The Stream Map of the World

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Psychohistory

For most of the last decade, Israeli soldiers have been making the transition back to civilian life after their compulsory military service  by going on a drug-dazed recovery trip to India, where an invisible stream of modern global culture runs from the beaches of Goa to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh in the north.  While most of the Israelis eventually return home after a year or so, many have stayed as permanent expat stewards of the stream. The Israeli military stream is changing course these days, and starting to flow through Thailand, where the same pattern of drug-use and conflict with the locals is being repeated.

This pattern of movement among young Israelis is an example of what I’ve started calling a stream. A stream is not a migration pattern, travel in the usual sense, or a consequence of specific kinds of work that require travel (such as seafaring or diplomacy). It is a sort of slow, life-long communal nomadism, enabled by globalization and a sense of shared transnational social identity within a small population.

I’ve been getting increasingly curious about such streams. I have come to believe that though small in terms of absolute numbers (my estimate is between 20-25 million worldwide), the stream citizenry of the world shapes the course of globalization. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to say that streams provide the indirect staffing for the processes of modern technology-driven globalization. They are therefore a distinctly modern phenomenon, not to be confused with earlier mobile populations they may partly resemble.

Stream Citizenship

Stream citizens are not global citizens (a vacuous high-modernist concept that is as culturally anemic as the UN). Their social identities are far narrower and richer. They are (undeclared) stream citizens, whose identities derive from their slow journey across the world.

But the individualist, existential notion of nomadism that I wrote about in On Being an Illegible Person does not apply. In particular, stream citizens are not necessarily nomadic in literal ways (such as living out of cars, boats or mobile homes). They may buy or rent property, accumulate material possessions, and so forth.

Streams are highly sociable collectives, not individuals. The stream itself may be illegible on a map of nation-states, but individuals within it are fairly legible at least to fellow citizens within the same stream. In this sense, streams are like David Hackett Fischer’s folkways. Unlike folkways, streams use geographic movement to structure themselves internally. You could also apply the John Hagel model in The Power of Pull and think of traditional folkways as “stock” folkways and streams as “flow” folkways. The running example in the book (global surfer culture) is not quite a stream, however.

The argument for a distinct new construct, the stream, is not based on a single clear criterion that separates it from other kinds of population movements. Instead, we have a distinctive pattern of deviations from other kinds of population movements.

I have a few examples in mind (such as the Israeli one), but to avoid the dangers of over-fitting, I’ll characterize the idea of the stream via a dozen abstract features, and follow it up with a very primitive and sketchy “world stream map,” without trying to describe specific streams in these abstract terms.

  1. Distinct social identity: Streams possess a unique and distinct social identity, unlike more inchoate movements that may share some of the features of streams.  Unlike rite-of-passage travel patterns though (such as “karma-trekkers”), they tend not to have named, brand-like identities. Instead, they have unmistakeable, but implicit identities.
  2. Partial subsumption: Streams subsume the lives of their citizens more strongly than more diffuse population movements, but less strongly than focused intentional communities like the global surfing community. There is a great deal more variety and individual variation. In particular, there is no solidarity around grand ideologies in the sense of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined CommunitiesIn this, streams differ from nation-states, even though they provide something of an alternative organizational scheme. Not only is the subsumption at about a middling level at any given point in time, it varies in intensity throughout life, being particularly weak early and late in life.
  3. Voluntary slowness: a stream is a pattern of movement where individual movements take place over years or decades, spanning entire development life stages. Unlike a decade-long limbo state imposed by (say) waiting for an American green card, which has individuals impatient to get the process over with and “settle down” in either a new home, or return to an old one, stream citizens don’t experience their state as a limbo state. They are always “home.” Being a relatively new phenomenon, there are no streams that are life-encompassing as yet. But I believe those will emerge — distinctive cradle-t0-grave geographic journeys.
  4. Exclusionary communality: streams provide a great deal of social support to those who are eligible to join and choose to do so, but are highly exclusionary with respect to very traditional variables like race, ethnicity and gender. The exclusionary nature of streams is not self-adopted, but a consequence of the fact that streams pass through multiple host cultures.  A shared social identity in one host culture may splinter in another, while distinct ones may be conflated in unwanted ways.  So only relatively tightly-circumscribed social identities can survive these forces intact. I am really tempted to illustrate this particular point with examples, but I’ll leave it as an abstraction.
  5. Distinct economic identity: unlike commercial travel that is part of broader economic activity (such as sea-faring), or non-commercial travel (such as tourism), streams tend to be at least partially self-sustaining within every host culture that they pass through. This partial self-sustainability often involves patterns of global commercial activity that lends money a different meaning within the stream. So even though streams don’t issue currencies, and merely borrow the economic apparatus of their host cultures, the money behaves in very different ways while it is circulating within the stream.
  6. Non-tribal: Streams are not completely self-sufficient though, in the sense of segmentary tribes.  This is a crucial distinction from nomads or barbarians in the classical sense. They do not seek to form bonds of mechanical solidarity with other streams. Instead they seek to form fairly strong bonds of organic solidarity (mutual interdependence) with host cultures.
  7. Vorticity: Streams contain higher-tempo patterns of travel among the waypoints, especially to old “home” bases, due to obligations and attachments inherited from pre-stream home cultures.
  8. Partial self-absorption: stream citizens are not very interested in the host cultures they pass through except to the extent of maintaining economic and practical relationships. There is no sense of being on the periphery, looking on with longing at the action at the center. There is no oppressive sense of being trapped in a diaspora-ghetto.
  9. Relative poverty: unlike the global jet-setting (think Davos) elite, streams are generally impoverished. In fact a great deal of the motivation for living in a stream is to leverage limited means. But this does not mean we are only talking about lifestyle-designing Internet marketers in Bali. We are also talking about migrant labor from Asia to the Middle East that starts with a “let me save money working in construction in Dubai for a few years” motivation, but ends up extending to a whole lifetime.
  10. High adaptability: Unlike nomads who carry their lives around with them, creating tiny shells of reassuring familiarity around themselves, stream citizens behave more like hermit crabs. They cobble together the necessities of life — shelter, income, patterns of diet and exercise — from whatever is around them. Stream citizens eat Chinese food in China and Thai food in Thailand, not because they are particularly curious about local cuisines, but because the sustainability of the stream lifestyle is based in part on such adaptation. Nostalgia is weak for stream citizens, as is the faraway-home/near-exotic sense of alienation from surrounding. Stream citizens are both home and abroad at the same time.
  11. Direct connection to globalization: In a sense, the notion of “stream” I am trying to construct is a generalization of the Internet-enabled lifestyle designer, which I think is much too narrow. But streams are definitely a modern phenomenon, and owe their capacity for stable existence to some connection with the infrastructure of globalization. The Internet is the major one for the creative class, but anything from container shipping to the Chimerica manufacturing trade to the globalized high-rise construciton industry qualifies.
  12. Lack of an arrival dynamic: this is perhaps the most important feature. There is no sense of anticipation of an “arrival” event  such as getting an American green card, after which “real” life can begin. There is a wherever you go, there you are indifference to rootedness. This psychological shift is the central individual act. By abandoning arrival-based frames, stream citizens free themselves from yearning for geographically rooted forms of social identity.

