Journal article accepted: Intermediaries of the super-rich

I am very pleased to share that a journal article Bart Wissink and I worked on (and waited patiently) for the past 1.5 years has been accepted for publication. The article will be part of a special issue on ‘New Directions in Exploring the Migration Industries’ for the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

In this article, we bring two bodies of work together: (1) the literature on the super-rich; and (2) the literature on the migration industries (or the migration infrastructures). The empirical material draws from our research conducted in Hong Kong in 2014-2015.

While we wait for the article to be published (estimated end April 2017), here’s an early preview of it.

Enabling, Structuring and Creating Elite Transnational Lifestyles: Intermediaries of the Super-Rich and the Elite Mobilities Industry

Sin Yee Koh & Bart Wissink

This article considers how the migration industries lens can be usefully employed in understanding how professional intermediaries enable, structure and create transnational migration lifestyles of the super-rich. In particular, we examine how intermediaries and their services (1) enable the continued sustenance of transnational migration lifestyles for this group of elites; and (2) structure and create elite transnational lifestyles. This article primarily draws on interviews with professional intermediaries who service the super-rich, and content analysis of their websites and brochures. Inspired by insights from the new mobilities paradigm (and in particular the politics of mobility), we argue for an expanded conceptualisation of the migration industries beyond the literature’s current focus on labour recruitment and migration management. Specifically, we suggest thinking of the migration industries as a collection of actors and services that enable, structure and create different types of ‘migrants’, their spaces and their highly uneven transnational mobilities – including that of the super-rich and their elite transnational lifestyles. We conclude with suggestions for a research agenda that may help to better understand the role of intermediaries in the creation of differentiated mobilities.

Keywords: elite transnational lifestyles; intermediaries; migration industries; mobile elites; mobilities industries; super-rich

You can read the pre-proof version of the article on my or ResearchGate pages. Once published, the article will be available here.

Check out the complete list of my publications here.


What I learnt from writing my first academic monograph

After many months and multiple rounds of re-thinking and re-writing, my first book is out. It feels scary – not knowing how it will be received; not knowing if it is good enough.

Here are some of the things I learnt during this book project.

  • It will take much longer than you think it would.
  • At some point, you have to switch your perspective from ‘writing what (or all that) you know’, to ‘writing for the reader so he/she understands your point’.
  • It will always be better; but at some point you need to let it go.
  • Less is more; depth rather than breadth.
  • Be yourself. Own it. Develop your authentic voice.
  • Believe in your original idea – it is instinctively right, and it will carry you through from start to end.
  • It will evolve; you will evolve.
  • It only reflects what you understand about human life and the world at a certain point in time. See above.
  • You will be a better writer after this.
  • Enjoy the journey.
  • Write it to share; write it to start conversations.
  • Make space for the practice of writing-thinking-editing. Sometimes the moment comes, sometimes it doesn’t. But work consistently at it and you will capture the moments when they come unannounced.
  • Talk it through, read it aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t read right.
  • It’s only the first. There will be more. It will be better.

CFP RC43: Foreign Real Estate Investments: Agents, Networks and Strategies

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 30 Mar 2017 (updated conference details here)

Foreign Real Estate Investments: Agents, Networks and Strategies

‘Unreal Estate? Rethinking Housing, Class and Identity’, ISA – RC43 Housing and the Built Environment Conference, 18-21 June 2017, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Organiser: Sin Yee Koh, Universiti Brunei Darussalam

Discussant: Dallas Rogers, University of Sydney

The phenomenon of real estate investments by foreign investor-buyers in major global cities has been well reported in the mainstream mass media. In London, there is increasing academic and policy attention on the impacts of absentee super-rich and middle-class foreign real estate investments on housing inequality and urban social life (Atkinson, 2016). In New York, luxury real estate developments have been linked to illicit foreign capital flows and housing affordability concerns (Madden and Marcuse, 2016). In Sydney, the influx of Mainland Chinese real estate investor-migrants, especially from China, has sparked parochial, perhaps even racist, protests and contestations (Rogers, 2016a), a reminder of similar discussions in Vancouver two decades earlier (Ley, 2017).

