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Tanja Višić1 Original scientific paper
Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and UDK 305:314.7.001
Social Studies, Erfurt, Germany 141.72:314.7
Dunja Poleti Ćosić2 Received: 14.02.2018
University of Belgrade, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2298/SOC1801255V
Faculty of Philosophy
GENDER AND MIGRATION REVISITED:
PRODUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE AND FEMINISM
IN BETWEEN SEMIPERIPHERY AND THE CORE
Preispitivanje roda i migracija: proizvodnja znanja i
feminizma između poluperiferije i centra
ABSTRACT Whilst often adopting a feminist perspective, the literature on gender
and migration has often neglected to consider the production of knowledge from
this point of view. It has left unarticulated the assumptions and concerns about
gender and gender relations that underpin scientific knowledge claims about
female migration. The aim of the paper is to problematize the dominant paradigms
in contemporary studies and how these paradigms manifest the tension between
knowledge produced in the core countries and those produced in the semi-
periphery. In doing this, we offer a critical review of the broader field of feminist
migration studies using the concept of “gender knowledge” in order to identify some
of the omissions and neglected topics in the field of migration studies – such as a
de-emphasis on gender and sexuality, or on the intersectional interplay of gender
with other dimensions of inequality, an over-focus on quantitative approaches,
and a neglect to consider migrants’ agency which comes as a result of unexamined
methodological nationalism and methodological sexism. The paper shows the
importance of the geographical, political, social and cultural contextualisation of
the production of knowledge and the relevance of problematizing the connection
between knowledge drawn from the semi-periphery and that drawn from the
core. The paper does this through a discussion of particular cases of migration for
domestic and care work and the development of gender-focussed approaches to
migration studies in Serbia.
KEY WORDS: migration, gender knowledge, semi-periphery, Serbia
APSTRAKT Iako se često naučni radovi o rodu i migracijama odlikuju feminističkom
perspektivom, oni retko razmatraju proizvodnju znanja i čine jasnim koje su to
256 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
tačno pretpostavke o rodu i rodnim odnosima koje podstiču naučne tvrdnje o
migracijama žena. Cilj ovog rada jeste da problematizuje dom inantne paradigme
u savremenim studijama o migracijama i da preispita kako ove paradigme
ispoljavaju napetosti između znanja proizvedenog u centru i na poluperiferiji.
Da bismo to postigle, kritički pristupamo pregledu postojećih feminističkih
studija o migracijama koristeći pojam “rodno utemeljeno znanje” pomoću kojeg
identifikujemo neke propuste u dosadašnjim studijama o migracijama, na primer,
nedovoljno pridavanje značaja temama roda i seksualnosti, ignorisanje međusobne
isprepletanosti roda sa drugim dimenzijama nejednakosti, često fokusiranje
na kvantitativne pristupe, zanemarivanje dejstvenosti migranata kao rezultat
metodološkog nacionalizma i metodološkog seksizma. U radu je prikazan značaj
geografske, političke, socijalne i kulturne kontekstualizacije proizvodnje znanja i
relevantnost problematizovanja veze između znanja nastalog na poluperiferiji i u
centru, a kroz razmatranje proizvodnje znanja o radnim migracijama u sektoru
nege i brige i razvoju rodnih pristupa studijama migracija u Srbiji.
KLJUČNE REČI: migracije, rodno utemeljeno znanje, poluperiferija, Srbija
The aim of this article is to draw attention to the relationship between
gender and migration and to trace the long and often arduous history of
academic efforts to show the simple fact that gender is a constitutive element of
migrations and spatial mobilities, as well as the other way around. Hence, it also
considers problems in the production of knowledge which have contributed to
or hindered, in a variety of ways, understanding of female migration over the last
This contribution gives an account of the ways in which feminism has
transformed migration and mobility studies, regardless of discipline, while
discussing the dominant paradigms within contemporary feminist approaches
to migration studies and how these paradigms manifest in our research. This
inevitably leads to a reconsideration of the relationship between the core and the
semi-periphery. The intention of this article is to highlight a number of major
omissions and neglected topics in the field of migration studies – such as a de-
emphasis on gender and sexuality, or on the intersectional interplay of gender
with other dimensions of inequality, an over-focus on quantitative approaches,
and a neglect to consider migrants’ agency which comes as a result of unexamined
methodological nationalism and methodological sexism. In doing this, we offer
a critical review of the broader field of existing feminist migration studies using
the concept of gender knowledge in order to identify assumptions and concerns
about gender and gender relations in these studies.
The paper is organized as follows: introducing the concept of gender
knowledge in our first section we show how production of knowledge is always
situated and based upon a specific knowledge about gender but also that the
theory is deeply connected to the persons who collect data and evidence. In
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 257
section two, by briefly reviewing feminist critiques of mainstream migration
theories and highlighting critical advances in migration studies, we address the
significance of an inductive approach to research, and to the experiences and
everyday lives of research participants in migration and gender studies. Our
last two sections – the importance of geographical, political, social and cultural
contexts for the production of knowledge and the relevance of problematizing
connections between knowledge from the semi-periphery and that from the
core, will be discussed through the sections on migration for domestic and care
work and on the development of migration studies in Serbia.