The Scale and Impact of Streams

In terms of sheer numbers, global migration does not seem to be a very powerful force. In World 3.0, Pankaj Ghemawat notes that only about 3% of the world’s population comprises first-generation immigrants. Over 90% of the world’s population will never leave their home country.

As a small subset of global migration and travel, the total population of stream citizenry is unlikely to exceed about 0.3% of the world population by my estimate (about 20-25 million perhaps). In terms of populations of individual streams, given the level of cultural complexity I am talking about, you would need between about ten thousand to a million people to create a stream.

This suggests that there are less than a few hundred streams, with perhaps a few lower levels of differentiation into sub-streams and sub-sub-streams. This means a project to catalog and map the streams of the world should not be too hard.

In terms of impact however, I suspect streams are hugely important.  Viewed as a process of increasing global integration on multiple fronts (commodities, money, products, services and people), most fronts of integration are developing painfully slowly. Measured with an appropriate set of metrics, according to Ghemawat, globalization is generally somewhere between 10-30% of its theoretical potential for maximal integration along most fronts.

Human movement is actually one of the least-developed fronts. However, since moving humans is the most efficient way to move ideas, and since ideas are very high-leverage things to move across borders, this slow front is also the highest-impact front. Two African students returning to Eritrea infected with the Y-combinator virus can do more than several container loads of iPads.

Another way to think about the increasing impact of streams is to compare them to their ancestors. Consider the populations that staffed the diffusion of previous waves of technology-driven globalization, such as sailing ships (which created among other archeo-streams, a population of lascars who formed a stream stretching from South Asia to the Caribbean, for several centuries).

Compared to such populations, the modern stream citizenry of the world is much larger. Perhaps an order of magnitude larger. Thanks to the more mature and stable substrate (container shipping is not going away anytime soon for instance), the cultures that take root along patterns of movement are much more robust and fully-formed.

They may lack the romantic transience of older archeo-streams (such as a putative “Silk Road” culture, which may or may not have ever had a distinct identity), but they are a lot more substantial internally.

Stream Mapping

I didn’t try to illustrate the idea of a stream with reference to specific examples because they interact among themselves and with host cultures in such complicated ways. The only meaningful way to understand streams is to start with a more global situation awareness of a sort of “stream map of the world.”

I have no idea how to make one (other than to follow the contours of globalization), so I’ll illustrate the geography to the extent that I’ve traversed it.

The Israeli stream, in its path across India, collides with the Tibetian exile community in Dharamshala, itself a lake created by an older stream of migration that flowed for a few brief years during the 1950s, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and landed in India.

Along this route, the Israelis get into fights with the locals, run an underground drug culture and in general recover from their PTSD in the messy ways you might expect.  The modern Israeli stream runs along roughly the same course that, decades ago, played host to the hippies on journeys of self-discovery from Goa to Kathmandu. Ecstasy has replaced LSD, and the culture is a darker, cyberpunk echo of the naive spirituality that marked the questing of the swami-seeking hippies.

Today, the stream is shifting course towards Thailand, as I noted earlier. The Indian branch may dry up, or slow to a trickle. I suspect a branch of the stream continues, post an Israel-return, to America, via high-tech startups founded by friends who perhaps were blooded in combat together, or met in India or Thailand.

Curiously, even though the Israeli stream runs right through Bombay, where I lived for years, I had no idea it existed while I was there.

I learned the story partly from an Israeli anthropologist (from whom I borrowed the term “liminal passage” which I used in Tempo) and partly from a Romanian-born Australian, herself an expat  in Bali, married to a Dutch expat (Indonesia was once a Dutch colony).  The two of them run canoeing tours on Lake Batur for tourists. We’d gotten started on the subject of nomadic expat cultures after I’d asked, rather innocently, if the success of Eat, Pray, Love had had an impact on Bali tourism. “Oh My God!” my guide exploded, “All these annoying American women in their 30s landing here and expecting to find their Argentinian Man!”

Eat, Pray, Love might well be the motif of a new emerging stream, involving older single Western women.  It is probably a gyre rather than a one-way stream, originating in, and returning to, an American home base.

I personally am a product of a one-way migration pattern that matured into a full-blown stream-and-gyre just around the time I joined it.  Post 9/11 and Y2K, as the US economy began slowing down, and the Indian economy began to heat up, increasing numbers of Indians began choosing to inhabit a vague loop between the two countries instead of settling down in one, trying to have their cake and eat it too — the economic opportunities of India and the lifestyle of the US. The first observers of this loop tended to classify them as “global citizens” but I find the term to be pretty non-descriptive of what is actually happening.

The Tibetan community and the India-US stream-gyre are well-known. The Israeli PTSD Stream is less well-known. The Eat-Love-Pray gyre is just starting to mature.

Around the globe, streams slosh about, run into each other, branch, loop, and in general carve out new cultural landscapes within a hydrologically active layer that exists above earlier landscapes.

This is a complicated view of cultural geography. But I bet it could be properly represented on a map. As I said, the number of important streams cannot be more than a few hundred, about comparable to the number of nation states or significant multinational corporations.

