Reviews Transnational and cosmopolitan families. Exploring diversity among migrants

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Baltic Worlds 3:2017, p 93-94
Published on balticworlds.com on november 10, 2017

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This book is a welcome and fascinating addition to the recent debates on family migration to, from and within the diverse European countries and beyond. The collection begins with a substantial introduction on transnational differences and cosmopolitan meanings in the lives of families and couples who are originally coming from or are related to so-called Eastern Europe. I really enjoyed this book!

I felt like I was thinking right along with the authors especially, when reading the introduction. I highly recommend this piece. Research on family migration to/from/within this very diverse region is a much needed topic to explore. Firstly, Eastern European migrants have for too long been portrayed as “economic migrants”, and we still know too little and our knowledge is still too scattered regarding the diversity of the broad field of family migration. Economic aspects, of course, play an important role in family matters, but if we begin our journey from the understanding of family relations, such an endeavour is much richer and nuanced. Throughout the theoretical introduction and diverse contributions, we can see that “free movers” actually do not see themselves or their relatives as economic migrants. People do not use such vocabulary in their everyday discourses.

This collection approaches the whole region as a locus of diversity — from economically thriving Poland, to poorer Albania, from member states of the European Union (EU) to candidate states and (potential) candidate states. We use different alphabets in Eastern Europe, have different dominant religions and so many languages. Due to geopolitical positioning and different migration “freedoms” or “restrictions”, human movements across national and regional borders vary greatly across this space. In lay discourses, we tend to quickly judge and compare states and societies according to standards (who imposed these, one might ask ….) such as closeness or distance to the West. Differences in this region are multiply layered, and various in-between processes of identification and belonging flourish in Eastern Europe.

The critical inquiry into differences within the region, countries and communities complicates the picture even further. Although we are, again, used to thinking about Eastern Europe as an emigration region, as source-countries, many families are “truly” transnational and cosmopolitan — they live, travel, and maintain ties not only within Europe, but also globally.

 

The book consists of the introduction and ten chapters and is divided into three parts. The first deals with transnational families from a gendered perspective.

It includes contributions on cross-border fathering in transnational Ukrainian families and develops a typology of “check-paying fathers”, “re-emerging fathers” and “waning fathers” according to the degree of responsibility the men feel towards their families back home. This is a much needed contribution; we know increasingly more about female migration from Ukraine to various European countries, but this chapter fills the gap in research of gendered remittances, fatherhood remittances and changing men’s roles in migratory contexts. This part also features a chapter on human trafficking of Romanian women in Italy and how family and emotional ties are used as coercive instruments by exploiters. It also explores the correlation between children left behind and human trafficking. The next chapter takes a different vantage point — the emancipation of Romanian migrant women — and rightly points out that feminist approaches are still seldomly used in Central and Eastern European migration studies. For the highly skilled, transnational lifestyles are rather congruent with their vocation, and emancipation goes hand in hand with lifestyle migration. Professionals engage in migratory careers with motivations that are not solely economic. Their main motivations, indeed, can be lifestyle and related to positive risk-taking. These individuals want to explore the world, and they see migration as an existential endeavour, or even an adventure.

Finally, in this first part, comes a chapter on work-family balance analysis in a migration context and through a gender lens. It addresses women’s emancipation and nuances of redefining motherhood among Albanian women in Greece. The chapter probes the question of how transnational mothers expand the concept of hegemonic mothering. Working migrant mothers feel much guiltier that they cannot fit everything within 24 hours, including work, career, and care for family members. During the economic crisis in Greece, many men, including and especially migrant men, lost their jobs, and more women became the bread-winners for their families.

The next part of the book is devoted to couples in the context of migration and begins with a contribution on Polish couples in Norway. The authors argue that when acquiring egalitarian capital in an egalitarian country like Norway, the paramount importance lies in mediums and relations within which migrants are embedded. The difference in gender egalitarian Norway in comparison to Poland therefore shapes integration practices among migrants. In sum, the specific egalitarian capital is gained through socialisation processes in migration contexts and in the dynamics of a family life.

The next chapter provides an in-depth single case study of a Chinese–Hungarian couple. It follows to the twists and turns in the decades-long life story of a Hungarian woman married to a Chinese wholesale tradesman. The contribution is well-grounded in the broader context of Chinese migration to Hungary and in the contradictions of a transnational family-business career and an independent professional career in couple relationships. I want to especially highlight the chapter by Ducu and Hossu on bi-national couples living in a third country with potentially tri-national children. As someone studying translocal families within the Baltic-Nordic region, I was especially delighted to find useful coneptualizations and interpretations of the choices that are made among such couples. For instance, couples can chose a language that is “neutral” — neither the mother’s nor the father’s but, for instance, from a country where the couple met or their previous residence. The authors make a convincing case for how families choose language practices to escape power relations, and such practices become a focal point of a couple’s subjective history. This might be at odds with dominant and rigid ideas of migrant integration, but family migration has never been a straightforward case for “managing” migration or integration. Besides, bi-national couples pose a challenge for return migration too; returning “home” means at least two countries, and one of these, or both, can be completely “foreign” countries to their children.

Third, and the shorter part, of the book is devoted to transnationalism during childhood. It consists of two contributions. One is on children who were “left behind” in Romania and are young adults today. The experiences of these young adults are studied both quantitatively and qualitatively. Finally, the last chapter deals with the issue of adoption of Eastern European children after the “Iron curtain” deregulations. Written from a human rights perspective, it probes deeper i into how events in recent history have led to a lack of trust in institutions responsible for child adoption. The study provides a useful global overview of why many countries have banned international adoption, and it emphasizes the relevance of national laws, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia.

In sum, this is a book full of rich, critical ideas and original contributions. On a slightly critical note, which may be inevitable in most publications, claiming coverage of “Eastern Europe,” the book is somewhat dominated by contributions from and about Romania. The Baltic states are overlooked here although some commentators might be pleased that the political efforts to getting rid of packaging the Baltic states in such an “invented region” are underway. Nonetheless, such in-depth contributions of family migration to, from and within the Baltics would also be a very welcome addition to the migration literature landscape.

Lastly, do not forget to read footnotes of the introduction. These are particularly strong, critical and well developed. To one of the footnotes, I added an exclamation mark. Indeed, why do we tend to think about family migrants and care only in terms of “moral economy”? If we approach family migration within the conceptual framework of political economy, we might make a leap forward in recognizing the relevance of family in current migration regimes. 

 

Viorela Ducu and Áron Telegdi-Csetri, Managing “Difference” in Eastern-European Transnational Families. Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Main, 2016, 190 pages.