Towards “Gender Knowledge”: The Feminisation of Migration
or the Feminisation of Scholarly Discourse on Migration?
In contrast to the gender-insensitivity which still underpins a large number
of studies on migration, our research perspective begins with the concept of
“gender knowledge” (Geschlechterwissen), introduced by German sociologists,
Sünne Andresen and Irene Dölling (2005), which draws on the sociology of
knowledge and focuses on the construction of gender and gender relations.
This concept assumes that every form of knowledge (be it everyday knowledge,
expert knowledge or popular knowledge) is based upon a specific form of
knowledge about gender. In other words, it is not enough to understand how
women are represented as migrants, but more importantly to understand what
assumptions underpin scientific knowledge-claims about female migration. The
focus on gender knowledge allows us to pay more attention to the articulation of
different knowledge forms concerning, in this case, the international discourses
of migration studies. Critical work on gender and migration today should insist
on examining the processes by which migrants are constructed as gendered
rather than as universal subjects.
Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic interest in the
“feminization of international migration” a trend which has usually been
associated with an interest in the impact of globalization in recent years and
with the idea that in the past migrants were normally men. Demographers and
quantitative social scientists have been slowly bringing the migration of women
to the foreground as women have become the majority of migrants worldwide.
More precisely, researchers claimed that the 19th and 20th centuries were an “era
of mass migration” in which men were the main actors and that the 21st century
became characterised by the „feminization of migration“ (Castles & Miller,
1993). Despite these claims, feminist researchers in migration (Donato, Gabaccia
2015, Morokvasic 2010) have shown that “feminization” is not a completely new
phenomenon. Feminist historical revisionist studies indicate, for example, that
half of all the Irish and Jewish immigrants to the United States between 1820
and 1928 were women (Hsia Diner, 1983). Claims regarding the feminisation
of migration flows are contested by studies showing that the proportion of
international female migrants rose by just 2% in the period 1960–2000 from
46.6% to 48.8% (Zlotnik 2005).
258 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
We must acknowledge that work on the “feminization of migration” during
the 1980s and 1990s was a useful first step in viewing dynamics of migration
through the lens of gender, encouraging researchers to look at women as
autonomous labour migrants and to rethink the causes of feminization and the
composition of different types of migration. However, we are suggesting here
that today, after two decades, one should be very careful in labelling any social
phenomenon in terms of „feminization“ or „masculinization“. The key problem
is the lack of explanatory power and descriptiveness of these terms. Moreover,
there is a danger of understanding “feminization” and “masculinization”
as a perpetuation of traditional dichotomous divisions based on biological
characteristics. In our view the feminization lens has several issues that can
affect the production of gender knowledge on female migration.
To begin with, the “discovery” of the “feminization of migration” created
a framework that was mainly restricted to research surrounding the problems
experienced by women migrants such as trafficking, exploitative domestic work,
genital mutilation and forced marriage, and women’s exposure to vulnerabilities
resulting from their precarious legal status, abusive working conditions, and
health risks.3 This work thus failed to address the fact that these problems are
the product of structures that create inequality in different ways for children,
men and women. An additional weakness is that this approach runs the risk of
presenting an image of women as victims with limited capabilities to mobilize
their resources, thereby denying their agency. Instead of seeing the mobility of
women as a revolutionary development in international migration, researchers
should be focused on problems of social inequality and look critically at the role
played by local, national, regional and transnational socio-economic factors in
creating the need for a women-centric form of human mobility.
Secondly, we have to acknowledge that scholars in different disciplines
measure feminization differently, using different statistical tools, different
analytical approaches and different interpretations of quantitative data. As
Katherine Donato and Donna Gabaccia (2015) showed in their historical analysis
of migration demographics, some countries send men, some send women and
others send both, asking why and how the gender composition of migration
flows change at different times and in response to different circumstances.
The observation of increased female participation in international migration
strongly depends on the methodologies and measurement techniques. Mirjana
Morokvašić (2010) states that when feminization is viewed as a quantitative
change, it covers large variations due to the degree of development in both the
sending and receiving country, as well as the development of migration patterns
Feminist critique of migration studies show that males and females migrate
differently: their motivations and reasons for moving, as well as the channels they
use to migrate are never identical. For example, over the course of time, broadly
male migrations eventually resulted in movements that were more gender
3 United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Gender equality: striving for
justice in an unequal world. Geneva: UNRISD; 2005
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 259
balanced because fiancées and wives followed the initial migration of the men.
Such increases in female migration, the so-called “feminizaton of migration”,
are a consequence of marriage migration and family unifications which some
authors would refer to as the “masculinization of feminization” (Donato,
Gabaccia 2015:47). In other words, labour migration that was overwhelmingly
male preluded predominantly female reunification (Kofman 1999:271). The fact
that labour migration was viewed as a relevant subject of research whilst women’s
migration as dependents was not to the same degree, does not prove that men
were more active, but just that they were more visible. The moment when we
overcame the dominant idea of male guest-worker migration as the only or the
most important one, female movements received well-deserved attention.