Globalization as Liquefaction

This post is really about my dissatisfaction with the static units of analysis for globalization. We are reluctant to embrace more fluid units like streams because they seem so small in terms of population sizes.  It seems wrong to basically ignore the 90% of the world who are never going to venture beyond the borders they were born within.

Yet, I find that it is far easier to understand globalization as a system of such human flows, than it is to understand it in terms of nations, states and multi-national corporations. It is the actions of the 0.3% that will ultimately drive the fates of the 90%. The cultures that play host to streams are starting to see their evolution being driven by the very act of hosting streams. There are entire regions in the Indian state of Kerala for instance, whose culture can only be explained with reference to the gyre that transports Keralites back and forth from the Middle East.

The word globalization itself is a clue.

Globalization signifies an incomplete process, not a state. For a long time I was convinced that there was a bit of semantic confusion somewhere. Why is there a becoming without discernible being states before and after? The reason is that the word globalization works like the word liquefaction. Liquids aren’t a transition from one solid state to another. They are a transition from a fundamentally static state to a fundamentally dynamic one.

The world is not getting flatter, rounder or spikier. It is liquefying. There you go, Thomas Friedman, that’s my modest little challenge to your metaphor.

More seriously, I’d like to get started building a stream map of the World. If you have candidate streams to propose, or some cartographic insights to offer, please do so in the comments.

So far my list includes:

  1. The Israeli stream
  2. The Indo-US technology stream
  3. Eat-Pray-Love
  4. Tibetian expats
  5. Americans camping out in Eastern Europe for several years
  6. Mainland Americans moving to Hawaii to set up what appears to be an economy based entirely on yoga studios
  7. Lifestyle designers converging on Thailand and Bali



Series Navigation<< Realtechnik, Nausea and Technological LongingHacking the Non-Disposable Planet >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. really interesting article. another influential stream of the last 50 years would be young folks and counterculture heads moving West temporarily or permanently – the Boulder/SF/Humboldt/Portland/Eugene axis.

  2. Loved this one Venkat– American blue collar pensioners moving to the Philippines to retire seem to fit the bill.

  3. Typo: “without providing trying”

  4. The ESL people fit this pretty well – major sources of people from West Coast Canada, Southern England, South Africa from Capetown to Durban. they spread out all over developing Asia, sometimes staying a presumptive lifetime, sometimes just a year or two.
    Often some of the other streams do the ‘life and limb’ bit by teaching (at a guess, I bet some of the Israelis in Thailand try this), but we’ve met the ‘backpacker’ types and they’re clearly a touch different.

    • PuJiaoNing says

      Yeah, I’m part of the global ESL culture and it fits the model, I believe… Was going to suggest it but this person beat me to the draw. I currently living in Taiwan, and there’s estimated to be a few thousand here.. . I and many I meet are basically building businesses to make it into the lifestyle design stream… plenty others are stagnating and smoking lots of pot.

    • Jordan Peacock says

      I second this.

  5. In London, we have people from Australia and New Zealand who come after graduation to take advantage of their right to work here for 2 years. They tend to cram together in group houses, work entry level white collar jobs. Many stay on, settling down.

    We also have similar post-graduates coming from various developing countries – Turkey, Eastern Europe, etc., taking a different set of jobs – au pair, waiters, etc., studying English. Again, most go back home after a while, taking skills and savings to hopefully get better jobs than they might have otherwise. And again, many end up settling here, but still tend to keep in touch with friends in similar situations.

    These two streams are very similar, but although tend to intermix within themselves (kiwis and ozzies, poles & turks), but very little between them.

  6. I’m not sure whether you avoided this one intentionally because of its political implications or not, but undocumented Central Americans and Mexicans coming to the United States to work seems to fit the bill very nicely.

    • Unintentional. A case of something being so big and in your face, it is easy to miss. Definitely qualifies. Also reminds me of the Dust Bowl migrations from Oklahoma to California in the 30s (the “grapes of wrath” stream).

  7. * SF NYC
    * Boston San Diego
    * US Military reserves heading to Massachusetts to maximize unemployment benefits
    * Peru <- U.S. (not sure about size but a few anecdotes)

  8. Isaac Lewis says

    Interesting concept. I’m trying to think of possible streams, based on my experiences of living in China on-and-off the last few years.

    Not sure if I understood your model perfectly, but am I correct in thinking the following are NOT streams?

    1. Standard backpacker trails (they’re just on holiday)
    2. The expat community in any given city (too vague)
    3. Chinese migrants from the inland to the coastal provinces (not global)
    4. Rich westerners working in china as execs etc (wealthy enough to insulate selves from the host culture)

    But the following might be:
    1. Vietnamese labourers working in south China
    2. North korean refugees travelling through china to se asia and then south korea
    3. The english teachers mentioned above, especially high school leavers on their “gap yahs” (google it, it’s a great sketch about the culture)
    4. English teachers who are living in china long-term and choose teaching as an easy money maker
    5. People bumming around East Asia, usually single educated western males, doing odd jobs that are usually more professional than menial where they can find them
    6. Old retired British/german guys in Thailand, the Phillipines for the sex
    7. SE asian domestic helpers in the richer asian countries

    I’m not sure about some of these, such as 3 and 5. What do other people think?

    • Yeah, you’re getting the distinction I am trying to fingerprint. It’s going to be a fuzzy set obviously, but the key is almost a virus-like behavior, adapting, mutating fast, borrowing most of the DNA machinery and other life essentials from the host environment. By that metaphor, the rich execs are more like bacteria.

    • I was thinking bout (5). After the last tech bubble collapse it felt like meandering around southeast asia was the thing you did after a SF startup.

      I suspect there’s something around New Zealand. They seem to export a lot of young people, and I bet there’s a common road.

  9. I recall reading that a lot of burned out and laid off investment bankers headed to Buenos Aires after the financial crisis

  10. Western Dave says

    I love the stream metaphor and the notion of liquefying. But I’m not sure how this is different from traditional 19th century Europe to New World, lots of streams from villages to specific neighborhoods in cities with lots of return migration. One that continues to this day is the Irish-US stream/gyre with even born Americans sometimes “returning” to Ireland to retire. And obviously, Mexico-US stream gyres with Mexican nationals working for months or years in the US to earn enough money to buy land. Can you clarify how streams are different from traditional chain migration?

