CSD Seminar: Summary of “‘I wish they’d show us more solidarity’: Bolivian migrants’ lived social citizenship in Chile”

Event Description:
CSD Seminar by Dr Megan Ryburn on “‘I wish they’d show us more solidarity’: Bolivian Migrants’ Lived Social Citizenship in Chile”, 8th March 2016

Contributed by Jeanne Firth with Laura Antona


Dr. Megan Ryburn (LSE Fellow in Human Geography) discussed her recent ethnographic research which explores ‘everyday citizenship practices across borders and in transnational lives’ amongst Bolivian migrants living in Arica and Santiago in Chile. Dr Ryburn’s analysis maps ‘geographies of social citizenship’ in four key areas: Shelter, Healthcare, Education, Social Support. She draws on Lister’s work which understands access to social rights to be a key aspect of citizenship, and sees social citizenship as an integrated approach which examines a range of social rights in these four key areas.

In shelter, Dr Ryburn reports that access to protective housing was the primary concern of participants. She discussed the differences in the conditions she saw in Arcia and Santiago, highlighting the issues associated with renting in the capital city – a process that requires a huge amount of documentation.

In healthcare, Dr Ryburn looked at maternal care and the potential to overcome obstacles at the system, patient and provider levels. She finds the system level to be broadly in line with international recommendations, such as requirements that pregnant women must be seen by healthcare providers regardless of migratory status. At the provider level, she found that migrants often lacked knowledge about access, and instances of discrimination by gatekeepers when migrant women attempted to to access healthcare. At the patient level, indigenous women are often excluded and experienced discrimination by doctors, with some indigenous women reporting that they are too frightened to seek out a doctor for medical care.

Dr Megan Ryburn (Photographed by Jeanne Firth)

Dr Megan Ryburn (Photographed by Jeanne Firth)

In education, Dr Ryburn outlined inequalities in access and reports that Bolivian children experience discrimination and bullying. Legislation regarding education is in-line with international recommendations (such as the requirement that youth must be accepted for school regardless of migratory status), but some schools find reasons not to accept migrant children. Some argue that this leads to a ‘ghettoisation’ which concentrates migrant youth in certain schools. In Arica, migrant organisations are trying to make state schools more intercultural, such as doing teaching in the Aymara language.

In the realm of social support, Dr Ryburn looked at significant primary relationships and wider social networks, highlighting complex familial and relationship situations and transnational parenting methods. Wider social networks help migrants enter Chile, but once migrants arrive they might shut down their relationships due to fears about their irregular status. Informants also report working so many hours that they are not able to form or maintain social relationships, and that this can negatively impact their emotional well being.

Overall, Dr Ryburn argues that legislation is generally (but not always) in-line with international recommendations, but that, in practice, access to services is prevented or withheld by gatekeepers. This often means that women, people of indigenous descent and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the most excluded.

Jeanne Firth is a research student in the Department of Geography and Environment
Laura Antona is a research student in the Department of Geography and Environment