These few arguments have convinced us that instead of the feminization
of migration it would be more correct to use the term “gender transition”
(Morokvašić, 2010: 45). Or more precisely, as Gabaccia and Zanoni (2012)
have suggested, more research is needed to examine the timing and causes of
transitions—from male-dominated to gender-balanced flows—in international
migrant gender ratios.
The obsession with the feminization of migration took place due to an
number of factors including gaps in the empirical evidence, the popularity of
positivist quantitative approaches which often failed to contextualize the data and
the way in which “migrant” is defined in terms of creating complex categories of
migrants in regard to their different motivations and intentions.
The main reason for the increasing academic interest in gendered aspects of
migration which have contributed to the perception that there is an increasing
feminisation of migration relate, primarily, to changes in the politics and research
agendas of research institutions, universities and international organizations.
These, we propose, collectively encouraged a movement to the feminisation
of the “migratory discourse” (Oso and Garson 2005). Feminist researchers
have additionally suggested that perceptions of gender bias were a product of
the absence of female researchers in the field, arguing that theory building is
never dissociated from the persons collecting data and evidence. In other words,
knowledge production should never be separated from social structures, relations
and processes of scholarly inquiry. The way scholars understand relations
between sex, gender and migration greatly affects scholarly work and its results.
Gender knowledge in feminist critique
of migration theories and paradigms in the core
Rather than providing an exhaustive review of the growing conceptual
repertoire of feminist contributions to migration theories from various disciplines
(geography, sociology, economics or politics), we focus here on the feminist
critique of three major paradigms which have dominated (and some of which
still dominate) studies of migration. We claim that academic reasoning about
migration is never gender neutral but is informed by particular gender hierarchies
and the ways in which dominant theories perceive the role of women in migration.
260 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
The neoclassical macro theory of migration dates to the 1930s. According
to this theory migration is triggered by geographic differences in economic
opportunities, more precisely differences in supply and demand for labour.
Corresponding to the neoclassical macro theory is the neoclassical micro
model/theory, which explains the behaviour of individual migrants. The most
extreme version of this perspective positions the migrant as a rational economic
actor driven exclusively by his own interests, comparing his current income to
potential earnings in other locations or countries. It should be remembered that
neoclassical economic theories are responsible for the use of formal, idealized
models and econometric techniques in studies which go on to form the empirical
basis informing migration policy in institutions such as the World Bank, the
OECD or the IOM4. Patricia Pessar (1999) argued that in the 1950s and 60s
neoclassical reasoning about mobility was influenced by the role model of the
“Western man” or “Homo Economicus”5. The assumptions of this paradigm tend
to ignore unexpected social structures that shape migration (and non-monetary
factors such as love, sex, academic opportunities, desire for adventure, etc) so
that individual calculations seem to be occurring in a historical, political and
economic vacuum. Circumstances that stimulate push and pull factors are not
explored but are assumed to emerge from the universal conditions that prevail in
all societies. Theories, based on macro-structural transformations, or „push-pull
analysis“, were not able to explain the unpredictable variations between socially
distinct migratory routes.
A greater emphasis on gender perspectives in the study of migration
in Europe during the 1980s began with a groundbreaking introduction by
Mirjana Morokvasić in the first IMR Special Issue “Women and migration”
which reminded its reading audience that „birds of passage“ can also be women
(Morokvasić 1984). In this publication Morokvasić questioned the use of men
as the universal point of reference as well as drawing attention to the invisibility
of women and their stereotyped representation as dependent figures within the
production of knowledge about migration. In the wake of this work, it became
clear that women and men participate in migration equally, but in different
ways, creating different effects and migration patterns and constructing and
reconstructing new migration discourses, and that the role of actors in migration
processes are therefore gender-specific. Gender sensitive research revealed
the significance of gendered identity in migration processes including the
importance of gender roles, the division of labour, ideological constructions and
perceptions of women.
Network theory sees international migration as a cumulative social process
– networks are composed of interpersonal links between migrants, ex-migrants
and non-migrants both in the country of origin and in the destination country.
4 For in-depth critique of neoclassical economic migration theory, see Schwenken,and
5 Feminist economists and social theorists targeted this hegemonic ideal figure of man which
assumes a preference for higher wages, selfishness, narrow rationality and social isolation and
depicts as universal a human nature which is linked to certain type of masculinity– white,
young or middle-aged heterosexual and middle-class.
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 261
According to this theory social networks increase mobility because they reduce
the costs and risks of the migration process. Early research on networks was
driven by two principles. The first was an emphasis on the importance of networks
(although largely male networks) in encouraging or preventing migration from
one area to another. The second was the insight that social networks were based
on solidarity in which gender was completely neglected. Revisionist research has
shown that social networks can be very controversial resources, which are not
always shared equally within the family or between spouses. (Mahler and Pessar
2006: 33). The point is that families and migrant networks are gender-based
institutions. Feminist critique was grounded on the criticism of family structures,
aiming to demonstrate that households and families are neither unifying nor
united, neither generational nor gender-based entities in which there are no
hierarchies of authority, power and resources. Since the 1990s, research has
shown that women have their own networks including other women and they
use these networks in order to migrate and settle in other countries6. However,
we cannot assume, for example, that women automatically have access to male
dominant migrant networks, or that women necessarily migrate with the help of
other women. Instead of assuming women automatically migrate with the help
of other women, it would be more fruitful to look at how women access and
mobilise social networks during the migration process.