    • I think the Irish loop may not qualify as a true gyre because there is no economic life within the loop itself. The economic life happens at the end points, in uncorrelated ways. By contrast, the Indo-US gyre for instance, rides the live economic loop of outsourcing, with many members circulating to keep that loop going. So it is more than just a migration. Going back to the Irish case, a contemporary one, the Italian-US loop, might qualify as a true gyre, since at least one globalized economic activity (organized crime) happened within it. Today I believe the crime worlds in the two countries are more decoupled (apologies to any Italian-Americans for the stereotyping; please don’t firebomb my kwik-e-mart).

      In general, if there isn’t an element of globalized economics, preferably with a technology infrastructure component, I don’t think you have a stream. You have more of a traditional migration.

  11. A few that come to mind from my time in the Philippines:
    Mostly males, going to the middle east as drivers/construction workers/etc.
    Mostly females going to richer Asian countries as domestic helpers or various sex-related jobs (sometimes both).

    I also saw and met a lot of people from other Asian countries that came to the Philippines for a time to learn English. A variation on the go to US/UK to learn English.

    Another example from the Philippines that I *think* fits your model is sailors. Many many filippinos become sailors for a number of years than drifting in and out of their communities and families.

  12. John the Savage says

    You keep making references to a container-shipping stream – could you explain that one more fully?

  13. I just finished reading Ted Fishman’s Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World’s Population and How it Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation ( It’s, well, Thomas Friedman-caliber research and conclusions, but Fishman tracks how aging populations affect global immigration patterns. The “streams” concept really resonates with the patterns Fishman identifies, where younger folks migrate from young countries (e.g., many Latin American countries) to rapidly aging countries (e.g., Japan, Spain). For example, there’s been a notable migration of about a million young (18-35 year old) Ecuadorians to Spain in order to one, meet the need for caregivers for the disproportionate/unprecedented numbers of older adults, and two, to fill the gaps in the workforce left by retiring older adults.

  14. Interestingly, Buffalo, NY (and nearby Rochester) has both a seasonal migrant pattern of older folk who are “snow birds” that live in warmer areas, such as Florida, during the winter – but also has a stream/gyre pattern of sorts of younger folk settling/unsettling in Charlotte, NC of all places.

    For details see:

  15. I don’t know if it is as robust currently, but the jihadist stream to Al Qaida/Taliban operations in Afghanistan. This was notable both during the Russian occupation and the more recent American-led fighting. The poster child for the stream could be John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban:

    This is a very provocative metaphor, so I’ll see if other streams occur to me.

  16. No doubt there are plenty of identifiable demographic-geographic patterns (as listed here in the comments). But what I find more interesting is the cultural bubbles stream dwellers create for themselves (at least in my first hand experience). Despite the fictions we tell ourselves, we seem to revel in our otherness — otherness from both our adoptive and native cultures. Its no so much that we have one foot in each, its that we have one foot in neither. This otherness in turn inflates our sense of importance, which itself intensifies the otherness. Living in the stream can play funny games with your mind. Many loose themselves in it.

  17. I have one for you, I call them the “Peter Mayle” stream. Back in the 1990s when his book “A Year in Provence” came out many Brits flocked to this region and Dordogne and set up new lives scraping a living as gardeners etc there (we owned a holiday place in France at the time and met many expats). I think there are entire online communities for English speakers in each European country,. I am in rural Bavaria in Germany (apples, wine growing, veg garden) long term and count myself as a “Toytowner”, named after the web community ( of Brits and Americans who have made this place their home. I think you’ll find other countries like Bulgaria also have their share of Brits doing the “Mayle Trail”

  18. Very interesting. This reminds me of the Lonely Planet stream. Local industries have grown throughout the world in far remote places from just a few short words in a Lonely Planet leading to more tourists and more industry. I’ve hear it refereed to as the Banana Pancake Trail in South East Asia ( but I’ve seen it in action in other locations such as Southern Africa and Central America.

  19. Christina Ward says

    I have a couple mini-streams that may fit into your definition.

    Illinoisans spending summers in Northern Wisconsin.

    The odd “midwest migration” of young professional types from Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio who flock to Chicago looking for their first jobs…..then tend to move back to their “home” state, but not the small town they originated.

    I’m curious, does the Peace Corps or Teach for America crowd fit into this definition?

  20. Harley Brown says

    US retirees flock down to Baja, Costa Rica, Panama, & Nicaragua hoping to find a cheap spot on the beach in central America.

    • Israeli soliders flock to Costa Rica too, and they’re some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet

  21. Pierce Nichols says

    I don’t know if it quite qualifies yet, but the global hacker/maker culture is forming a global stream.

  22. Paranoid Expat says

    The Bartertown Stream. These are Americans who see the writing on the wall and bug out to countries where they can buy a small farm and generally be left alone. They often end up in Chile, Argentina, Peru, or New Zealand but there are others who stay in America but abandon a city in favor of a more self-sufficient, tight-knit, freedom-respecting community.

  23. two more streams to consider
    – snowbirds (canadians and north americans who flock to the southern/western portions of the U.S. for the winter; similar seasonal movers in Europe)
    – north americans who retire in mexico (but now inside of walled communities as the drug wars have changed perceptions of safety)

  24. How about US Army brats as they call themselves? (I don’t like the word brat myself though). many came to europe – Germany and stayed.

    Or those of the Aramco family in the middle East – Aramco brats?

  25. “New phenomenon”: did You think of pre-communist rich Russians moving to western European spa sites, or post-WWII Germans moving to Italy? The latter even formed a new term in German Language, “Toskana-Fraktion”.

  26. I got one for your streams. Ecuadorian people in New york, Spain and Italy. Almost a third of ecuadorians are in NY and the two countries. This has been going on for almost two decades now, and it’s been seriously studied

  27. You may want to read the article “The Right Place” by Lee Eisenberg in the May 1981 issue of Esquire magazine, about how leading edge members of groups (dream-chasing scouts, he calls them) select the next hot place to migrate to, in this case Santa Fe New Mexico.

