Family and Migration
I had the honor of organizing ISA RC06 seminar in Lithuania two times: the topic of 1993 seminar was “Rapid Social Change and Family”. It was supported by the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology under the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (you can find the program here). In 2013, I have opted for the topic “Family and Migration”. The seminar attracted 30 researchers from eleven countries of the world. The seminar took place in Vilnius University and was supported by CFR and the Research Council of Lithuania (you can view the program here). When organizing a seminar after twenty years, I aimed not so much for continuity as for focusing on issues that concern Eastern European (Lithuanian among them) family sociologists today. Obviously, the two seminars differ in their topics and the emotional charge they carry. Remembering year 1993, back then seminar participants were interested in changes affecting family life at the end of the 20th century and could observe in real-time the situation in Lithuania in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, Lithuania has just restored its independence. The end of the Soviet regime and dogmatic family ideology promised positive changes – in family life and family sociology, both.
Twenty years later, I suggested examining the questions of family and migration. Does that mean that the period marked by optimistic mood and expectations of “new life” is already over and we witness shift of focus to – one could say, even concern over – the consequences of global mobility? That is precisely how the situation stands when viewed from the perspective of Lithuania. Social reality – mass emigration from Lithuania and the impact of global mobility on the family – became more than just a strategic problem for the nation-state. It also challenges the theory of family sociology, its research methodologies and practical work with individual families.
Using the privilege bestowed on hosts organizing CFR seminars, I have suggested several topics, introduced here as intentions.
The first topic is connected to a widespread belief in Lithuania that family is a small part of society, situated within a nation state. The image of nuclear family as a benchmark is officially established in the National Family Policy Conception (2008), while the spirit of nationalism connects the family with one nation state and does not recognize the fact that humans are capable of creating family constructs across several nation states. Established theoretical (perhaps even ideological) family schemes prevent from recognizing families as lived realities, brought about by mobility of individuals.
I suggested the emphasis of the CFR Seminar on how families are shaped by mobility? Whether identification of an individual and family with a fixed locality and nation state is still evident? How families are affected by multiple national residences and transnational identities, whether belonging to de-located families is in contradiction with feelings of belonging to nation state?
Secondly, my focus was on the reasoning that global mobility suggests the new modes of sociological analysis of families. I aimed to open the discussion about new phenomena and new concepts come up to emphasize the networks and boundaries of emerging family variations and seek to define their diverse lived realities. Whether these phenomena reveal the opportunities for families or mark the new sources of social stigma? It seemed reasonable to bring the social category of „the other“, disclose class and cultural connotations of the concept, and go on with the word „migrant“, usually attributed to economic migration, then continue with the transnational elites as „mobiles“ – neutral word without connotations of social stigma.
The third topic. In my view, the topic of family and migration often attracts much more scrutiny in destination countries. Questions examining how emigrants integrate into new cultural environment, how they define relation with a titular nation, as well as social assistance to migrants and their families are often addressed in scientific journals and essays. Holding the seminar in Lithuania presented an excellent opportunity to take a look at the other side of global mobility – examine the perspective of countries subject to citizen emigration as well as look into family doing practices of emigrating people (and not view them solely as cheap labor force). I had an idea of introducing emigration flows from Lithuania, complement the overview of migration directions with sociological analysis of the situation, and later illustrate it with visual material by screen a documentary film and holding post-screening discussion.
I will leave it up to seminar participants to judge whether the idea has paid off. Meanwhile, I will share my own reflections.
Definitions. How families are shaped by mobility? The distinctions between commuting and migration, „mobiles“ and „migrants“ were introduced. Attention was drawn to ambivalence of used concepts and their relation to different family practices within various social and cultural contexts. The analysis of family constructs has inevitably raised the eternal question: what do we mean by family? Who is perceived as family members in cross boarder living arrangements? Is it different, if we take the perspective of a person, labeled as „migrant“, „mobile“, „left behind“? Going further, what meanings we attribute to „transnational“ family? What do one mean by „transnational social capital of the family“?
New concepts. The concept of Displaying Family was introduced. It shows that migrant family life must not only be „done“, but also be „seen to be done“. In my opinion, this concept can be successfully developed within the context of study of families undergoing migration, because within the new social and cultural contexts it is necessary to demonstrate to the audience that “we consider ourselves to be a family” and migrant family practices are not tantamount to “destruction”.
“The other”. In migration studies, “I” and “other”, “we” and “others” constitute an important chain in sociological analysis. The question was raised about whether otherness of the “other” is always clearly defined and verbalized, whether the “other” can be analyzed from the perspective of secrets, taboos, and silence? Such perspective creates pre-conditions for analyzing migration issues through the lens of memories. The latter might include micro-macro analysis of contexts, meanings, behaviors.
Phenomena. Several phenomena related to mobility were introduced. Russian-Jewish „babushka“, as institution of family support and child rearing was discussed. This was to disclose the social construction of „womanhood“, relationships between mothers and daughters, growing significance of elderly in the family. The phenomenon of nannies from the Third World countries has highlighted voluntary integration of the cultural “other” into families for the purpose of caring for elderly people and childcare. It was demonstrated how pragmatic exchange relations gradually transform themselves into attachment/hate relations and can lead to unforeseen effects on the family life.
Theories. What theory should be used to ground the study of families in migration? In the theoretical introduction suggestions were made to invoke SI perspective, based on further development of G. H. Mead’s “I” and “me”. The application of this perspective, to my mind, provides an excellent opportunity to invoke timeless classics for analysis of contemporary realities. Several speakers espoused SI perspective, though participants have also discussed life course perspective and actor-network theory, which is increasingly popular in the age of mobility, dynamic relations and Internet.
Two perspectives: countries of destination and origin. Majority of speakers have presented research on status of migrant families in destination countries: UK, Germany, Israel, France, USA, Austria, and Taiwan. Participants analyzed specific features of interpersonal relations and bi-national couples, discussed cases of children’s bilingualism, transnational parenting strategies – different for mothers and fathers, presented experiences of women as mothers, daughters, and wives. Migrant social networks, strategies for organizing financial assistance, and their connection to political, economic, legal culture of nation states and historical experience of ethnic migrant groups were also the topics for discussion.
The situation of Lithuania, as a country supplying migrants, was analyzed on the levels of emigration trends, sociological research, and social documentaries. Sociological analysis disclosed how Lithuanian society is shaped by meaning-making institutions producing knowledge about migration and migrant families. The development of the outline to migrant family research was introduced: the possibilities to apply pragmatic approach, mixed method research and integrative methodology were suggested. R. Hill’s family change model was treated as conceptual axis of family research through the lens of changes, resources, definitions of the situations and impact management practices. The movie about children left behind, firstly, aimed to introduce the challenges brought to families. Secondly, the movie and comments by film maker served as the example of the social construction of reality shaped by the knowledge of film maker and technologies which produce “truthful” images about phenomena.