EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Mobility, precarity, and the activation of kinship and intimacy [ANTHROMOB]
Location U6-7
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Valerio Simoni (The Graduate Institute, Geneva) email
  • Nadine Fernandez (SUNY/Empire State College) email
  • Anna Zadrożna (Yeditepe University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Adriana Piscitelli

Short Abstract

This panel reconsiders the role of intimacy and kinship in the (re)configuration of mobile people's life-courses, trajectories, and livelihoods when faced with unprecedented, highly policed cross-border movements around the world, and a range of 'crisis' situations.

Long Abstract

With unprecedented, highly policed cross-border movements, and a range of 'crisis' situations, the relationship between precarity and mobility is increasingly apparent. This panel reconsiders the role of intimacy and kinship in the (re)configuration of mobile people's life-courses and livelihoods amid precarity. Precarity, an outcome of the unequal distribution of vulnerabilities, is linked to structural conditions of crisis, limited opportunities for making a living, as well as the status of mobile populations confronting different immigration regimes. While narratives of crisis have become ubiquitous, its different manifestations merit anthropological scrutiny, as do their connections with intimate and kin formations. Encouraging reflection on kinship and intimacy, their temporal dimensions, and their punctual activation in mobile people's lives, the panel highlights the roles and effects of kinship and intimacy in imagining and designing a future deemed worth living. We thus uncover the connections between the (re/des)activation of intimacies and kinship ties (e.g. with friends, lovers, family members, foreign spouses) on the one hand, and issues of status, citizenship, well-being, and livelihood on the other. When life projects and the establishment of continuity can be difficult to imagine and sustain, kin and intimate relations may provide new ways for people to manage, advance, and create meaning in their lives, bridging their past with a (still uncertain) future. On the other hand, these relations and ties can become a driving force for migration, with uncertainty as more appealing when confronted with obligations towards one's kin.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


From clients to "friends" or "lovers": Brazilian sex workers coping with the economic crisis in Spain

Author: Adriana Piscitelli (State University of Campinas/UNICAMP)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I analyze the connection between precarity and intimacy considering how Brazilian sex workers have coped with the economic crisis in Spain, shifting their preferences from increasingly scarce and impoverished clients to "friends", "lovers" or "men who help."

Long Abstract

In this paper I consider the connections between increased precarity and intimacy, taking into account how Brazilian sex workers have coped with the economic crisis in Spain. The analysis focuses on the effects of the shift of preferences in sexual and economic exchanges of migrants who consider themselves professionalized prostitutes. In a recent past they privileged prostitution above other possible interchanges. Yet, in the context of the economic crisis, they began to prefer the economic and sexual exchanges they could establish with "friends", "lovers", or "men who help" to those with increasingly scarce and impoverished clients. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research carried out since 2004 with Brazilian migrants in Spain, I look at the economic, affective and subjective implications of this shift. Analyzing the trajectories of two Brazilian women and a transvestite who I have accompanied for ten years in Barcelona, I consider how the economic reconfigurations caused by the crisis in Spain lead to an alteration of sexual economies and the intimate dimensions of life.

"With this old fat body!": Chinese middle-aged women in the Italian Sex Industry

Author: Martina Bristot (The University of Hong Kong)  email

Short Abstract

The paper will address the case of Chinese middle-aged women who engage in the Italian sex industry, by shedding light on how intimacy and love are both important drivers and outcomes of their migration experience and occupational choice.

Long Abstract

Prostitution, despite being predominantly a migrant labour in many parts of the world, is still widely neglected by migration studies. Yet, migrant sex workers are often addressed by individual parties (including scholars, policy-makers, and journalists) as potentially linked to human trafficking and sexual slavery, whilst the idea of sex work as an actively chosen occupation refused. By using narratives of migrant sex workers as a starting point, this paper will address the case of Chinese middle-aged women who decide to engage in the Italian sex industry. Going back to their lived experiences in China, the paper will shed light on how preexistent situations of material and social vulnerability become crucial drivers for transnational migration solely when marital relationships come to an end. Being alone to deal with their uncertain futures and already too old to be competitive in any niche of the Chinese labour market (including the sex industry), middle-aged divorced women migrate in order to work in the manufacture or domestic service overseas. However, once at destination they discover that their "old bodies" could generate much greater income from sexual rather than manual labour. Sex work becomes the site where they renegotiate their intimacy, relationships, and love. The aim of this paper is to shed light on how intimacy and love are both drivers and outcomes of the migration experience of Chinese women in the Italian sex industry. The paper will present data collected through participant observation and interviews in different Italian cities since 2014.