  28. I think of streams are frequently an offshoot of migration, the streams maybe a few of the immigrants that continue to search for what is next or better. My example would be the Italian migration to New York and Boston. From that migration river split off a stream of people that migrated south. Where I live here in North Carolina there are a large number of Italians that came south either with a large company or looking for work. These are middle and upper middle class families. Often their children head back north for college. There is a constant flow of travel, families heading in both directions to visit and live with relatives. Unlike the migration, this stream is integrating more with local culture. This stream seems a little slower than others mentioned as the migration from Italy was from the 20’s to 60’s, then the stream south started in the 70’s.

  29. Tordelback says

    I’d endorse Jeremy Stocks’ identification of the ‘Peter Mayle’ stream – it’s a very real and distinctive phenomenon. It virtually has its own TV station, when you combine selected episodes of Grand Designs Abroad and A Place in the Sun. Somewhat less robust is ‘Shirley Valentine’ stream, which has dotted the Greek islands with middle-aged British women running arty-crafty shops, pensions and kafenions. I suspect the key element here is that many of these these are medium-term projects, and roots remain firmly back in Blighty.

  30. There are lagre communities of Eritreans, Somalis, Ethiopians and Kenyans living in the greater Seattle area and other parts of the northwestern US. Not sure if this qualifies.

  31. Quebecois fruit pickers in the Okanagan valley of British Columbia.
    Canadian/British 18-27 year olds on Australian East coast on working holiday visas.
    Aussie/Kiwi seasonal workers at ski resorts in Western Canada.
    Aussie/Kiwis living in London as part of one year trip around world.

  32. I was born in Chile, moved to Spain at a young age… then onto Australia for 12 years before coming back to Europe (Barcelona first, then Amsterdam) – mostly by personal choice. I’m here until I leave, I usually say. I hang out with the ‘locals’ that are welcoming of nomads/travellers/’global citizens’ like myself. One day I pick up my family and we move somewhere else, because we want to. (we tend to spend between 4-8 years per country/city)

    So… am I a lost droplet? Or do I fit with every other person who simply changes country to find a better situation, and calls home wherever the hat is? (even though I don’t feel part of a ‘stream’ of any kind). I thought I was a ‘global citizen’ – a term you seem to quite repudiate, but I found fitting to myself because I don’t call any one country home.

    Where would I fit, from your perspective?

  33. Many, many twenty-something, mostly-white, South Africans leave for the UK after graduating. Most stay behind but come back every year to visit family and old friends.

  34. Finns have since 70s large communities in southern Spain around Torremolinos. Other scandinavians nearby but not mixing much. Lots of Swedes in southern Thailand, many as diving instructors. And what about brits in Mallorca.

  35. Single women in Germany travelled to Jamaica, men to Dominican Republic. Many stayed there.

  36. Today there is a stream of estonians in Finland. In 70s and 80s finns streamed to Sweden mainly for work. Rich russians are moving to Monaco, poor to many countries including Finland. Poland is a source of many streams. There are 5+M turks in Germany without german citezenship – classic stream

    • Funny thing about those Turkish (and North African migrants) in the Netherlands (my experience), is that their second and third generations are not wholly subsumed by the host country. Many young still identify as being Turkish, frequently go on holiday to the native country (to the exclusion of other destinations) and many even return for jobs with the EU stagnating and Turkey booming in recent years.

      I don’t think Venkat was going for migrant diaspora cultures which this would typically be but the grounds of migration have long since evaporated and the movement still persists, so I think I could hit most of the points above and defend this as being a stream.

  37. Melbourne Australia is the second biggest greek city. italians used to stream to Sydney. Most bars in Goa seem to be owned by old english guys.

  38. 2 more to be considered in Canada, one internal, one immigrant-oriented.
    – over the last 30+ years, many youth in Eastern Canada have moved away from that area where the previous major industry, fishing, is dying… they go for money (Oil Sands in Alberta) or inspiration/art/life (Toronto/Montreal) – radically effects the places they go and the places they left in terms of youth culture, architecture, art (when the youth leave, middle class family things get built, like box stores, and not cinematheques, for example).
    – at present Canada lets some 250,000 immigrants in each year (for a fee). The hope is to maintain an infrastructure of goods and services as Boomers age and their kids refuse to serve coffee. Many unique cultural problems arise from this, including abusive treatment of women (international wedding rituals gone awry, frequently purposefully), racism, the rise of Asian gangs – I heard one story in Vancouver in the 90’s about how a fairly large group of Guatemalan orphans were hijacked nearly right off the boat, given bikes and became unsuspected drug runners. I live on a rock in the North Atlantic sea – the sight of 2Meter tall Africans walking around in parkas in the winter seems comical (no offense to those people). There were none of them 20 years ago.
    thanks for the article.

  39. Trulee Pist says

    Muslims to Detroit and to New Jersey suburbs of NYC.
    The book “World on Fire” covers many economic streams today that mirror colonial patterns of the early 20th C., and are disruptive:

  40. PTSD Israelis have a mirror stream of the SEA one in South America. Actually in Israel the two groups are almost non-mixed, the Islanders (Goa, Koh Samui) vs the Muchileros. Actually, those streams are very very old and already changed course. 40-30 Years ago, after the great wars, the average Israeli will go to Europe, take a fishing trip in Scandinavia or go coast to coast in the states, and not a few have stayed there.
    Immigration in general is frowned upon in Israel, with state leaders calling bad names those who choose to immigrate. But going to other countries defiling them with reckless behavior and than going back to be a good citizen – it’s considered an act of, how shall I say, teenage mischief.
    Another Gyre, is Jewish russians coming to Israel, enjoying a few years of benefits and then migrating back to Eastern europe or Western Europe.
    And one more stream, settlers in the occupied territories – there are a lot of Yeshiva students, who will drift away from society and will settle for a semi-tribal life on the hills of the occupied territories – they are called “Hills Youth”, and are considered very violent and uncontrollable.