The emergence of the transnational paradigm marked a new era in the
study of migrations at the end of the 1980s and through into the 1990s. With its
focus on the international dimension of migration, this perspective has shifted
the focus from the dominant topic of migrants’ inclusion and settlement within
new societies, onto the relationships that migrants attain and maintain with their
country of origin. Migration has thus started to be seen as a multi-level process,
with new perspectives challenging purely economic and macro-level approaches
by examining migrant practices and strategies. More-recent approached have
introduced the importance of social and symbolic capital in migration processes
(Levitt 2001: 54) and focused on the benefits that migrants have from modern
means of communication and transportation, the resources and opportunities
provided by the global market, and on the new social forms, political challenges
and cultural resources arising from linkages formed between multiple geographic
locations. The most celebrated contribution of transnationalism to migration
studies was the questioning of the equivalence between national state and society
known as “methodological nationalism”, an approach that rejects the national state
as the only starting point for empirical analysis and call for the denaturalization
of categories such as nation and space (Basch, Glick Schiller and Szanton Blanc
1994, Vertovec 2007, Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2003, Pries 2001).
However, the problem of transnationalism is that it does not adequately
differentiate between migrant groups according to gender, class, race, ethnicity,
nationality and age-specificity. In her ethnography about Dominician sex
6 Hondageu-Sotelo 1994 monograph, Gender Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Migration
has shown that social networks that mediate between migrants are deeply embedded in
gender ideologies and the redistribution of power: men and women have different networks
even when they belong to the same families.
262 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
workers, Denise Brennan shows connections between large structural forces
in the globalized economy and their effects on individuals by examining two
transnational processes: sex tourism and migration (Brennan 2004). These
transnational processes and the linkages that result affect individual’s lives
uneq ually – depending on hierarchies of race, class, citizenship, mobility,
gender and sexuality. Her work is illuminating because it explores how
transnational flows are not equally liberating for everyone but instead offer some
subjects opportunities to enhance their possibilities while contributing to the
subordination of other, less privileged subjects. As she argues, our task should
be to explore the ways transnationalism remakes inequalities. The conditions
for transnational mobility are not always favourable to women and often limit
them to normative and cultural gender rules. Women’s activities are conditioned
by a set of legal and cultural provisions based on the governing interpretations
of gender roles within the country of departure, but also within the country of
destination. This implies that the narratives and experiences of transnational
migration vary depending on gender relations, economic opportunities and legal
opportunities in a country, as well as the extraordinary effect of these factors on
the lives of individuals.
Another criticism of the transnational approach comes from the debate on
specific forms of mobility. Pointing to the limitations of transnationalism, such as
an emphasis on sustainability and the duration of transnational connections over
time, Mirjana Morokvasic has called for the inclusion of short-term migrations
such as those from Central and Eastern Europe (Morokvasic 2004). Morokvasic
emphasizes that the identification of the conditions under which transnational
practices take place can reveal a wide range of migration types as well as
highlighting the power differentials between participants in different forms of
transnational work. Her field research among Polish women in Berlin between
1991 and 1992 demonstrated, for example, that circular journeys (which can
include the smuggling of goods, domestic and care work etc.) are a way of life
which are „settled in mobility“ – far removed from the expected classical pattern
of migration to and settlement in another country (Morokvasic, 2004).
From Methodological Nationalism to Methodological
Sexism – Production of Knowledge Between the Core
Over the past 20 years there has been a significant increase in the production
of knowledge within migration and gender studies focused on the intersection
of feminist theory with domestic work, care, migration, globalization and social
policies. In this section we attempt to show how the feminization of scholarship
on women’s migration for care and domestic work produces the knowledge that
can on the one hand, devalue women’s care work and construct an image of
the female migrant as a feminine caring subject which is premised on white,
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 263
Western, middle-class gender norms and which contributes to the construction
of a premodern non-Western subject. On the other hand, this knowledge created
in the “core” appears to be universal and cannot be applied in semi-peripheral
countries without addressing geographical, cultural, political and economic
contexts. These arguments are based on a more general critique of two main
concepts in the aforementioned strand of literature, namely global care chains
(GCC) and care drain (CD).
Global care chains relate to a theoretical concept established by pioneering
feminist labour scholar Arlie Hochshild (2000) aiming to describe the global
phenomenon of women migrating to perform care work and social reproductive
work. Her original work on GCC focuses on care work particularly in the form
of nannies and live-in caregivers. Although the concept has been criticised and
expanded since its introduction (Yeats 2004, 2009, Parrenas, 2001, Manalasan 2008,
Kilkey 2010), here we focus on the original idea of commodified care as a “surplus
value” that is taken from the migrant workers and their home countries (periphery
countries) in migration to richer nations (core countries). Hochschild and others
introduced the economic notions of “care surplus” and “care drain” which are
grounded in neo-Marxist dependency theories used to explain the mechanisms
supporting economic inequalities between the global North and the global South.
