Downwardly Global

Author:   Lalaie Ameeriar
Publisher:   GRFDT
Reviewer:   Indriga Valiukaite

Downwardly Global

Downwardly Global: Women, Work, and Citizenship in the Pakistani Diaspora by  Lalaie Ameeriar. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017, 224 pp. $24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6316-3. 

The multiculturalism of Canada has often been considered an exemplary political apparatus to govern culturally diverse societies and it has been even debated whether it could be ‘exported’ to other countries in order to ‘solve’ the ethnic conflicts and unify divided societies (e.g.

Kymlicka and Opalski, OUP, 2001). However, Lalaie Ameeriar in her book “Downwardly Global: Women, Work, and Citizenship in the Pakistani Diaspora’ has documented a rather different reality of Canadian multiculturalism in practice. In her ethnographic study, the author scrutinised the experiences of newly arrived highly skilled Pakistani female migrants in Toronto to better understand the causes of high rates of unemployment and found the institutionalised racism and economic marginalisation that presumably caused the downward mobility. The book successfully demonstrates how Canadian state renounces cultural imperialism and celebrates diversity through cultural festivals but simultaneously uses semi- governmental employment agencies to impose a certain type of acceptable Canadian mode of bodily comportment on new migrants reinforcing colonial notions of the uncivilised Other in need of domestication (pp.4-5).

During the eighteen months of thefieldwork, the author visited fifty settlement- services agencies for South Asians in Toronto, attended workshops and classes that ought to assist migrants with the employment and integration, conducted interviews with other workshop attendees and followed them as they navigated the practices of multiculturalism in Toronto.

This included number of cultural festivals that turned out to be the contested category of ‘South Asians’ reinforcing feelings of exclusion and Otherness among the Pakistani migrants. 

Ameeriar found that her study subjects migrated to Canada as high skilled professional workers (engineers, doctors, teachers and similar) but were unable to find work in their profession because of the bureaucratic obstacles to translate their foreign professional licenses, experiences and education into the Canadian context. The women were instead expected to take multiple exams or re-train which they could not afford and often started taking various survival jobs instead and thus experiencing the downward mobility. 

Most importantly, the book effectively highlights not only the failure of the state bureaucracy to integrate the migrants into the Canadian economy but the racialisation at the heart of the state- sponsored agencies that ought to assist them to integrate. During the workshops, the women were instructed to ‘don’t show up smelling like foods that are foreign’, to ‘don’t wear a shalwar cameeze’ or to ‘change the name if it’s too hard to pronounce’ (p. 1). The high rates of unemployment of high skilled Pakistani migrants therefore were not understood as failure of economic or immigration policy in Canada but as a failure of migrant workers themselves to assimilate and be more as a ‘Canadian’- global, professional and civilised. 

After an engaging introduction, the book is organised into five chapters. The first three chapters offer detailed documentation of the class interactions between Pakistani female immigrants and the instructors who are the gatekeepers for them into Canadian society. The migrants are met by various bodily instructions that they are expected to follow in order to fit it in as a professional global worker- a process that an author calls a ‘sanitized sensorium’ (p.1). Interestingly, the migrants were relatively successful in nursing jobs which suggests not only racialised experiences of these study subjects but also gendered. While for all other professions they were expected to be firm and self-confident, for nursing jobs they were instructed to be obedient and docile. Ameeriar successfully argued that, in this case, being a female, and presumably naturally caring and docile, was more important than being a Pakistani migrant therefore there could be seen higher success rates of employment in nursing compared to other professions.

The following chapters four and five, discussed the agency of the Pakistani migrants and their resistance to the government-imposed categories as well as the simultaneous celebration and exclusion of the same traits of Otherness by Canadian state in different contexts. Pakistani migrants attended East Asian festivals in Toronto organised by the state however they strongly contested identifying as South Asians as they felt they are being ideologically assimilated with Indians. This further highlights the practical failures of the proclaimed Canadian multiculturalism and equality of everyone’s identity.  Furthermore, in these festivals, the smells and looks of South Asians were celebrated while at the settlement- services agencies- rejected and therefore the Otherness was only acceptable as a commodity that was consumable. The book then concludes with the accounts of the participants and how their everyday lives were adversely affected by the financial burdens of not being able to work in their professional fields. 

The success and importance of the book is the demonstration of the failure of economic and cultural integration of Pakistani migrants in Canada. It highlights the bureaucratic issues and the failure of the state to translate the licenses of highly skilled workers and instead of acknowledging these issues racialising migrants and portraying the unemployment as a personal failure to be a modern and civilised Canadian. 

Nevertheless, the author’s consideration of mobility is limited to occupation. The book only analyses and compares the occupation of the study subjects in Pakistan and Toronto. There is little known about their lives beyond that, especially in the context of Pakistan. This becomes particularly problematic in the conclusion. The author asked the participants if they ever thought to return to Pakistan where they could perhaps work in their original professions and all answered that they would not because of other issues in Pakistan, such as political. Moreover, the participants said that they feel now more Canadian than Pakistani. To some extent this indicates that these women perceived their experiences in Canada more positive compared to living in Pakistan which in part is contradictory to the downward mobility argument of the book. Arguably, the study could be extended to include consideration of other indicators of mobility beyond occupation to better evaluate the social positions and experiences of the study subjects. 

Overall, the book is very engaging, well documented and an excellent case study of Canadian multiculturalism in practice that would be useful to anyone interested in migration, citizenship, multiculturalism, integration, race or gender. Although the author does not specifically highlight this, I find it particularly striking the fact that the study subjects internalised the Canadian identity while being actively excluded and portrayed as Other.  Importantly, this warns against any assumptions that internalisation of identity of the new country simultaneously signals the effective economic and cultural integration of migrants.


Will Kymlicka and Magda Opalski, eds., Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Review by Indriga Valiukaite

IndrigaValiukaite is a graduate in MSc Global Migration, University College London. Her research interests lie in political philosophy and sociology with special focus on issues related to democracy, migration, citizenship, nationalism, transnationalism, multiculturalism, ethnic conflict, politics of recognition, identity. Email: [email protected]




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