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Book Review: Adela Souralova (2015). New Perspectives on Mu-tual Dependency in Care-Giving. Farnham: Ashgate, 158 pp. Central and Eastern European Migration Review Vol. 7, No. 2, 2018, pp. 233–236

Authors:
Central and Eastern European Migration Review
Vol. 7, No. 2, 2018, pp. 233236
BOOK REVIEWS
Adela Souralova (2015). New Perspectives on Mu-
tual Dependency in Care-Giving. Farnham: Ash-
gate, 158 pp.
There are several matters that make Czech sociolo-
gist Adéla Souralová’s in-depth study on post-migra-
tory care arrangements in the Czech Republic
a unique and remarkable venture. The first and
a very important one is her choice of the topic,
a previously unconsidered, widespread yet relatively
invisible phenomenon related to Vietnamese migra-
tion to East-Central Europe. As it happens, there are
generations of Vietnamese migrant children in the
Czech Republic who have been raised by Czech
women while in fact living in these Czech women’s
homes. This is a rather unique arrangement in the
global world of care, as it is Vietnamese migrant en-
trepreneurs who are hiring Czech women to care for
their children while they work in the same country,
quite often in their children’s vicinity. The research
design that the author applied throughout the course
of her work, her doctoral project in fact, also makes
the final outcome exemplary. She studied the triadic
relationships between care work demander immi-
grant mothers, Czech carers she usually refers to as
nannies or grandmas, and migrant children. Between
2010 and 2012, she used purposeful sampling to me-
ticulously handpick her qualitative data, interviewing
a total of fifty persons involved in these relationships.
Finally and very importantly, Souralová’s research
had a special focus on the perspectives of migrant
youths on childcare arrangements a subject that has
received little academic attention so far and thus
provides rich insight into experiences of growing up
transnationally.
New Perspectives on Mutual Dependency in
Care-Giving is a substantial contribution to the grow-
ing body of scholarly literature on the intimate as-
pects of international migration in East, Southeast
and Central Europe. The project upon which Adéla
Souralová’s monograph is based represents one of
the earliest attempts to show and understand how mi-
gration has also impacted family life and childcare
regimes in the East Central European region.
The seven chapters of the hardcover volume are
followed by a collection of tables containing infor-
mation about the interviewees, an extensive list of
references, and an index. Throughout the chapters
Souralová seeks the answers to a number of ques-
tions, such as why many Vietnamese migrant moth-
ers opt for the delegation of childcare; why it is
worthwhile for Czech women to become full-time
carers of a young migrant child in their own homes;
and in what way the specific relationship that formed
between carers and children serves migrants’ integra-
tion in local society.
Highlighting the intimate empirical foundation of
the book, the first six chapters are titled with quotes
from interviewees, and the topics of these chapters are
introduced by excerpts taken from the texts of the inter-
views with the contributors from the field. Chapter one
presents the care regime of Vietnamese children in the
Czech Republic and outlines the structure of the book.
It is in this chapter that the author introduces the notion
of mutual dependency, a concept borrowed from care
literature related to international migration which she
used as a tool to interpret what happens in the triadic
relationships between migrant parents, their children,
and local carers. The author also uses the conceptual
framework of modern anthropological kinship theory
relying on a performative definition of kinship (as op-
posed to a biogenetic one) and adopting Signe Howell’s
concept of ‘kinning’ to describe to the bonding process
between Czech carers and Vietnamese children. The in-
troduction explains the research design, its specificities,
and the methodology applied.
Chapter two explores why Vietnamese migrant par-
ents delegate the care of their children to local women.
This part familiarises readers with the general Vietnam-
ese migrant context in the Czech Republic. We learn
234 Book reviews
that it was as early as 1956 that the first international
agreement allowed a couple of hundred war victims
to enter the country and settle there. Subsequent
phases of bilateral cooperation allowed several hun-
dred Vietnamese students to enrol in Czech universi-
ties starting in the 1960s, mostly in technical
programmes. Further agreements of mutual assis-
tance followed in the 1970s, as a result of which thirty
thousand Vietnamese students, apprentices and
young workers were present in the country in the
early 1980s, only two thirds of whom returned to Vi-
etnam. When entrepreneurial possibilities opened up
in the region after 1990, it therefore became an attrac-
tive destination for Vietnamese economic migrants,
some of whom were returnees with pre-existent so-
cial networks. With these new migratory waves, the
Vietnamese migrant population grew to sixty thou-
sand, becoming the third largest immigrant group in
the Czech Republic after Slovaks and Ukrainians.
The author claims that it is the economic migrants’
‘occupational position that requires quantitative
changes in work life and leads to its intensification at
the expense of private life’ (p. 27). Her interviews with
mothers reveal that it is common in Vietnam to return
to work a couple of months after giving birth; further-
more, the mothers’ choice to employ Czech carers is
also defined by their intention to reproduce their kin-
ship networks in the host country and to fulfil their
socioculturally shaped ideal of relatives in family life
(p. 15). Souralová’s work clearly demonstrates how
Vietnamese parenting strategies and childcare models
clash with Western ‘myths of motherhood’ (p. 31) and
the ideology of ‘intensive mothering’ (p. 31). The au-
thor’s observations on the culture-specific, non-univer-
sal perspectives of Vietnamese immigrants with regard
to motherhood and good care are very important contri-
butions to the field, and concord with Leslie K. Wang’s
findings in another case involving a confrontation of
Western and East Asian notions of good care and moth-
erhood (Wang 2016). Souralová shows that Vietnamese
mothers’ parenting strategy is defined by the intention
to provide a better future for their children, a goal they
hope to realise by delegating the care of their children
and spending more time working.