From this perspective, GCC are created by importing care from poor to rich
countries, leading to new care deficits or “care drains” by which migrants as mothers
and their children become most affected. Parent-employers and their children in
contrast enjoy the benefits of outsourcing, which are also conceptualized in terms
of “surplus love”. This perspective expands the notion of economic inequalities
to inequalities of emotion (Yeates, 2009). Hochschild compares care and love
provided by third world women with “the nineteenth-century extraction of gold,
ivory and rubber from the Third world” (Hochild 2004). The “new gold” which is
extracted at a low cost from the poorer countries by richer ones give us an image
of a third world woman as a person without any agency and who is necessarily on
the losing side. Portrayals of the miserable woman who must migrate to ensure
the economic survival of her family are one-dimensional because women involved
in the GCC come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of privilege. Viewing
migrants from one perspective only creates invisible groups who do not fall into this
category including, for example, women who have advanced educations involving
medical and nursing degrees and thus comparatively better skills. This perspective
therefore gives an overly straightforward description of the globalization of care
processes. It connotes a simplistic and unilateral dependency between households
in developing and developed countries.
The second problem with this perspective is that “care chains” do not exist
everywhere, and there is a danger of generalization. In the context of intra-
European migration in which the sending country is geographically close to the
country of work, travel costs are affordable and migration laws make it possible
to cross borders. It is more likely here to encounter “interrupted care chains”, a
type of care chain typical of former socialist countries such as Poland and Ukraine.
Moreover, this perspective overlooks how migrant care workers manage to
combine their own reproductive labour and continuing transnational care. Finally,
264 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
the original formulation of GCC portrays them as feminine; overlooking care work
done by men, both paid as well as unpaid (see e.g. Manalansan 2006 for critique).
In our view, the GCC framework should analyse how the globalization of care
is gendered in multiple ways. GCC should be contextualized both historically and
geographically. Care chains involve different countries and cultures with different
culturally specific logics of exchange. More particular criticism should be directed
to the generalisability of much published research that uncritically applies the
concept of care chains, especially in the countries of Central Eastern Europe
and the former Soviet Union (for example, Palenga-Möllenbeck 2013, Lutz,
Möllenbeck, 2012, Redlova, 2013). Questions related to the globalization of care
work and the outsourcing of domestic and care work to “migrant women from
the ‘Global South’” reveal how boundaries between realms where care is taking
place – such as families as the main caregivers, the market where care services are
organized, third sector and the state – are blurred, resulting in overlaps and mixed
forms. Another concept developed by the same author is that of “care drain” – a
metaphor aiming to characterize women’s labour migration as a loss. The concept
operates as a female counterpart to “brain drain”. Hochschild points out that care
and domestic labour migration has added an important dimension to the ways
in which care is commodified. Care work has in this way, become associated
with women who, as a result, are exclusively studied as care givers without any
interest in their professional ambitions or the way in which migration provides
or reduces opportunities. The legal statuses of these women, their negotiations
with employers and their responses to exploitation have not been part of the
picture. Care has been understood as an extension of “motherly love” neglecting
the consideration of: 1. the involvement of men in reproductive labour; 2. other
forms of caregiving, such as care for elders or disabled persons; 3. “care gain”
(Dumitru, 2014, 209) – or the positive outcomes of care work abroad such as a
change of attitudes towards the family of migrant worker and the development
of care skills which can show us how care can be learned and improved within
migration contexts. As Dumitru (ibid) has rightly suggested, constructing
female migration as “care drain” is dangerous in two ways: one, firstly because it
describes care as an attribute necessarily attached to specific categories of people
such as women and mothers and secondly, because it portrays them according
to their social remit rather than as bearers of knowledge. The “feminization of
migration” here lays on assumption that women migrate in increasing numbers
as potential care givers towards receiving countries. While that may be true in
terms of global structural inequalities, gender inequalities, and the crisis of the
welfare state, we cannot assume that all female migrants are mothers (and that
care, nurture, and love are qualities tied to the biological female body) nor that
struggles regarding care are new or evident in global relations. An exclusive focus
on the feminine caring subject according to gender can easily fall into the trap of
accepting gender-role theory, which in turn carries the possibility of leading us
into a methodological sexism, as Speranta Dumitru has suggested.
Whilst extensive qualitative research on care and domestic work from post-
socialist countries to Western Europe has been conducted, very little is known
about women migrants’ experiences from the Former Yugoslavia countries within
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 265
care and domestic sectors. In fact, research into the dynamics and structuring
effects of gender as well as other dimensions of diversity (e.g. ethnicity, class,
religion) in the context of migration for domestic work is generally lacking –
with only a few exceptions from Croatia and Slovenia (for instance, see Loncar
2013, Hrzenjak, 2014). The latest qualitative research of women’s migration
experiences that draws upon in-depth interviews, official statistics, state policies
of employment in Germany and Serbia as well as state migration regulations
gives insight into increasing levels of circular female migration.7
This new pattern of circular migration for domestic and care work (similar to
the case of Polish female commuters to post– wall Germany) is facilitated not only
by the “liberalisation of the visa regime” in Serbia, the ideology of the “flexibilisation
of labor” in Germany and increased demand for care and domestic workers, but
also two political processes: the post-war transition in the former Yugoslavia and
the enlargement of the European Union towards the East and South-West8.
