Dissertation Abstracts

“‘We Came in Search of Greener Pastures’: Social and Economic Outcomes of Sub-Saharan Africans Living in Japan”

Author: Ivory, Tristan D, tivory@stanford.edu
Department: Sociology
University: Stanford University, USA
Supervisor: Tomás Jimenéz and C. Mathew Snipp
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: International Migrat , Marriage , Transnationalism/Glo , Visa Status
Areas of Research: Migration , Family Research , Stratification


Japan is a relatively new immigrant destination among advanced post-industrial nations. Despite significant increases in the immigrant population since the 1980s, Japanese immigration policy provides relatively few avenues to citizenship or permanent residence and even fewer accommodations for family reunification. The central issue that my research project seeks to address is what resources and strategies matter most for non-member migrants seeking to maximize their social and economic outcomes in societies that assign membership based on ethno-cultural similarity. This is highly significant because more and more people are migrating to areas without a well-established tradition of civic membership within the national polity. Many of these so-called “new immigrant destinations” are places with few formal policies or assessments regarding the integration of immigrants into society at the national level. Given that these locations tend to have very few paths towards citizenship or permanent residency, the potential for migrants to become a permanent underclass with few rights, protections, or opportunities for social mobility is great. It is necessary to document the experiences of these migration pioneers to understand which aspects of their journeys are unique and which are consistent with cases of other migrant groups from earlier time periods.
I use a variety of research methods including 60 semi-structured interviews, over 800 hours of participant and non-obtrusive observation, ethnography, archival research, and geospatial mapping (cataloguing residential and labor market areas using computer-enhanced mapping technology) from a 13-month period in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area to investigate how Sub-Saharan migrants negotiate their status within Japanese society. Sub-Saharan Africans are uniquely situated in Japan because they are racially, ethnically, and culturally distinct from the majority-group (i.e. they are a “visible minority”) and their status as Africans is often denigrated within Japanese society. Thus, their experiences navigating Japanese institutions provide particularly illuminating insights on the immigrant incorporation process.
One of the most important findings is that marriage to a Japanese national is not only the primary mode for regularizing most migrants’ legal status, but also the most essential avenue for providing invaluable access to social capital and social networks. Other issues of interest arising from the research are: the boundary between insider and outsider status in Japan, strategies for attaining social and human capital after migration, religious institutions and their importance for developing and maintaining social networks, priorities in romantic partner selection, and negotiating cultural and gender differences in maintaining the family structure.

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