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Gender and international migration - conceptual, substantive and methodological issues

published by the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE), Athens: Greece. Vol. 110, No A (Spring) 2003, pp. 5-22.

by E. Tastsoglou, L. Maratou-Alipranti

The paper of Dr. Evangelia Tastsoglou - Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Criminology ofthe Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada – is dealing with international migration from a gendered perspective with a focus on Greece. It deals with earlier migration flows from Greece and the migrant experience in selected countries of destination as well as with more contemporary forms of migration to Greece and the experiences of non-Greek born migrant women and women in trafficking in contemporary Greece. Gender has played a major role in the migratory movements from Greece to various countries and continents, as it does today in migrant movements toward Greece. It determines who migrates, when, under what conditions; whether and how settlement takes place; the creation of diasporic or transnational networks, under specific economic conditions in sending and receiving societies.

Her research areas are: Critical Race, Gender and Class Studies; Gender and Ethnicity; Gender and International Migration; Immigrant Women; Critical, Feminist and Anti-Racist Pedagogies; Diversity and Globalization.


Broadly speaking, from the 1970s to the 1990s, gender and international migration research has shifted significantly from the «add-women-and-stir» approach to a greater theoretical emphasis on gender as a set of social relations and a central organizing category of the entire migration process affecting the decisions, circumstances and outcomes of migration for both women and men (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994; Kofman, 2000; Willis and Yeoh, 2000). Although gender is no synonym for women, the latter must be given specific attention since it is their contributions to migration processes that are still largely ignored (Anthias and Lazaridis, 2000) and since women provide a unique entry point in the analysis of issues that might have been left unexplored otherwise. In addition, the idea of women's agency into migration theory in the context of structural and institutional influences has become necessary to avoid seeing women as victims of circumstance (Anthias and Lazaridis, 2000).

As a result of these broad changes in direction, a number of important methodological changes have taken place such as:

(a) The unit of research has shifted, from a dominant macro-level focus to a micro - level one, primarily communities and households.
(b) Research methods have shifted from quantitative to qualitative (interviews, life histories, participant observation), although the former continue to be recognized as useful and necessary as well.
(c) identification of the researcher’s «positionality» has become very important (Willis and Yeoh, 2000).

The focus on the household represents not only a significant methodological departure, but also a new, substantive issue. The household as a unit of analysis has become of primary concern, as:

(a) Migration decisions are made at the household level and express power inequalities within the household and gender relations at the micro-level.
(b) Reunification and marriage are important determinants of migration.
(c) Women’s labour migration may be bound to household or family responsibilities (e.g., care of children or elderly).
(d) Access to reproductive services (e.g., family support network) may be a factor in migration, instead of employment (Willis and Yeoh, 2000; Pessar, 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila, 1997; Kofman et al., 2000; and Panagakos in this volume).

Under the influence of post-modernism, awareness of diversity within categories of men and women has increased. This awareness is linked to looking at the impact of migration on gender, ethnic, racial and national identities (Willis and Yeoh, 2000; Bush, 1994; Nagar, 1998; Karpathakis in this volume; Chryssanthopoulou also in this volume). Furthermore, the need to better research men, and to understand the social construction of masculinities in relation to migration and gender identities in established ethnic communities have been identified (Willis and Yeoh, 2000). Gender has been identified as a critical issue in circular migration movements (Ellis, Conway and Bailey, 1996) and in the study of professional and managerial migration (Yeoh and Khoo, 1998). The migration process itself involves work, including networking, that is strictly organized along gender and class lines (Salaff, 1997; Kofman et al., 2000). The feminization of labour migration has become a common phenomenon, especially due to changing global economic trends (Willis and Yeoh, 2000; Maratou-Alipranti and Fakiolas, Cavounidis, and Karakatsanis and Swarts, in this volume). Women commonly migrate for work in factories, in domestic service and in the sex trade (Willis and Yeoh, 2000; Emke- Poulopoulos in this volume), i.e. they are both actors in the migration process (Kofman et al., 2000) and they can have economic motives for migrating too.

Since the early 1980s Southern Europe has been transformed to an area which began to receive migrants. Women are making up an increasingly important part of migration movements in Southern Europe, as they are more and more affected by transnational global processes (Anthias and Lazaridis, 2000). Recent work on migration tends to focus more on its transnational nature (e.g., Alicea, 1997; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila, 1997; Goldring, 2001). We consider the recent and ongoing migration to Greece, for the most part, a transnational migration movement due to its temporary and circular, to - and - fro character (attributed partly to the illegal status of large numbers of migrants and partly to their own perceptions), involving regular contact and interaction with countries of origin and transnational networks.

There is a significant conceptual difference between transnational and international migration. Transnational migration refers to the circular pattern of mobility between two or more nation-states, involving activities of an economic, political and cultural sort by migrants on a regular basis as part of their life-occupation. The single individual migrant who buys a house back home or travels home yearly bearing gifts for his family and friends is not a transnational migrant (Portes, 1998 and 2000). There is a continuing debate in the literature between those who argue that transnational activities and connections have historically been the normal state of affairs, or at least, that they have been the case in post-WWII migration, and those who argue that transnational communities are a very recent product of satellite television, travel, to Internet and other forms of modern communications that make it possible for significant numbers of contemporary migrants to sustain links and involvements that cross geographic, political and cultural borders (Kennedy and Roudometof, 2002; Portes, 1998 and 2000).

If we leave aside however the question of timing and origins for transnational communities, and focus our attention instead on the regularity and sustainability of transnational links, it is clear that the modern age of communication technologies has made a vast qualitative difference in the experience of modern transnational communities, migrant or not, and, on this basis, we reserve the term transnational migration for this latter type, more likely to occur in the modern electronic era. At the same time, it is important to note that neither all immigrants are involved in transnational activities, nor everyone in the countries of origin is affected by them.

Contemporary migration is simply more likely to be of a transnational nature, while earlier migrations were more often, though never always, of a more permanent nature. In the light of the above, we retain in this volume the term international migration as a broader, more inclusive one, to refer to permanent migration, which used to occur more frequently in the past and consisted of Greek outmigration, as well as to the regular, circular movements, which are more likely to involve «new» types of migration to Greece.

Please click here to read the whole paper.

For valuable material on the publications and researches of Dr. Evangelia Tastsoglou, please read on the website of the Department of Sociology and Criminology- Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada.

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