In the light of such citizenship-related complexities, EU migration policies and
regimes are essential for differentiating who can and who cannot pass the border,
who can have access to the labour market, who needs an extra work permit, and
who has no other option than to work irregularly. This perspective opens up new
interpretative possibilities in research on gendered labour subjectivities, bringing
up the idea that gender and migration is the point where conflicts around the
changing nature of labour, gender roles and citizenship are materializing.
By this we mean, for example, breaking the citizen-worker dyad as a
dichotomy which originates from a unified model linking citizenry to national
territory. This breaking apart becomes necessary as we witness constant changes
in the labour markets and transformation of socio-economic processes, both in
the semi-periphery and the core countries.
Knowledge Production at the Semi-periphery
– The Case of Serbia
Notwithstanding very vivid and inspiring discussions among feminists at
the core, migration studies in Serbia can be criticized as “gender-blind” for failing
to acknowledge the gender selectiveness of migration processes and neglecting
gender-specific types of mobilities. While a tendency towards the invisibility of
7 We refer here to ongoing doctoral research project Ethnography of living arrangements, in/
formal work and transnational care: Experiences of domestic and care workers from the former
Yugoslavia in Germany conducted by Tanja Visic, Ph.D. candidate at the Max Weber Center
for Advanced Social and Cultural Studies in Erfurt, Germany.
8 The period after the civil war in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s is characterized by the
possibility of acquiring double citizenship for the refugees (ethnic Serbs) who escaped war
from Croatia (which is the member of the Eureopean Union). For the women in the research
mentioned above, possessing a Croatian passport means that they can enjoy the benefits of
visa free travel to the Schengen zone. The second “undesirable side effect” of the external
EU borders is the fact that Serbian citizens from northern Serbia can obtain Hungarian
citizenship which opens the door to the European Union’s job market as well. The women,
who live villages in the Banat and Backa (Vojvodina) regions close to Hungarian border, can
claim their right to Hungarian citizenship on the basis of their Hungarian origins or, more
commonly, on that of their husbands or ancestors.
266 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
women in migration studies was present in European academic research until the
middle of 1980s, from the perspective of Serbian scholars we can say that 35 years
later there is still an important gap in literature on gendered migration and a lack of
empirical descriptive work on the gender composition of historical migration flows,
leaving this aspect of migration significantly under-researched. In this section we
attempt to show how, in spite of the highly developed feminist tradition in Serbia
(as evidenced by this volume), women are still not recognized as autonomous
actors of migration, a situation which could be attributed to unfavourable material
conditions for performing scientific activity, as well as the general weakness of the
feminist community in the social sciences (Blagojević, 2009: 97–119).
Generally, the scientific production of knowledge on migrations in
Serbia is characterised by the slow development of the systematic study of
this phenomenon, which is a consequence of the semi-peripheral position of
Serbia in the global (scientific) system. The perspective of the sending country,
a lack of resources, and the conservatism of the scientific community are very
important determinants of the acceptance and usage of new findings, which are
mainly explored within the developed, receiving counties. On the other hand, as
Blagojević (2009) showed, the semi-periphery cannot simply rely on theoretical
frameworks created in the core and just “add in” local examples: it would be
unreasonable to claim that knowledge created at the center would “cover” the
realities of the semi-periphery. At the semi-periphery, neither a narrow-minded
refusal of new knowledge produced in the center, nor its implementation without
critical review itself, can be considered heuristically fruitful. Likewise, at the
core, close-minded resistance to the concepts developed at the semi-periphery
are not useful. With this being said, we can differentiate two main features of
the migration field – that of lagging behind the theoretical, methodological,
epistemological and empirical discoveries of the core, and at with it an imposed
duty to copy and apply the paradigms built in the countries of the center (which
are better suited to immigration than emigration societies)9.
Moreover, the slow development of migration studies in Serbia is also the
consequence of an insufficient academic institutionalisation of migration studies.
Besides two institutes that have been studying migrations for many years – the
Institute of Social Sciences and the Institute of Ethnography SASA, the phenomena
of migration are still rarely studied by university institutions in Serbia. Work
on the presence of the topic of migrations in the curricula at universities across
Serbia from 2015 has clearly shown that “not one university institution analysed
by us has a systemic, unique, comprehensive studies of the issue of migrations
in all their forms of manifestation, as well as of the integral findings of all
consequences (social, political, economic, security, psychological, ecological and
other) produced by them” (Simić, Živojinović, 2015:40)10.
9 Although these two features may look mutually exclusive at first sight, the lagging behind is
relevant as it directly influences the promptness to modify the “core paradigms”: only when
the scholars from semi-periphery deepen the knowledge of dominant concepts, they will
have the opportunity to adapt these paradigms to the local context by criticizing them.