  41. Kai Boutilier says

    A lot of the examples in the comments wouldn’t pass a “voluntary slowness” test. For example, many ESL teachers in rich, heavily urbanized East Asian locations are in it for the fast pace of life, and the riches, which would also let them fail on a “relative poverty” test, too! Let’s face it, in addition to FAST MONEY, many single, young, educated, white males are typically in Asia for the WOMEN, and let me tell you, once the goals changes from “WOMEN” to “WOMAN”, then the voluntary slowness (and relative poverty, ahem), as well as the lack of any sense of arrival, can begin to intensify, and a stream (or a trickle or a drop, whatever the case may be) can begin to flow. That’s how I’ve seen it, anyways…

    • I think you misunderstood my voluntary slowness point. I didn’t mean pace of life. I meant speed of movement along the stream. Streamers seem to stay in individual places for fairly extended periods, unlike tourists for instance.

      And yeah, sex is always part of any human story.

  42. Good post, found it following some tweets. Have you looked at Bauman’s “liquid modernity”? While he uses it to explain the world we live in and the challenges individuals face, it is to some extent aligned with your thoughts.

  43. Peter Andersson says

    Kenyan males (with fast running capabilities) have flocked to the US universities and/or road race circuit since at least the 80s. The trend is increasing. This latest decade more and more Kenyan women är joining them too.

    Brasilian soccer players are flooding Japan and Europe, 700 in Japan alone (or so I heard a few years back) and probably at least that many in Europe counting the minor leagues.

  44. Thoughts:
    I agree, this could look simple as a big picture model. but multi-stream fluid dynamics are rarely simple on a micro level. Accurate local weather prediction for example.

    The most practical mapping tools for some of these streams would have to be data from smartphones with GPS. origin of purchase, language, etc.

    Facebook data would do it very nicely for some groups that are facebook users.

    Email location login data, correlated with cultural markers, whatever defined the streams.

    Immigration/customs passport and visa information, but that is often not centrally recorded or available.

    Weather mapping software might be good for this. clouds and ocean currents are all using similar physics. Maybe.

    Specialised guidebooks may already have maps of these streams. EG lonely planet silk road. One could then try to cross-relate WHO purchased those maps to define the participants in that stream.

    People in some of these streams may happily tell you about them, if they are proud of them, or wish to self-identify with the culture.

    Within australia, I know of backpacker streams that are clearly defined by visa times, international airports, rental car routes and must-see sights (eg Land at sydney, Ayers rock).

    Visible/vocal minorities, like the israelies will tend to distort the readings too. Many Japanese travellers in China for example are almost invisible, and are able to move freely for that reason. The same goes for New Zealanders in Australia.

    • I think I saw a visualization based on immigration patterns over a century at some point, on Youtube.

      Yes, the data for such a picture would probably be hard to come by, and what’s more, it would not make much sense without qualitative interpretation by informed sources. The value of a data-driven picture would be surfacing “dark streams” that nobody is aware of.

      But for starters, even the anecdotal data in these comments could support a much more primitive starter map. I might try to make one.

  45. This is an impressive abstraction. Yet your criterion might benefit from the inclusion of some anthropological notions alongside the sociological ones. This would concern your comments on the “Eat Pray Love,” the Israeli PTSD, and perhaps other situations: what factor does individual motivation play in these movements. The comments of you guide in Bali are very suggestive here, what was the cultural and economic state there pre movement versus post movement?

    Your 12 points without including individual motivations strike me as almost proscriptive in the same way you express disgust at the term “global citizen.” Do those 12 points pass the test of distinguishability? Is it possible for me to tell the difference, via these points, between modern populations movements and those of history? I find this particularly nagging, and maybe it is the modern technological parallels you are trying to draw: what distinguishes a “modern” stream? You state that you think this is a modern phenomenon but what is specific about those variables you describe that indelibly links them to modernity? I think it is a tall order to fill to describe any movement of humans via technology as strictly “modern.”

    An anthropological approach surely would help you link your points together, however your use of “implicit” in your first point is what prompted my earlier remark about proscription. By insisting on “implicit” I am worried you might miss meaningful anthropological data points. After all you need to nail down whether you are working with expats or tourists or if you are in essence claiming a 9th and new category of Displaced Persons.

    As someone who is deeply interested in issue related to DPs this is directly relateable and I can understand where one might be tempted to describe these groups from the outside. Yet any true understanding of these groups identity cannot be gained by sociology alone.

    You are essentially using sociology to describe what might better be termed displaced sub-cultures, which may or may not have been derived from two or more parent cultures. Perhaps this is why you are straining for descriptors. The problem requires both an inside and outside understanding of the participating individuals. Don’t ignore anthropology and individual motivation or else you are doomed to repeat the mistakes made in the elucidation of the “global citizen.”

    This was a great piece of work and please don’t take my criticisms harshly. I was just speaking my mind.

    • I think there is definitely an an anthropological angle here. I think each stream can be characterized via an immersive thick description as you suggest. In fact, the ability of a stream to support a coherent ethnographic portrait is probably necessary for it to be a stable stream.

      I don’t know that this requires listing as a separate characteristic though. In a way, I am hypothesizing that any candidate that properly satisfies my dozen criteria will necessarily have the internal coherence that an ethnographer could discover, complete with intrinsic psychological motivations (shared and individual).

      Of course, that’s not a project I can personally take on. Beyond the research budget of this blog :)

      The distinguishing feature of “modern” is admittedly murky, but I think there is something there. Modern global infrastructure has a sort of permanence over longer time scales that was lacking in the early modern era (for example, the shipping industry today is more like the global optic fiber network in terms of reliability and predictability than the sailing-ship era industry it is descended from, which was full of unpredictability and serious risk even at its height).

      The same goes for modern outsourcing relationships between companies on opposite sides of the globe, connected by fiber optic links, compared to older trading partnerships.

  46. 1. Young professional Americans to Europe, specifically London and Paris (globalization lite and more of them then go to Eastern Europe)
    2. Retired English people to the south coast of Spain and to parts of southern France (escaping the bad weather)
    3. Hong Kong Chinese to Vancouver and LA
    4. Brazilians go to NYC/London/LA
    5. Chaldeans in San Diego
    6. Irish to London and NYC (and probably every other big US city)

  47. Peter Vanderbruggen says

    Historic streams: Americans in Paris in the 30’s? Roma people? Buccaneers? Is it correct to say that historically most streams have been of fugitives in one way or another?

