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Migration motives

The typologies of types of migration and the explanation of its mechanisms differ depending on both the school of scholarly thought of the observer and the specific group of migrants under consideration. For example, Zygmunt Bauman (1998) divides all people who are on the move into tourists and vagabonds. This division falls along the lines of class distinctions and captures a distinction between globalization’s spatially mobile winners-- “tourists”-- and its losers-- “vagabonds.” Though it is tempting to see all of the highly skilled labor migrants and ICT professionals as “tourists,” the picture is not that clear. As Xang (2007) has shown, ICT professionals could be categorized as “highly skilled labor migration,” but their migration experience cannot be depicted as unequivocally positive as Bauman presents it. In this respect we might need to understand the sense-making narratives produced by the ICT migrants to shed more light on their understanding of their migration experiences. The Russian ICT professionals in Finland, for example, mostly present their personal experience in a positive light, but admit that the experience was not unequivocally positive for their families.

One way to correct Bauman’s classificatory oversimplification is to look not only at the class distinctions between different migrant groups, but also at different values and behaviors within a particular social class experiencing relocation (Scott, 2006). Thus one is not only able to perceive a highly skilled migrant as a representative of the middle class, but also to take into consideration his/her specific migration trajectories and the motives behind them. As Scott suggests, one can divide skilled migrant populations (in his case the British middle class in Paris) into various lifestyle types, related to three primary motives for migration: career path, lifestyle preferences, and relationships (Scott, 2006, 1112). A more expanded classification is suggested by Raunio & Forsander (2009, 112-113): global nomads, career builders, quality of life seekers, social relationships, and adventurers. In my study I will argue that in the case of Russian-speaking programmers relocating to Finland it is hardly possible to separate career-path (career builders) from lifestyle preferences (quality of life seekers) as a main migration motive, as the two are interconnected and mutually supportive.

It is also important to understand how labor migrants create their own geography based on professional imagination. This approach is particularly productive in the case of ICT professionals who are simultaneously members of a global community of practice and yet deeply incorporated into a specific geographical location (Tachteev, 2012). It is also necessary to understand how professional experience influences the geographical imagination of highly skilled people located in different localities, how they see those localities, and how they make sense of the position they occupy there. This approach would allow us to avoid a simplistic understanding of this group as global tourists, or an interpretation of migration as driven by a single major factor, simultaneously enabling a more nuanced and complex analysis of the geographical imagination of this migration group.

Unlike the depiction of migration as disruptive experience often found in the literature (Pine, 2014), my research in Finland has indicated that highly skilled professionals who relocate there from Russia tend to present their experience as a generally positive one. The idea of lifestyle migration offered by O’Reilly and Benson (2009) looks especially applicable in this case. According to these authors, “lifestyle migration is the spatial mobility of relatively affluent individuals of all ages, moving either part-time or full-time to places that are meaningful because, for various reasons, they offer the potential of a better quality of life” (O’Reilly & Benson, 2009, 2). [Paradoxically, however, the term “lifestyle migrant” is used most often to describe the relocation of a non-working population.]

The idea of life-style as a driving force of career trajectory was also popularized by Florida in his numerous writings about the creative class. Though an emphasis on life-style and spatial mobility was at the forefront of his idea of creative class (Florida, 2005), he failed to appreciate the amount of variety within the category of life-style, thus casting the creative class as homogeneous, even monolithic. In that reading, life-style was related neither to the sphere of professional activity, family status, descent and/or education, nor to previous work or migration experience. Instead, I believe that, following Max Weber and Pekka Himanen (2001) [Max Weber, The Protestant Ethics and The Spirit of Capitalism (2003), was built upon by Pekka Himanen (2001) in his work on the hacker ethic.], we should examine in detail what makes people inside the community of practice act and speak in certain ways (Bucholtz, 1999; Thompson, 2005), that is, how values and norms are provoked by or provoke in turn certain types of conduct, professional activity, and language use. The questions of how new selves are created in specific professional activities (Miller and Power, 2013), and how new forms of conduct and professional narratives develop from new kinds of selves (Rabinow, 1997) are relevant to understanding the specific features of a professional group. An understanding of the migration of professionals cannot therefore be separated from the forms and nature of professional conduct, or from professional identities and the attendant values, norms and worldviews. For instance, Gill and Larson have recently addressed the question of “how entrepreneurs [in the high-tech industry] may construct regional identities in ways that are different, unique, resistant and/or similar to the prominent Silicon Valley model” (Gill and Larson, 2013, 6). This line of inquiry applies well to Russian-speaking ICT professionals in Finland. Like the entrepreneurs studied by Gill and Larson, the ICT specialists I have interviewed do not feel inclined to conform to the US, or especially the Silicon Valley, model (Saxenian, 1996), and have developed an image of Finland as a very specific and more attractive place to work and to live.