10 Since this school year at the University of Belgrade, a new multidisciplinary Masters
programme – „Studies of migration“ has been introduced. This is the first masters course in
the region on migration issues.
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 267
Over the past 70 years, firstly as a part of Yugoslavia and then in the post-
socialistic period, Serbia has experienced a great variety of mobility types –
both internal and international. Following the positivistic approach represented
through statistical data it can reasonably be suggested that the feminization of
migration exists in Serbia – for example, the percentage of women in emigrant
population increased from 40.7% in 1971 (Predojevic Despic, 2010:9) to 46.6%
in 2011 (Stanković, 2014:33). When we take into consideration only documented
migration, we can say that even though women in Serbia are not inactive when
spatial mobility is pursued, the forms of movement in which they are more
represented than men continue to speak in favour of the fact that traditional
patterns of mobility have not completely overcome their patriarchal origins
(Poleti, 2016). In the former Yugoslavia, trends in international migration followed
the typical pattern of European labour force movements at the time. During
1970s and 1980s men were seen as the central and main actors of migration –
they were the ones who had moved to Western Europe to be followed by wives
and families (Pavlica, 2005). In the 1990s patterns and forms of migration has
transformed, due to the fact that the largest wave of migration to and from Serbia
was caused by the wars. The composition of migrant populations changed so as
to involve the migration of entire families, mostly those without precise plans
for the future and weak links with the home country (Pavičević, 2004: 132). In
the period after 2000, and especially after the visa liberalisation which began in
2009, migrant flows are characterised by their temporary duration, a diversity
of motives (seeking asylum, studying, employment and family reunion), as
well as by heterogeneous gender patterns. Although a significant number of
studies from various disciplines (history, anthropology, sociology, demography,
geography, literature and linguistics) have been written on this subject, little
has been done to deepen the understanding of women’s migration, especially to
explain undocumented and circular forms of mobility.
Numerous studies coming from ex-Yugoslavian scholars have been written
on the phenomenon of guest-workers, also known as Gastarbeiters. While some
questioned the influence of work migration on Yugoslav society or measured its
economic effects (see e.g. Mežnarić, 1985 for literature review), the others have
attempted to explain the process of acculturation in Western European countries
from an anthropological perspective (Lukić Krstanović, 1992). It should be
noted that the first historiographical monograph ever written within the
boundaries of former Yugoslavia on this topic was published in 2012 (Ivanović,
2012). In cases where women have been recorded, they have usually been treated
as secondary migrants and reported as being dependent on their husbands or
parents, neglecting the analysis of individual trajectories or women’s significant
contributions to the economic sphere11. The gendered aspect of women in
migration processes remains unaddressed in the studies mentioned thus-far.
On the other hand, studies devoted to migration practices from the 1990s
onwards have shown greater awareness of female actors, but still without
11 The exceptions are the articles by Mirjana Morokvašić on Yugoslav female emigrants in
France or Germany, like “Jugoslawische Frauen: die Emigration und danach“. 1987. Basel:
268 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
recognition of their agency. In the first waves of refugees’ movements, women
outnumbered men – they accounted for over two thirds of the adult population
(Lukić, 2015). Although this gender ratio has become more balanced over time
(ibid), the problems of female refugees in Serbia, such as unemployment, living
in poverty, housing, difficulties in realizing the right to education and health care,
became important research topic especially in action research (Babović, Cvejić,
Rakić, 2007; Pavlov, Volarević, Petronijević, 2006). Even though the number of
refugee women has raised the level of interest in female actors within forced
migrations, the attention dedicated to this theme has been insufficient – „Despite
these obvious and warning indicators of the vulnerability of women in refugee
and displacement statuses, it has not been systematically investigated, nor has
gender perspective been systematically included in the work of organizations and
institutions dealing with refugee and displaced populations“ (Pavlov, Volarević,
Petronijević, 2006: 8).
An analysis of contemporary studies in Serbia shows that they focus
overwhelmingly on positivistic approach within economic (e.g. Marjanovic,
2015), demographic (e.g. Rašević, 2016), geographic (e.g. Penev, Predojević-
Despić, 2012) or sociological (e.g. Babović, Bobić, 2013) fields of research. Sub
topics include “brain drain” (e.g. Grečić, 2010); migration and development
(e.g. Pavlov, Grečič, Petronijević, 2008); identity and cultural conceptualization
(e.g. Antonijević, 2013; Thematic issue “Guest Workers”, Issues in Ethnology and
Anthropology. Vol 6, No. 4, 2011); asylum seekers and returnees in relation to
the Readmission Agreement (e.g. Stojić Mitrović, 2014); migration as a security
challenge; as well as the mixed migration trends of people that are trying to reach
Western Europe through the Balkan route (Bobic, Jankovic, 2017). While some
of the studies can be defined as scientific in a strict sense, the others are the
products of action research, written at the request of international institutions or
as a result of engagement with international, as well as NGO projects.
