Migration, Transnationalism, and Social Reproduction: Intersectionalities I

Wednesday May 31 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
McLaughlin College-MC-103

Session Code: SOM4A
Session Format: Regular Session
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Sociology of Migration
Session Categories: In-person

This session brings together theoretical and empirical research papers examining the experiences, agencies, and activism of individuals within immigrant families who are engaged in the work of caring/social reproductive work, both locally and/or transnationally. In particular, the papers will address the following questions: How do social, economic, political, and cultural processes shape these women’s social reproductive work locally and/or transnationally? How do gender and other intersectionalities complicate social reproductive/care work locally and/or transnationally? We welcomed papers that interrogate intergenerational relationships, care and support of older persons, the work of young carers, and the implications of multigenerational households for adult women. Tags: Feminism, Gender, Migration and Immigration

Organizer: Guida Man, York University; Chair: Guida Man, York University


Nana Oishi, University of Melbourne

Care workers as the 'global temporary underclass': Japanese female au pairs in Australia

This paper examines migrant women in what I call the ‘global temporary underclass’ who leave their white-collar job in the Global North to engage in unpaid/underpaid work in other parts of the Global North under the working holiday (WH) programs. The WH programs, which aim to foster cultural exchange, have been functioning as a system that exploits many young workers with limited English proficiency and local cultural unfamiliarity. Australia is a popular destination for working holiday makers (WHMs) and attracted over 200,000 of them yearly, including over 10,000 Japanese before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in 2020. Japanese female WHMs often engage in unpaid/underpaid reproductive work as au pairs. Au pairs are popular among Australian families as they are much cheaper than nurseries and hourly-paid babysitters. Japanese women are particularly in high demand due to the existing ethnic/cultural stereotypes of being gentle and submissive. The fact that au pairs sectors are unregulated and even the labour law does not fully protect their rights as workers exacerbates their plight. Their average hourly wage was US$3.50, and unpaid work was common. Cases of sexual harassment and mental abuse were also observed. This presentation argues that the WH programs help to develop the ‘global temporary underclass’ by channelling young temporary migrants into unpaid or underpaid care work with little protection. Their limited social and cultural capital, temporality, and difficulty accessing institutional support from the government and local communities leave this system intact. It calls for more research on WH programs to scrutinise the roles that they are playing in this growing ‘global temporary underclass.’

Franka Zlatic, University of Nottingham

Leaving, coming and 'going back': How caring responsibilities create volatile futures for individual migrants

This paper focuses on migrants’ plans regarding their future in the UK and how those plans became increasingly unstable with the introduction of the pandemic. The futures migrants had for themselves became intertwined with worries for their health, job stability, but mostly the health of their loved ones in their home countries. Many of the migrants started questioning whether they should take part in return migration or start working towards helping their immediate family move to the UK, whereas that was not the case prior to the pandemic.  Moreover, even though this work relies on literature that enhances individual practices, especially within the migration scope, “and individuals are increasingly fragmented as a result of social change” (Coleman, 1990; Putnam, 1996; 2000 in Zontini, 2006:326), “families are complex and fluid entities capable of adapting to different circumstances” (Zontini, 2006:341). What then happens is, as Cwerner (2001:12) describes, a paradox “between the migrants’ will to return and the forever delayed return”, which I recognised on several occasions while interviewing the participants. Individual migrants are in such cases torn between wanting a better future for themselves in the UK and feeling responsibility to provide and care for their families and to be physically close to them and their ‘old’ lives.  The findings are based on narratives gathered from 27 voluntary individual migrants in the UK. The fieldwork was conducted online between December 2020 and September 2021. This paper brings novelty in terms of combining the prospect of return migration with caring responsibilities caused by an external factor (COVID-19). It also puts temporality of migrant experience at the forefront in their decision-making process, by transforming the not-yet future (Adam, 2010) into a potentially near future and seeing time as a resource that one can have too much too little of (Griffiths et al., 2013).

This author has received the 2023 Sociology of Migration Research Cluster Best Student Paper Award.

Sara Swerdlyk, Central European University

Filing for Refugee Status is Women's Work: Labour and social reproduction amongst Romani refugees in Canada

This paper analyzes questions of social reproduction and gendered work amongst refugee families through an analysis of Romani refugee livelihoods in Toronto. The paper is based on my ethnographic work with Hungarian Roma living in Toronto and builds on the work of feminist social reproduction theorists and social anthropologists of labour by analyzing the intersections of work, social reproduction, and migration. The paper looks at how refugees engage in waged and unwaged labour, paying particular attention to gender and the dynamics of ‘women’s work’ amongst Hungarian Romani refugee families in Toronto. In the paper I ask: what sort of gendered life-sustaining strategies do refugees engage in, when they are excluded from both wage labour and citizenship regimes? The main argument of this chapter is that Hungarian Romani asylum-seeking to Canada should be understood as a social reproduction strategy and a form of gendered work that has emerged in the contemporary conditions of financialized capitalism. I argue that the survival strategies of Romani refugees are embedded in gendered divisions of work in which gaining access to state social support and filing for refugee status in Canada are regarded as an extension of domestic labour, typically done by the maternal figures of the family. In exploring these questions, I contribute to the literature on new forms of work emerging during financialized capitalism, the gendered relations of social reproduction tied to them, and the politics of citizenship and refugee protection in an era of capitalist crisis. In particular, I propose an expanded approach to social reproduction theory that is attentive to the unwaged and familial work of migrants and refugees.

Guida Man, York University

Social Reproduction and Transnational Migration: Exploring Chinese Immigrant Women's Experience of Eldercare Work in Canada

Based on preliminary data analysis from an ongoing SSHRC funded research project , and drawing on the conceptual frameworks of transnational migration and intersectionality, this paper explores the experience of social reproductive work of Chinese immigrant women professionals from Hong Kong and Mainland China to Canada. In particular, the paper examines how these women do their eldercare work, both locally and transnationally, and the strategies they devise to accommodate their eldercare work and other responsibilities (paid work, childcare, housework etc). The paper elucidates how eldercare work is shaped by social, economic, political, and cultural processes in an era of neoliberalism, complicated by the intersections of gender, race/ethnicity, class, age, and immigration status; and mediated by individual woman’s agency.