Recent scholarship has critically reflected on the new manifestations of foreign real estate investment. Empirically, the key global cities of the world continue to attract the attention of global real estate scholars (Atkinson, 2016; Ley, 2017). However, an emerging group of scholars is looking far beyond the cities of London, New York and Vancouver to consider so-called second- and third-tier global cities. Others have turned their attention to the problematic East/West divide to critically reflect on inter-Asia foreign real estate practices (Kan, 2017; Kim, 2017; Pow, 2017). Meanwhile, global real estate scholarship has entered an exciting phase of conceptual cross-pollination. Conceptual developments are emerging across: digital global real estate (Rogers, 2016b); the geopolitics of global real estate (Büdenbender & Golubchikov, 2017); the new middle-class and super-rich (Koh et al., 2016); the financialisation of housing (Fields, 2015); the brokerage of familial, migratory, and education considerations (Robertson and Rogers, in press); affect and belonging (Atkinson, 2016); assemblage theories (Büdenbender & Golubchikov, 2017; Rogers, 2016a); historical injustice and colonialism (Madden & Marcuse, 2016; Rogers, 2016a);  and youth and gender considerations (Knowles, 2016).

Within this context, investor-buyers are increasingly positioned by local media in the key investment cities as the new architects of housing discrimination.  Local discontent is often structured around housing, class, cultural and identity concerns. Indeed, the tendency has been to blame foreign real estate investor-buyers, be they super-rich or middle-class, and this diverts attention away from the more pressing task of engaging with broader cultural, historical, structural and other forms of socio-economic critique (Forrest et al., 2017; Koh et al., 2016). What are the structural capitalist forces that are central to contemporary urban political economies and thereby facilitate the flow of foreign capital? Who are the agents and intermediaries, and are they as equally complicit in any negative social consequences of global real estate? What are the networks and strategies that make up the complex foreign real estate assemblages?

This panel will address these questions by examining the agents, networks and strategies that constitute the global and local landscapes of foreign real estate investments around the world. The panel will consist of a suite of papers examining themes such as but not limited to:

  • Discourses: Racism, inter-cultural relations, neoliberalism
  • Policies: Housing, foreign investments, immigration
  • Agents: State and non-state institutions, intermediaries, mass media
  • Networks: Investment associations, social media groups
  • Strategies: Knowledge production and dissemination, investment product and tools
  • Consequences: Temporal and spatial inequalities, access to housing
  • Alternatives: Contestations, injustices, social movements

If you are interested in presenting in this panel, please send the following to by 30 Mar 2017.

  • Title of paper
  • Paper abstract (up to 300 words)
  • Your full name, email address, title/position, and institutional affiliation


  • Atkinson R. (2016) Limited exposure: Social concealment, mobility and engagement with public space by the super-rich in London. Environment and Planning A 48: 1302-1317.
  • Büdenbender M & Golubchikov O. (2017) The geopolitics of real estate: assembling soft power via property markets. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 75-96.
  • Fields D. (2015) Contesting the financialisation of urban space: Community orgainsations and the struggle to preserve affordable rental housing in New York City. Journal of Urban Affairs 37: 144-165.
  • Forrest R, Koh SY & Wissink B. (2017) Hyper-Divided Cities and the ‘Immoral’ Super-Rich – Five Parting Questions. In Forrest R, Koh SY & Wissink B (eds) Cities and the Super-Rich: Real Estate, Elite Practices, and Urban Political Economics (pp. 273–287). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kan K. (2017) The shifting (geo)politics of foreign real estate investment in China: A study of Hong Kong FDI. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 35-55.
  • Kim HM. (2017) Ethnic connections, foreign housing investment and locality: a case study of Seoul. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 120-144.
  • Knowles C. (2016) Young Chinese Migrants in London. Available at:
  • Koh SY, Wissink B and Forrest R. (2016) Reconsidering the Super-Rich: Variations, Structural Conditions and Urban Consequences. In: Hay I and Beaverstock J (eds) Handbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich. Cheltenham; Northampton: Edward Elgar, 18-40.
  • Ley D. (2017) Global China and the making of Vancouver’s residential property market. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 15-34.
  • Madden D and Marcuse P. (2016) In Defense of Housing, New York: Verso.
  • Pow CP (2017) Courting the ‘rich and restless’: globalisation of real estate and the new spatial fixities of the super-rich in Singapore. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 56-74.
  • Robertson S and Rogers D. (in press) Education, Real Estate, Immigration: Brokerage Assemblages and Asian Mobilities. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
  • Rogers D. (2016a) The geopolitics of real estate: Reconfiguring property, capital and rights, London: Rowman & Littlefield International.
  • Rogers D. (2016b) Uploading real estate: Home as a digital, global commodity. In: Cook N, Davison A & Crabtree L (eds) Housing and Home Unbound: Intersections in Economics, Environment and Politics in Australia (pp. 23-38). London: Routledge.