Spanish precarities, Cuban intimacies, and vice versa: rethinking sentiment and economy among Cuban migrants

Author: Valerio Simoni (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)  email

Short Abstract

Focusing on how Cuban migrants in the city of Barcelona assessed changes in living conditions in Cuba and Spain, the paper explores the entanglements between emerging horizons of possibility, the re-valuation of kin and intimate relations, and different notions of precarity and crisis.

Long Abstract

In the Cuban milieus I frequented in Barcelona (Spain), a common narrative saw migrants leave behind a crisis-ridden Cuba, with the hope of joining a more affluent Spain, only to plunge in yet another crisis. A context of increased precarity and frustrated hopes led migrants to reassess their experiences in Spain, their lives in Cuba, as well as the changes taking place in both countries. Current reforms in Cuba, for instance, could be read as a sign of new opportunities opening up. Linking a decline in living conditions with transformations in their relations with Spanish and Cuban nationals, my interlocutors pointed to the tendency, among migrants like them, to look back to Cuba and fellow Cubans with a growing sense of possibility and communal solidarity. The prospects of a renewed engagement with Cuba could lead to plans of setting up a small business or investing in family property on the island. The contrasts entailed between Spanish and Cuban forms of sociability, examples of successful returns home, and provocative remarks about what it meant to be poor 'here' and 'there', could all result in wider reflections on the meaning and value of having a 'good life', destabilizing previously taken for granted assumptions. Focusing on the experiences and imaginaries that migrants associated with the evolving contexts of Cuba and Spain, the paper explores the entanglements between changes in living conditions and possibilities, the re-valuation of kin and intimate relations, and the very notions of precarity and crisis.

Precarious ties and heterosexual lies? "Cruel optimism" in the shadows of reproductive mobility

Author: Susan Frohlick (University of British Columbia)  email

Short Abstract

Precarity haunts heterosexual Euro-North American women as mobile subjects accessing reproductive trajectories beyond the borders of their home countries. Intimate ties and heterosexual imaginaries are precarious manifestations in the context of lifestyle migration to Costa Rica.

Long Abstract

This paper explores two related sets of precariousness haunting heterosexual Euro-North American women's experiences of reproduction as expatriates or lifestyle migrants in Costa Rica. One is the precarity of intimate ties partially and imperfectly formed with local families when as foreigners they have children out of sexual relations with local men, in which economic and class differences are often stark. A second is the precarity of heteronormativity or heterosexual imaginaries underpinning dreams of being a nuclear family while forging a "new life" away from Europe or North America. While ties to intimate sociality and relatedness are sought by Costa Ricans in relations with foreigners, my research turns to a different narrative, one of foreigners' precarity in intimate ties with locals. As highly mobile populations, expatriates may have acquired the means to seek "families of choice" outside of their home countries and, especially, in desirable tourist destinations. Yet desires for the sought-after multi-cultural mixed race family animate power imbalances and the "thinness" of what some hope could be deeper "blood" relations. These narratives evoke broader questions about the effects of mobility engendered to heterosexual Euro-North American women in an era of international travel and "lifestyle migration" (Benson and O'Reilly 2009) on translocal kinship formations but also on the state of "the cruel optimism" (Berlant 2011) that continues to reign over heteronormative values.

'Becoming' a man in transnational Senegambian-Spain migration

Author: Irene Beydals (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Stockholm Universitet)  email

Short Abstract

'Goorgoorlu' is the Wolof expression for a self-made man, who overcomes obstacles and manages to stay afloat. The transnational, often precaire, migration becomes a form to earn respect and form a masculine gender-identity, yet can stress relationships with family and friends back home.

