiverse environments. This evidence focuses on instances of severe exploitation of undocumented and temporary migrant workers. In the second section, I consider whether the frequently exploitative experiences of temporary migrant and undocumented workers involves anything distinct. After all, precarious non-migrant workers also experience exploitation. In addressing this question, the central task of the chapter becomes clear.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical junctures in mobile capital
EditorsJocelyn Pixley, Helena Flam
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781316995327
ISBN (Print)9781107189515, 9781316639146
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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