Seeking Interview Participants: Past & Present Expatriates in Brunei

Principal Investigator: Dr. Koh Sin Yee, Assistant Professor (Geography), Institute of Asian Studies (IAS), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD)

This academic research investigates the relocation motivations, experiences, and future plans of past and present expatriates in Brunei (i.e. foreigners who are employed and/or residing in Brunei). The research procedures have been approved by the University Research Ethics Committee. This project does not receive any funding from any institution or organisation.

I am currently seeking interview respondents for this project.

Am I eligible to participate?

I am looking for participants who fit EITHER of the following descriptions:

  1. Expatriate/foreigner (including accompanying spouse/partner) who is currently employed and/or residing in Brunei; OR
  2. Expatriate/foreigner (including accompanying spouse/partner) who has relocated from Brunei after a period of working and/or living in Brunei

What does participation entail?

The interview will take about 30-40 minutes, and can be conducted in person (preferred), over Skype, or via email. The date, time, and venue can be arranged to suit your availability and convenience. The interview can be conducted in English and Mandarin.

The interview will focus on the following:

  1. Reasons for relocating to/from Brunei
  2. Relocation experiences
  3. Work and family life in Brunei
  4. Future relocation plans, if any

How will the data be used?

All data collected for the project will be used for the purpose of academic research only. Responses will be kept strictly confidential and anonymous. The data will be represented in a way so that no individual can be identified. The research findings may be published in academic journal articles, books and book chapters, working papers, reports, and/or blogs.

Sounds great. I am interested!

Please email me at to arrange for an interview, or if you have any questions.

You can also fill up this contact form.

I can’t participate. How can I help?

Please forward this invitation to other past and present expatriates in Brunei.

Urban Vignettes: Launch of new season

Urban Vignettes is a collaborative visual-based blog capturing the different ways people experience, negotiate and engage with city life as the world undergoes the largest wave of urban growth in history.

We have just launched our new season, “Urban Observers”. We invite you to submit your observations of cities and urban life. Each submission should consist of one visual accompanied by a short vignette of 200 words. See details of the call for contributions here.

Published: Book review

My review of Indian and Chinese immigrant communities edited by Jayati Bhattacharya and Coonoor Kripalani for ASEASUK News, 59(Spring 2016)

Indian and Chinese people have been migrating for centuries. Through the ages, their migration flows have encompassed trade migration, large scale indentured labour migration (especially during the colonial period), refugee migration, voluntary labour migration of all skill levels, marriage migration, student migration, and others. As a result of the cumulative migration flows, there are now established and new Indian and Chinese diasporic communities scattered across the globe. The size of the overseas Chinese and Indian communities are currently estimated to be 40 million (p. xiii) and 22 million (The Economist, 2011) respectively. The recent rise of India and China as economic and political powers in the global arena has further fuelled academic and policy interests on Indian and Chinese immigrants who are residing in various host countries worldwide. Seen in this broader context of global migration, shifting international relations and political economy, this volume is a timely contribution towards a better comparative understanding of Indian and Chinese immigrant communities and their migration histories.

Although migration flows in the Global South is not a new phenomenon, it is arguably only recently that migration scholarship has started to turn its attention to South-South migration flows. This has been in part informed by the fact that South-South migration is now larger than South-North migration (KNOMAD, 2015). While it is relatively common to find edited volumes examining South-South migration flows of a particular immigrant community, it is relatively rare to find works that compare two ethnic immigrant communities. It is even rarer to find interdisciplinary volumes that interrogate the intersections and interactions between two large ethnic immigrant communities. It is here that this book differentiates itself. In focusing its attention on the overlaps and interactions between the Indian and the Chinese communities in different geographical locations, this book highlights how common issues faced by migrants – such as identity and belonging, nationality and citizenship rights, adaptation and integration, discrimination and exclusion, conflicts and contestations, diaspora and transnationalism – materialise and pan out in nuanced and complex ways for these two ethnic diasporas.