  48. Ellen Barrentine says

    Definitely Military Brats. We are a stream; when we come back to live in the US after 15 years or more of living in the rest of the world, we are of this country and not of it.We are a true stream of children and then adults who have lived a way few have lived and it keeps us together even tho we may never see each other again. We are not tourists and we think for ourselves because we have seen so many different cultures and we know that we pull from the fountains of those many cultures.

  49. The enlightenment-seeker stream is also still very much extant and is probably linked with the Israeli stream through psy-trance music (of which Israel is a major producer).

    (I wrote a longish comment about this earlier, but looks like it was eaten by a spam filter or such.)

  50. Tom Turner says

    I think your construct lacks the required attractant / repellant combinations to define movement. Standard immigration and migration sagas are defined by obvious motivations. Likewise, mere modern tourism is by default defined by some escapist or hedonist fantasy delivered intentionally thru advertisement and marketing or unintentionally like the Eat Pray Love fantasy delivered by book or film.

    I love the magnetic/gravitational imagery of the Israeli post-military self-administered warrior decompression. PTSD self-medicated, moving to locales without the political, historical, religious dynamic that created their stress in the first place. Preference for places where annonimity can be easily maintained. Participation in local culture and economy are voluntary and not immersive like normal economic migrants. However, a perception of being a tourist or at least a rich or priviledged foreigner that is “slumming it” gives one some leeway with local law enforcement and other social arbiters of local conventions.

    Your stream description of these Israelis further defines their subculture priorities. Drug abuse or recreational self-medication presumes an extra-legal bias. Seeking a relief without submitting to directed objective treatments points to an immature laziness that avoids the work of being directed or a mature rebelliousness to authority where poor results and the costs of avoiding direction outweigh the work and costs required to be unguided.

    Your abstraction is very interesting. It’s utility has been explored in fiction, plays and film for decades. This is the story of so many wanderers that are usally addled by drink or narcotics and seek to use the veil of priviledge to invade a country or culture of poverty to hide out. This is a pattern of self-indulgent and minimally productive alternative response to a damaging life experience.

    Immigration, migration and nomadic movement are economically motivated in a positive sense. The end game is opportunity, work and improvement of current and future potential. The streams you describe and define with your dozen attributes are the self-indulgent, predatory and parasitic types of invasion of the minimally-productive or non-productive.

    I witnessed this in Haiti in the 70’s. Sage understanding came from one of 7 North American expats living and working there. “I don’t hate being here. I hate the confusion that it causes me. I am treated with a respect I don’t deserve because I am white and from America. Everything is cheap. I have 3 house servants. I go to the American bar and drink too much. Everyone, including me knows that I am only here for a short time. All of us, Haitians and Americans want to be somewhere else where we can build a future. Otherwise, we can fall into a trap of waiting it out and indulging every vice and perversion that we can imagine because we start to believe that this is not the real world.
    Worse yet, we could decide that we don’t want or need the real world because it is so easy to play and be pampered here”

    Now I work with Japanese rotational staff in the US. They are not afflicted so fully. They see potential and opportunity in either Japan or the US. Americans mostly see Japan as an interesting place to visit as a tourist/guest. But Americans generally see no real future in long careers in Japan. There are enough Japanese that come and decide to stay in America that there is a reality and potential in that alternative.

    Maybe you could lengthen the name to Invasive Slackers. Just yankin your chain!

  51. There are the (mostly 20-something) Americans who spend a few years teaching English somewhere in Asia, ala “Iron and Silk”. Teaching is really incidental to their reasons for going.

  52. Interesting. I like your idea that the circulation of these people is putting in place the electrical wiring for a globalization of ideas.

    What about untenured scientists – permanently peripatetic postdocs?

    Also, would “people who want to work for NASA” qualify? In addition to Europeans, South Asians, and East Asians, a surprising number come from the Middle East. For example, JPL’s director – Charles Asshur Al-Wadad Elachi – was raised in Lebanon, did his undergrad in France, then moved to the U.S.

    I think you need to take account of the anchoring effect of having kids. It seems to me that people can happily “stream” around before or after raising children, but there’s a strong and widely-held preference for staying put when you have young children.

    • Heh, if this is a stream, I was part of it. Even interviewed at JPL.

      I’d say this isn’t a stream though. It’s just the regular old wishful-thinking temp economy. I gave up on the holding pattern after one 2.5 year postdoc, but the ones I know who persisted through multiple gigs at different universities ending, in a quasi-permanent non-tenure position, didn’t seem to form a definable community. Just a rather depressed bunch of solitaries. Also, they were all firmly in the grip of the Arrival Fallacy.

      I suspect there is no real point to long-term postdoc-ing. If you don’t get tenure-track landing permission fairly quickly, you never will. The supply is filled quickly. The postdoc track isn’t an oversupply hopper. It is an overflow drain. Your position just erodes over time until you are past your sell-by date and turn sour (pun intended).

  53. Stream:
    As a hotel / hospitality type, I would venture that the many Eastern Europeans I encountered in Key West and Miami, Florida seem to fit your definition. Although some are awaiting their “arrival” event, citizenship status through documentation or marriage, it seems that many arrive knowing a few other persons from their homelands and form a relatively tight-knit, and exclusive community. They may stay for six months or for many years. Small stores are opening, which cater to their particular needs of food-stuffs and laundry detergent ( seriously ). These shops won’t even have English signage displayed. Their effect on the “culture” as a whole is unnoticeable, yet they exhibit “distinct social identity” and date others from Eastern Europe almost exclusively.
    “Organic Solidarity” is achieved by their jobs in the hotel and restaurant industry, as property values are excruciatingly high, therefore, so is rent, and it is difficult to find any “Americans” willing to serve the haughty hotel guests for low wages and humiliating gratuities. The hotels cannot maintain their staffs as it is, so when a position is available, there is always someone who has a friend ready to work the next day. A definite inter-dependence has developed amongst the operators and the “temporary” residents, there on six-month work visas.
    “High Adaptability”: many of the Moldavians and Ukrainians I worked with had no desire to return to their countries in any foreseeable future, and, instead, looked to gain work experience and english proficiency enough to move to a larger city such as New York.
    And, I could include examples of the levels of “poverty” however, I might argue that, as usual, one persons’ value of a dollar, is different than another’s. The wages that they enjoyed, some of us might think of as obscenely unthinkable. But we must compare it to the income and opportunities that they had in their countries of origin.