Long Abstract

From a transnational fieldwork with Senegalese and Gambian (Senegambian) migrants in Barcelona, Spain and Senegalese living in Dakar and Saint Louis, Senegal I propose a specific look into transnational migration of Senegambians from a gender perspective.

Why do mostly men migrate? What does this migration or longing to migrate mean for their gender-identity forming? How do these migrant men manage their relationships with family and friends in Senegal and Gambia? How do they manage to form an identity in line with their ideals of masculinity in an foreign, and often precarious situation? And, how do they form transnational links between their new relationships in Spain and their origines in West Africa, for example in the case of foreign love-interests?

Love, care, and money: the ambiguity of kinship as a support basis in unstable times

Author: Helena Patzer (Warsaw University)  email

Short Abstract

In the paper I track the ways in which family members become sources of support in times of crisis, calamity, or social instability. Analyzing the case of underpriviledged Filipinos, I argue that relying on kinship relations becomes a common, yet ambiguous, strategy to attain a better life.

Long Abstract

In the proposed paper I track the ways in which family members become sources of support in times of crisis, calamity, or social instability. Analyzing the case of underpriviledged Filipinos, I argue that relying on kinship relations becomes a common, yet ambiguous, strategy to attain a better life. The other side of this assistance is the entanglement in a web of hard to escape reciprocal obligations.

The support received from kin enables migration, and thus social mobility: migrants not only pay the overseas employment agency fees, arrange employment or family-reunification schemes, but also become a source of information about life abroad. Having relatives abroad contributes to the betterment of one's social position: by sending in regular remittances, building a house, but also providing the necessary emergency resource basis. The ability to go through a crisis unscathed seems to be of most importance here, as it is the unplanned medical, repair, or other family expenses which have for a long-time been the source of instability.

Based on fragments of my ethnographic film about transnational family life, I discuss the relations between long-distance affection, care, and power. A close observation of the workings of such a family brings to the fore the intricate ways in which family-members maneuver their duties and obligations, taking them on and escaping from them, in a struggle to maintain their individual agency. This might also result in breaking some relationships and establishing new ones, which allow for more stability or freedom.

Family reunification immigration in Canada: love, intimacy and mobility strategies in North-South transnational marriages

Author: Karine Geoffrion (Université de Montréal)  email

Short Abstract

In the current context of (cumbersome) immigration procedures in Canada, this paper draws on the conjugal trajectories of Canadian women married to non-Canadian men focusing on their experience of the family reunification process and on their transnational intimacy strategies.

Long Abstract

In the current context of (cumbersome) family reunification immigration procedures in Canada and ever increasing delays in the processing of "foreign" spouses' files, this paper explores the strategies Canadian women married to non-Canadian men have developed in order to "make it" through the Canadian family reunification process despite the tactics exerted by the state to deter such unions. It draws on the conjugal trajectories of thirty Canadian women who are or have been in an intimate relationship with a non-Canadian man living in a "non-western" country, focusing on their experience of the family reunification process. Eight months of participant observation in two online communities of Canadian women married to or sponsoring the immigration of a non-Canadian man further enrich the discussion.

I argue that the immigration of their spouse to Canada becomes, for the women, a personal and emotionally loaded project to be achieved by all means. First, I explore some of the strategies the women develop in order to see their partner "in the flesh" as often as possible, becoming experts on visa applications and on ways of bypassing international mobility restrictions. Second, I discuss how online women support networks facilitate the immigration process itself by providing concrete immigration tips, emotional guidance and an emotional outlet. Finally, I contend that the period of time where partners live apart due to the duration of immigration procedures also fosters a different type of (transnational) intimacy supported by communication technologies.

The paradox of intimate relationships of Northern Chinese migrant women in France

Author: Florence Lévy (CECMC EHESS / MAPS Neuchatel University)  email

Short Abstract

Northern Chinese migrant women try to marry a French citizen in order to get legal document. These marriage turns out to have a symbolic impact that exceed their first intention and force them to completely reshape their migration project and temporality.

Long Abstract

The new migration flux from Northern China to France is very atypical since 2/3 of migrants are middle-class women in their 40s. They left china alone soon after divorcing, entrusting their teenage children to the care of grandparents. They went abroad for few years in order to provide for their only child economical needs. They emphasize the fact that they have no family in China.

