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Book review: Handbook on Migration and the Family

By Lena Hartz | Issue 23

Photo by the author, review book copy courtesy of Edward Elgar Publishing.

The Handbook on Migration and the Family edited by Johanna L. Waters and Brenda S.A. Yeoh discusses the family’s impact on migration and vice versa. The focus is mostly on transnational families, which here also include members of the extended family, not only the nuclear family. Families are a ‘deep-rooted institution’ (p.1), and thus it makes sense to give them special consideration when analysing the social phenomenon of migration. Moreover, family reunion has long been the largest entry category, with marriage migration becoming increasingly important.

The family has become a site for migration research as it was gradually understood that the migrant is not only male and does not migrate solely for economic reasons. It also goes hand in hand with the paradigm shifts within migration research as transnationalism was accepted as a dimension of research and conceptualisation of migration patterns. Notions of “doing family” are being explored here, from how to maintain family ties across distances to how migrant domestic workers help define family constellations in host countries. This book is divided into four categories: gender relations and subjectivities; age and intergenerational relationships; power, social inequalities and social mobility; and spatialities and temporalities. Most chapters find themselves in human geography and sociology but the book overall is interdisciplinary.

In the first section on gender and subjectivities, Rosie Cox, Terese Anving and Sara Eldén analyse how migrant domestic workers, who are mostly women, help shape families and gender (in)equalities in different care regimes. Neil Amber Judge and Margaret Walton-Roberts focus on the constraints but also the opportunities marriage migration provides. As most of the existing literature on transnational families focuses on economic migrants, Biftu Yousuf and Jennifer Hyndman zoom in on families who have become transnational due to violence. All of these aspects around transnational families affect women and men differently. Lan Anh Hoang discusses the formation of Vietnamese masculinities and manhood, when the men are left behind to look after the family while their wives migrate and become the main breadwinner. Earvin Charles Cabalquinto and Yang Hu explore how digitalisation facilitates the transnationalisation of intimacy.

The section of age and intergenerational relationships treats one part of society that is affected by migration but rarely analysed in detail: children. That is in part due to the fact that it is ethically difficult to get information from children for research purposes without passing through their parents, and that they are often seen in a passive way as their parents’ dependents. Sin Yee Koh and I Lin Sin in their chapter specifically bring transnationally mobile children’s voices to the fore. Often migration decisions are taken in children’s interests but would not necessarily be what children would wish for. According to Caitríona Ní Laoire migration always affects multiple generations within a family, which then impacts family dynamics. C. Cindy Fan analyses how long-term separation in transnational families defines gender roles and intergenerational relationships, and its impact on children specifically. Weronika Kloc-Nowak and Louise Ryan reviewed research on transnational ties and practices between migrants in the UK and their families back in Poland.

The section about power, social inequalities and social mobility is reminiscent of the two first sections to the extent that discussions pertaining to gender and children’s rights and wishes, as well as those of other family members that are likely to be dependent, are usually linked to questions of power and inequalities. Johanna L. Waters and Zhe Wang’s chapter shows that families are often the enablers of social mobility, by financing education abroad for instance, but at the same time exert a controlling pressure. At times, if the family helps the attainment of a privileged education, they expect to also benefit from the results of that education. Sophie Cranston and George Tan analyse the family practices within the elite corporate expatriation and how they are linked to the wellbeing of the family and, specifically, the expatriated children. These practices need to be viewed through the prism of privilege that comes with expatriation as opposed to immigration. Cathy McIlwaine focuses on the intersectional gendered power relations which shape the experiences of migration, and international migrant women’s vulnerability vis-à-vis domestic violence. Yanbao Hao and Maggi W.H. Leung add a third perspective to the research around academic mobility: that of the academic migrant’s family. Claire Fletcher makes an important contribution to the research on LGBTQI+ transnational families.

The last section on spatialities and temporalities treats, amongst others, the under-researched notion of time within family and migration. Family migration does not only happen through spaces and distances but also creates spaces. ‘Seasonality’ is an example where ‘temporality and spatiality clearly intersect’ (p.11). Denise L. Spritzer and Sara Torres researched the impact of long-term separation and subsequent reunification of transnational families. Annabelle Wilkins interviewed Vietnamese people in London to learn more about how they project themselves in the future of their migration process. Thomas Saetre Jakobsen, Sam Scott and Johan Fredrik Rye analyse the impact of the separation of spaces of work and spaces of family and community on low-wage labour migrants. Theodora Lam researched the experiences of “left behind children”, meaning children whose parents (either one or both) migrated abroad or away for work, usually leaving them in the care of other family members. Franchesca Morais and Brenda S.A. Yeoh pick apart how mobility regimes impact on the time and space of transnational family practices.

The book, which relies in large parts on reviewing and regrouping existing research, also draws on some empirical research. It includes a large number of perspectives mixing different generations and more or less privileged migrants. Different reasons to migrate such as economic reasons, education and family reunification are considered.

Some of the areas which need further research, as pointed out by the authors, are the experiences of LGBTQI+ families as well as of disabled migrants. I would add that, when speaking of generational research, throughout the book there was a lot more focus on children than on elderly parents and grand-parents and their respective roles. This book already does a wonderful job of regrouping many themes around family and migration and includes rarer themes such as emotions (guilt, nostalgia, affection, hope etc). I think the research gaps it still leaves are those of adoption and forced migration.

Overall, it is a very intriguing read spanning many perspectives and a great number of locations. It offers an almost complete introduction into the subject of migration and the family.

Lena Hartz grew up in Luxembourg. She completed an MA in International Relations and Literature in a World Context at the University of Aberdeen and spent a year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. During her MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, her research focused on EU development and migration politics in West Africa and its colonial legacies. After working for Luxembourg’s development cooperation agency in Senegal, and completing an MSc in Global Ethics and Justice, she now works for an association which facilitates integration and intercultural community building. In her free time, Lena loves to travel, read and volunteer with her local scout group. Lena is an editor at Routed Magazine.


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