    This is, of course, my humble perspective, and I thank you, Venkat, for providing me a new way of looking and defining these experiences.


  54. One stream: Young Westerners with liberal backgrounds from US, Europe or Australia heading to South America to observe the Bolivarian revolution and try to reanimate their social conscience. And the reverse stream of Latin American’s heading to the West and bringing with them their own social values.

  55. I have been thinking and discussing conceptual stream culture quite a bit over the past few days. The following has occurred to me:

    If one follows the fluid metaphor, fluids flow from high energy to low energy state. At points of steep gradient, nozzles/constrictions streams become very defined and high-impact. (I think Israelies fresh out of service may be like this. After a while that stream will diffuse.) Initially I thought that bernoullis law could be used to model these patterns, but then I realised that these streamers are active fish in broader human rivers, very difficult to model this way as they are motivated, possessing information and means. But, the path of least resistance is still operating, in most international cases visas, work permits and border controls will be a serious issue. The list of low-living-cost countries close to israel accepting the much-exampled Israelis is not that long. I’m guessing India and Nepal top that list, followed by Thailand.

    A Philippino lady, talking to me about this stated that the major import of the Phillipines is money sent home by OS workers. Skilled workers, drudges, tech wizards, construction workers many end up living for a long time. I think the Phillipines may be a fertile place to research this concept.

    This morning it occured to me, if the streamers are fish, then if the water is moving they don’t have to swim. Citizens of streams can use the nozzle effect stated earlier to not move around too much geographically, just hang out in a shop opposite Shibuya station or a bar in Singapore airport. Really extreme stream citizens can get jobs in airport security or ticket booths in touring stadium shows. Joke.

    Language affinity is key also, similar language/culture groups of a certain size will act as attractors to these streams.

    I realise that you state earlier that commercial travel is not a stream, but I think key is the lack of arrival dynamic, many of these choose where they are based, and change that location often, voluntary slowness/fastness can be controlled, using locations and the nozzle effect.

    Stream professions.
    Street Performers
    Professional artists
    Corporate consultants
    High-level IT or Tech
    Security Professionals

  56. Polat Guney says

    Several people have pointed out to me that this reads like a catalog of instances of Manuel Castell’s ‘Space of Flows’ cybernetic culture theory. Odd that you don’t mention it anywhere in your post.

  57. Jordan Peacock says

    You sort-of mentioned this in your post, but it wasn’t in your running list at the bottom – workers in Arab Gulf nations (Kuwait, Bahrain, certain cities in Saudi, Qatar, UAE, coastal Oman). Kuwait in particular maintains a huge expatriate population, the bulk of which is only at a given job for 2-5 years before they either switch countries, switch jobs or return home. A large part of this was born out of legislation discouraging the use of Arab workers – most of these countries do not permit immigration, except in cases of marriage, so having ex-patriates that are generally not Arab or Muslim is an asset, as they do not establish permanent ties. This, combined with the Palestinian support of Saddam’s initial invasion of Kuwait took what was a hugely influencial Arab hub and directed it towards impermanent workers from abroad instead. Major nations are the Phillipines, India (particularly Kerala, Andra Pradesh), Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China.

    A second one is from the book Deviant Globalization (which, if you haven’t read it, you must). It’s the narco/terrorism networks that have been established with Nigerian criminal adhocracies between suppliers (FARC and other S. American groups) and distributors (Al Qaeda in the Sahel is the one mentioned in the article). It’s more of a trade network, but the movements of Nigerians associated in this middleman position may qualify as a stream.

  58. I’m not sure if the population is big enough to qualify as a stream in your terms, but the crowd of liveaboard sailors / cruisers definitely exhibits those characteristics (well-known migration patterns around the Carribean, the Pacific, etc).
    I think they’re definitely worth looking into for you.

  59. I’m kind of reminded of your post about interdisciplinary work and coordinate frames. Maybe streams aren’t really moving, from their own coordinate frame?

    But there’s some stuff that makes physical location more inherently real (or whatever) than disciplines, so I’m not sure.

  60. Extending on what Kief said about the Australian -> London stream (commonly referred to as JAFAs, or Just Another Fucking Australian) it’s something of a rite of passage for members of Generation Y to spend a year or more overseas once they’ve completed their mandated education. Quite often this is their first experience overseas and their first time away from home, leading to some rather interesting dynamics within the households that form around them.

    The experience is usually a temporary one with them returning to Australia after one year (just doing it as a break from their education) or after two when their visa runs out. For many that then becomes their overseas experience and they won’t pursue it again, instead favouring to settle down back in their home country rather than attempting to integrate into their new surroundings. The vast majority will then continue onto university (something on the order of 70% or so) with the rest settling into regular “good” jobs.

    I find it interesting as it seems the need to travel only hits many Australians during those couple years after they graduate from their last year of secondary school. Indeed many say that they can’t envision living anywhere else but Australia which I can only chalk up to our relative isolation from the rest of the world. There’s also that slight hint of xenophobia that your typical Australian has (see the controversy that surrounds the boat people issue here) which doesn’t help matters much.

  61. Would you expand on Tibetans? I’m not sure what you mean, but having lived with them for some time, I am quite curious.

  62. There’s a stream motivated by the Canadian domination of speculative mining finance. There are three vortex cities that are fairly tightly connected: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto. The gyres involve all of Latin America but especially Santiago Chile, Lima Peru, and Mexico City.

    Mining industry people (entrepreneurs, consultants, engineers, geologists, anthropologists) are bilingual and either live stints in various countries or split their lives between Canada and a Latin American country. Many have dual citizenships. Many think of their home turf as the Western Hemisphere excluding the USA.

    The part of the stream that meets the relative poverty criterion consists of upstart geologists looking for mineral deposits and the consultants in peripheral areas like community relations/development. There is also a substream of rural development NGO types that often merges with this mainstream. A sub-stream of academics (esp. grad students) studying globalization, development, and resource industries is starting to emerge as well.

    The stream size is probably around ten thousand. There are several mining and oil industry conventions that bring a substantial percentage of the members together annually. I believe the Australians have a similar stream in the mining industry with all the nations of the South Pacific (Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, etc).