This book is the outcome of a similarly titled workshop held in 2010, jointly organised by the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the Institute of Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, and the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (incorporating the Centre of Asian Studies), University of Hong Kong. The workshop takes as a precedence a forum held in Hong Kong a decade earlier in 2000, organised by the Centre of Asian Studies, Hong Kong University, in collaboration with the Consulate-General of India in Hong Kong, which resulted in an edited volume entitled Chinese and Indian Diasporas: Comparative Perspectives (Wong, 2004). This connection probably explains this book’s focus on the Indian and Chinese immigrant communities, as well as the adoption of a comparative approach towards the collective analysis of these two ethnic diasporas. Notwithstanding this precedence, and as the editors explain, this book’s comparative approach is more specifically aimed at highlighting ‘the sociocultural, economic and religious spaces … created by [these] transnational communities … and the resonances of transition and accommodation that were then experienced in different spheres of activity’ (p. xiv).

Organised into four sections, this volume contains 16 chapters, in addition to an introduction and a postscript chapter. The first section, consisting of 3 chapters, covers historical antecedents and the raises the question of nationality. The second section – the largest section consisting of 7 chapters – focuses on Southeast Asia as the meeting ground for Indian and Chinese immigrants. The third section, consisting of 4 chapters, examines Indians in China and Chinese in India. The fourth section, made up of only 2 chapters, takes a global perspective and examines Indian and Chinese diasporas.

Despite the slightly unequal geographical representation of this volume, the editors have carefully selected and juxtaposed chapters in a way that facilitates the comparative gesture. Chapters focusing on one ethnic immigrant community in a specific location (e.g. Edmund Terence Gomez’s chapter on Chinese business in Malaysia) are sandwiched between chapters that compare the two ethnic immigrant communities – either in the same location (e.g. Jayati Bhattacharya’s chapter on Indian and Chinese jewellers in Singapore) or across two temporal periods (e.g. Hanashita Takeshi’s chapter on Indian and Chinese migrants’ remittance systems in nineteenth and twentieth centuries). There are also chapters that examine one ethnic immigrant community in two or more locations (e.g. Jayani Bonnerjee’s chapter on Hindu spaces in the Chinatowns in Kolkata and Singapore, and Zhang Xing’s chapter on Chinese Indians in Kolkata, Sihui and Toronto).

This volume is a useful resource for scholars interested in understanding the migrant experience – especially from the perspectives of migrant and diasporic communities. Drawing from the disciplines of history, geography, political science, anthropology, sociology, and film studies, the chapters in this volume showcase strong parallels and divergences in the Indian and Chinese immigrant experiences. More importantly, this book highlights the resilience of Indian and Chinese immigrant communities as they migrate and build their new homes wherever they may settle. As the world becomes progressively borderless and transnational, and new migrations map onto old paths and established communities, this book brings home the fact that migration is an increasingly complex phenomenon that requires renewed approaches and methodologies for us to fully comprehend.


2015 Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD). Migration and remittances factbook 2016. Washington D.C.: World Bank Group. Retrieved 24 Dec, 2015, from

2011 The Economist (2011, 17 Nov) Mapping migration: where are the world’s biggest Chinese and Indian immigrant communities? Accessed 24 Feb 2016, at

2014 Wong, S.-l. (ed.). Chinese and Indian diasporas: Comparative perspectives. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong.

Published: Book chapter

Update 27 Mar 2017: Citation updated as this chapter is now published in print.

Koh, S.Y. (2017). Geographies of Education-Induced Skilled Migration: The Malaysian Case. In T. Abebe & J. Waters (Eds.), Labouring and Learning (pp. 221-242). Vol.10 of Skelton, T. (Editor-in-chief) Geographies of Children and Young People. Singapore: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-981-287-032-2_15


This chapter provides an overview of Malaysia’s skilled migration through the concept of “education-induced migration.” The focus of this chapter is twofold: firstly, to explain how their migration pathways need to be contextualized to Malaysia’s race-stratified education system that was institutionalized during the British colonial period and, secondly, to explain how Malaysia’s skilled migration needs to be seen as a continuum from young people’s education migration pathways. This chapter consists of five sections. The first section introduces the theoretical and empirical backgrounds to Malaysia’s education-induced skilled migration. The second section provides the historical background to the institutionalization and development of Malaysia’s race-stratified education system. The third section gives an overview of the geographies of higher education for Malaysian students in public, private, and overseas institutions. The fourth section reviews available data suggesting evidence of education-induced skilled migration among the Malaysian diaspora and describes two examples of such migration paths among non-bumiputera student-turned Malaysian skilled migrants in Singapore. The final section concludes this chapter and calls for researchers to adopt a continuum lens in understanding young people’s learning-to-laboring migration processes.


Education-induced skilled migration, education system, higher education, learning to laboring, Malaysia, race

NOTE: Contact me if you don’t have institutional access, and would like to read the full chapter.