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Labour as Space: Rhythms of Migrant Mobility in the Cornish Agri-food Industry

Labour as Space

Dr Constantine Manolchev (University of Exeter Business School), Dr Celal Cahit Agar (University of St Andrews

Key findings

  • Migrant workers experience Cornwall and the other locations where they find themselves, through different ‘rhythms’.
  • ‘Regulating’ rhythms control the extent to which migrants can participate in local labour markets, and the type of participation.
  • ‘Connecting’ rhythms link migrants to their home communities.
  • ‘Dressage’ rhythms speed up or slow down their lives, through work or leisure activities.


Despite an extensive literature on migrant labour in the agri-food industry, researchers tend to study regulatory provisions, everyday routines and shift patterns without due consideration of their given geographical contexts. Studies also overlook the patterns and phases - rhythms – through which agri-food spaces are organised over time.

To address this we carried-out over 40 in-depth interviews with migrants living in Cornwall and London. We mapped their ‘job-hopping’ practices which were not only spatially- embedded but were able to connect separate geographical locations.

We identified three specific pairs or ‘braidings’ of rhythm which emerge over time and which transform the context against which they occur, be it the South West of the UK or a London borough. ‘Regulating’ rhythms impose legislative control over migrant mobility and labour market participation but also leave gaps or ‘grey’ areas which migrant workers can exploit to their advantage. ‘Connecting’ rhythms opened one space, offering links between new migrant entrants and their respective ethnic community yet could make migrants disengage with their contexts and refuse to make a social, or economic contribution. Lastly, ‘dressage’ rhythms conditioned migrant bodies and contributed to the ‘speeding’ and ‘slowing’ of daily lives within and outside of work, respectively.

»Read full paper on Open Research Exeter (ORE)