Thesis

Understanding trans-border career trajectories: Post-Soviet women professionals in London

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Abstract

This thesis analyses transborder career trajectories to explain how the micro-level of working agency is imbedded into broader social processes. Women migrants’ professional careers are understudied in social sciences which overwhelmingly remain gender-blind and nationally bound. As a starting point this thesis understands working lives as a complex social phenomenon. The interdisciplinary socio-analytical framework elaborated within this thesis is rooted in the sociology of work and migration as well as in gender and area studies. The research develops a trans-border career trajectory approach which connects meanings, strategies and actions over time and space. The multi-dimensional impact of family and migration processes on working lives is critically analysed. Trans-border careers are explored from three interconnected perspectives: work-related values, resources for career-making and work-life balance practices. The thesis focuses on women professionals originating from post-Soviet Eurasia and settling in the UK. In-depth interviews have been conducted with thirty five women working in London. The participants moved to the UK between 1991 and 2011 from Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. They are ethnically diverse and speak Russian as a first or second language; most of them are in their thirties. This study conceptualises migrants as strategising agents and raises the visibility of a particular group of non-EU women professionals who often move through non-skilled migration routes. It sheds light on the largely unexplored area of post-Soviet migration of professionals to ‘the West’ and to London, in particular. This research also challenges ethnocentrism in migration studies and methodological nationalism in social sciences. The overarching argument of this thesis is that, on the one hand, neoliberal restructuring in the post-socialist region leads to mass out-migration as a life scenario. On the other, growing appreciation of ‘skills’ in knowledge-based economies allows for some (women) migrants with a strong ability to strategise around different forms of capital to secure middle class positions in ‘the civilised West’. They can do so mainly by building professional careers and creating dual career families across borders. Therefore, trans-border careers are interpreted as part of life strategising; however, this is not necessarily a case of upward social mobility. Key findings suggest that these processes can be better understood in terms of social reproduction of knowledge workers and dual career families across time and space. Finally, this thesis shows how the study of migrants’ working lives can contribute to the understanding of societal transformation in a particular country or region of origin (the post-socialist one here) and a particular place of destination (London here) as well as trans-nationally. In short, transborder career trajectories reflect the on-going interplay between continuities and changes in our society. Thus this thesis makes an interdisciplinary contribution to knowledge.

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... Migrations from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) have been mainly analysed in the historical context of the collapse of the Soviet Union and/or as labour migrations in the aftermath of the EU enlargement (Cretu, 2016;Datta, 2009;Fox et al., 2012;Kopnina, 2005;Manolova, 2018). This research has mainly constructed CEE and FSU migrants as economic subjects, as labour supply for Western European labour markets (Datta, 2009;Fox et al., 2012;Manolova, 2018). ...
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