Once in France, these women became undocumented migrants. They work for other Chinese but complain about their working conditions, often considered as exploitation. To obtain legal document is perceived as a way to break the deadlock. It will enable them to find a legal job, earn a decent wage, and also to visit their child in China. But the law is very restrictive and marriage with a French citizen is considered as the only way to get a resident permit. This choice is presented as "forced". They engage in economic-legal and sexual exchange with French fiancés who are described as disappointing: too old, uneducated and poor. Once married their daily life is also marked by power relations advantaging men. But almost none of the women ask for divorce. Their emotion when facing couple crises (marital violence, infidelity, illness or death) shows that the relationship is not only based on "pragmatic" considerations. A new logic has replaced partially the first motivation and they consider that now their family is located in France. This new symbolic anchorage forces them to reshape their migration project and temporality.

Precarity and the mobile life of the 'trailing spouse'

Author: Flavia Cangia (University of Neuchatel)  email

Short Abstract

The present paper will investigate the experience of 'trailing spouses' following their partners' mobile career paths in Switzerland, in order to analyze how kin and intimate relationships intersect with job insecurity, gender roles, and related psychological well-being in mobility.

Long Abstract

The mobility of professionals (e.g., corporate managers, diplomats, academics) and their families represents an important component of current migration flows. Some of these people, as a result of their employment prospect, change country of residence very often with their families and experience unprecedented job instability, also due to their precarious contracts, limited budget for expatriation packages, and the constant change of destination. This situation at times demands the accompanying partners to quit their job, engage in free-lance activity, constantly reinvent themselves in the new place, take care of family duties and negotiate the "breadwinner" role in the family. How do kinship and intimate relationships support in establishing continuity under these conditions, when individual career trajectories and occupational identities are interrupted and unstable, and how, on the contrary, can these create ambivalence and conflicting feelings?

The present paper will investigate the experience of 'trailing spouses' following their partners' mobile career paths, and will discuss the meaning of 'precarity' from a combined psychological and anthropological perspective by looking both at the structural and subjective dimensions that constitute this notion. In particular, it draws upon some in-depth interviews conducted in Switzerland both with female and male accompanying partners, in order to analyze how kin and intimate relationships (e.g., children's education, couple relations, family values) intersect with the experience of job insecurity, gender roles, and related psychological well-being in mobility.

Pursuing futures and making families: desires of elsewhere and obstacle to mobility on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border

Author: Aurora Massa (University of Bergamo)  email

Short Abstract

By focusing on a context where multiple regimes of mobility overlap, the paper show how young people on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border intertwine migration and kinship to face uncertain futures, influencing structures and meanings of family networks and moulding new intimate ties.

Long Abstract

By focusing on migratory paths of children of couples became mixed after the construction of national border between Ethiopia and Eritrea (1993), this paper analyzes the interlacements among migration and kinship in a context where multiple regimes of mobility overlap. Eritrean dictatorship triggered migration towards Ethiopia that is hampered by border closure and intertwined with desired mobility to Western countries. Facing uncertainty and obstacles, these children mobilize familial and intimate relationships to invent new ways of crossing borders; contemporaneously the desire of elsewhere deeply influence kin and affects.

Recent political changes transformed family ties in new criteria for defining citizenship, dismantling the naturalized dimension of genealogy. Kin became something subjects choose with repercussions on structures and meanings of current/past/future family networks: children use kinship to overcome local borders, often living this choice not as emancipation from ascribed social constraints, but as thorny acts. They also arrange marriages to penetrate within the global border regime, often building deterritorialized forms of intimacy for fulfill their aspirations. In both cases, their making family is influenced by past and present culture of migration and is also linked with the unmaking of previous and potential intimate relationships. Nevertheless, these choices are not merely tactics. Desired mobility passes through global imaginary and a Westernized legal system, conveying specific ideas of family and marriage (which distinguish between true/fake, modern/not-modern ones), and globally moulded ideas of future, intended with Appadurai as cultural facts, that influence how affects are imagined and constructed, intimacy is lived, and agency is shaped.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.