Considering the methodologies being used, we can say that quantitative
approaches are most prevalent in the literatures on migration authored in Serbia.
Other than a group of anthropologists12 who cultivate qualitative approaches,
most scholars perform a secondary analysis on data using official statistics
(Stanković, 2014) or new data gathered through surveys and questionnaires
(Pavlov, 2009). This fact is even more interesting if one bears in mind the
objective problems of quantitative data collection: Serbia does not have any
migration statistics on stocks and flows, and the most accurate data on the size
and structural composition of the emigrant population is obtained through
Census data13 (Nikitović et al, 2013).
12 Gathered mostly around the Institute of Ethnography SASA and their publication Bulletin of
the Institute of Ethnography SASA.
13 Emigration data have been gathered in Serbia since 1971, but the scope and quality of the
data have declined over time. This problem became especially visible in the last census from
2011, when the data on the population living abroad were gathered exclusively through the
members of their families that remained in Serbia (Stanković, 2014). It is estimated that
in the first census from 1971 there was an underreporting of about 30% of the population
Tanja Višić, Dunja Poleti Ćosić: Gender and Migration Re-visited 269
Gender approaches to migrations in Serbia thus remains rather scarce. Except
for occasional publications (Morokvašić, 2010; Pavlov, Volarević, Petronijević,
2006; Pešić, 2013; Poleti, 2016), the female experience, the contribution given by
women in the migration processes, as well as their influence on these processes,
are completely left out. In almost all research, gender is defined through binary
categories in which women are defined versus men. Even then, the data is
analysed by gender, not interpreted through a gender dimension. Under the
veil of gender neutrality, the ignorance of gender perspectives is being hidden.
Moreover, the dominant, quantitative methodological approach cannot evidence
all forms of female mobilities. Namely, the unavailability of comprehensive
statistics that would give correct data on the number of women has partially been
caused by the impossibility of recording irregular work migrations that reflect
work in the informal sector. If we could add the interdisciplinary approach to an
observation written 35 years ago, it would perfectly describe the production of
gender knowledge in the migration studies at the semi-periphery – “the research
on women as a special group of migrant populations was, mainly, the topic of
Yugoslav sociologists working exclusively abroad” (Mežnarić, 1985:87). Empirical
research forms the basis for offering insights into the paths and mechanisms
that lead to migration, its method of realization and the effects of migration
on women, their families and community. Although inductive approaches to
migration research are still in their infancy, we hope that this research will get
well deserved attention in the future.
In Lieu of Conclusion
Whilst statistics on international migration shows the number of women
and girls migrating doubled on a global scale between 1960 and 2005, statistics
concerning international migration by gender remain uneven across countries.
It is not biological difference or sex that drives variations in migrant gender
composition over time and space, but it is interaction of gender relations and
gender ideologies in sending and receiving countries in historically changing
structures of global inequality that drives these variations. The greater challenge
facing migration researchers is to understand the causes and consequences of the
migration gender balance, which shifts over time and varies considerably across
cultures and nations. One of the biggest problems with quantitative approaches
is that most surveys underestimate the undocumented population as well as
those entering countries in an irregular manner. The undervaluing of women’s
labour and restrictions on their right to work makes many women invisible. The
problem of overlooking these types of female migrants is partly due to different
understandings of who migrants are and the different ways in which nation-
states define migrants. However, the bigger issue at play relates to disagreements
abroad (Predojević Despić, 2010), and that this increased to as much as 50% in the last census
(Nikitović, 2017). Therefore, the demographic picture has to be obtained by combining local
and foreign sources of data. Besides the availability and accuracy, the comparability of data is
also a significant problem.
270 SOCIOLOGIJA, Vol. LX (2018), N° 1
about what theory is (is it prediction, explanation, or interpretation?), and what
methodologies are most likely to advance theory itself (are they quantitative,
qualitative, rigorous, and/or eclectic?). Positivist and theory-driven disciplines
(that is, those hoping to predict as well as to understand human behaviour)
have difficulty accepting gender analysis precisely because gender is too often
theorized as relational and contextual, thus complicating its operationalization.
Scholars trained in positivist and quantitative methodologies are especially
likely to respond to calls for gender analysis or reviews such as ours with the “so
what” question. As long as gender analysis draws on the theories and methods of
their own disciplines, they will be able to see little evidence that gender analysis
matters and that research on gender adds theoretical value.
To improve our understanding of gender and migration, we should start
conducting qualitative research in mobility and migration studies over multiple
locations (so-called “multi-site research”) which in turn bring together the core
and the semi-periphery. This is a salient methodological imperative when it
comes to the phenomenon of post-national migration whereby people live their
lives in multiple countries. Yet, to carry out such research projects applying mixed
methods could prove expensive, and it is not difficult to conceive financiers and
funding bodies being reluctant unless they match the political and ideological
agendas of national institutions or international organizations. Ultimately, the
future of research in gender migration is underpinned by the general direction
of literature and the dominance of paradigms within different disciplines. The
importance of the geographical, political, social and cultural contextualisation of
the production of knowledge and the relevance of problematizing the connection
between knowledge from the semi-periphery and that from the core are crucial
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