Caring about ‘brain drain’ migration in a postcolonial world

Raghuram, Parvati (2009). Caring about ‘brain drain’ migration in a postcolonial world. Geoforum, 40(1) pp. 25–33.



The migration of health professionals has been accompanied by politically and morally charged discussions on the effect of such migration on the health of those left behind in their countries of origin. In the UK, the National Health Service, which has long been dependent on overseas migrants to bolster its own staffing, has responded to critics accusing it of ‘poaching’ health professionals from poorer countries with a range of measures to limit health worker mobility. These measures counterpose the right to mobility of health workers with the right to health for those they leave behind, posing academics working on brain drain with a quandary: how do we think ethically about brain drain migration? This paper aims to address this question by exploring the spatial and temporal ontologies that are being mobilised in current thinking around the brain drain. It explores how these ontologies shape both public debates and policy initiatives, foreclosing other ways of thinking about health worker mobility. It argues that routing discourses of brain drain through insights drawn from care ethics and postcolonial thinking will highlight the historical transnational connections that mark medical labour markets and how the category ‘medical worker’ is precisely dependent on this transnationalism.

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