Chapter three focuses on the motivations of Czech
women who choose to enter into such care relation-
ships, and provides rich insights into these personal
processes. The author notes that the overwhelming
majority of carers in her sample were financially de-
pendent on the welfare state at the time when they
became carers. However, upon further reflection she
argues that the reason in fact lies in the subjective
motivation of these Czech women, which can be un-
derstood through what she calls their caring biog-
raphies’, which are constructed according to local
gender norms.
The fourth chapter presents and discusses moth-
ers’, children’s and carers’ reflections on the delega-
tion of childcare, their positions and roles in the care
relationship. The mothering strategies of Vietnamese
migrants (fulfilling one’s duties as a mother through
labour market activity; i.e. working harder to give
one’s children a better life), and Czech carers’ per-
ceptions of motherhood (giving affection, physical
contact, spending time together) and good child care
(a tendency towards feeling morally superior for
providing better care) are analysed and contrasted.
After these first two sections, the third part of chapter
four presents the children’s perspective on paid dele-
gated childcare. It examines how Vietnamese youths
perceive delegated care and how this care arrange-
ment impacts intergenerational family ties and per-
sonal identities.
Chapters five and six form something of a dyad,
addressing the topic of kinship from two different
perspectives. Chapter five considers the role of child
care in creating emotional bonds, and the role these
emotions play in the kinning process between Viet-
namese migrant children and their Czech carers, who
over time, usually after their return to their parents’,
become their Czech grandmothers. Souralová
demonstrates convincingly that emotions born in the
care relationship are constitutive of the bonds carers
develop with migrant children and that they are vital
Central and Eastern European Migration Review 235
to understanding how care relationships affect sec-
ond-generation Vietnamese migrants living in the
Czech Republic. Chapter six, on the other hand, fo-
cuses on children’s attitudes towards Vietnamese
grandmothers and ‘Grandmotherland’ and analyses
how being part of a genealogy influences notions of
belonging and bonds with the country of origin.
In chapter seven the author concludes that
care-giving is ‘a formative activity that establishes
ties between mothers, nannies, and children whose
subjectivities are mutually shaped in the daily prac-
tice of care-giving’ (p. 139). The ties between moth-
ers and carers are based on the employeremployee
relation, and different conceptions of good motherhood
regularly clash. Mothers are biologically connected to
their children, but the Vietnamese mothers enact their
motherhood by providing for their children. Local car-
ers and migrant children develop mutual emotional
bonds that gradually grow into ties resembling enacted
kinship ties of grandchildren and grandmothers.
This migrant child care monograph is rich in qual-
itative data, and the author discusses her empirical
findings in relation to international care literature
throughout the text. There is much to appreciate and
reflect on in Souralová’s book, and I would like to
comment on a few of the issues it describes.
To begin with, there is the fundamental question
as to why this phenomenon is occurring. Why do Vi-
etnamese parents delegate child care in this manner?
And why do Czech women actively participate in the
phenomenon? Why does this care regime operate in
the Czech Republic and but not in the US or in other
Western European countries with Vietnamese mi-
grant populations? And why do Chinese and Viet-
namese migrant entrepreneurs delegate childcare in
an almost identical way in Hungary (see Kovács
2018)? As has already been pointed out, Souralová
offers her readers much insight into considerations
involved in the hiring process, both on the side of the
nannies and of the migrant families. She makes ref-
erence to Nazli Kibrias’s study on Vietnamese fami-
lies in the US and emphasises that migrants’
decisions and strategies are influenced and explained
by their ‘cultural baggage’, i.e. their persistent at-
tempts to reconstruct family life, the way it used to
be in the home country, after their arrival. She has
convincingly shown that the hiring decision is an in-
herent form of family resettlement (p. 15); neverthe-
less, this cannot be considered to be the only cause.
The situations in which these care relations occur
seem inseparable from the socio-economic historical
context of ex-socialist East Central Europe and the
entrepreneurial model that Vietnamese and Chinese
migrant entrepreneurs, both male and female, have
developed there. As regards the carers, their involve-
ment and subjective motivations to become nannies
are explained by their individual biographies in much
detail. The economic motives are presented, but they
are given a somewhat secondary role by the author, and
one may wonder whether carers build these narratives
of care-giving, or ‘caring biographies’, in order to,
among others, create a positive image of themselves.
The cases presented in the volume without a doubt rep-
resent successful cases of delegated child care where
emotional bonding and subsequent kinning between
carer and child occurred. However, one may wonder:
are there cases that do not follow the same path at all?
The methodology section in Souralová’s introduc-
tory chapter makes brief references to the challenges
Souralová faced in her attempt to collect sensitive
personal information from first-generation Vietnam-
ese migrant entrepreneur mothers with limited Czech
language skills during her fieldwork. Even when one
enlists the help of an interpreter, the workload of Vi-
etnamese (and Chinese; see Kovács 2018) entrepre-
neurs and their socio-culturally conditioned norms
for the communication of personal information ham-
per the obtainment of qualitative data during field-
work. The data in the book that was obtained from
second-generation migrants appears to be richer in
detail. According to Appendix 1, Souralová inter-
viewed children and young adults aged 1625 who
told her about their delegated care experiences from
the past. On the other hand, two of the chapters (two
and three) open with quotes from an eight-year old
Vietnamese child who does not figure among her in-
terviewees. Souralová collected a great deal of data
in her years of fieldwork, during which she met young
Vietnamese children (including the eight-year-old in-
terviewee cited by her) and her methodology section
236 Book reviews
could have referred to how young children’s data was
used in the book. The author states that she intention-
ally did not include fathers in her research, as it was
relations between carers and mothers that she wanted
to trace. On the one hand, I think the inclusion of the
fathers’ views would have given more dimension to
the Vietnamese migrant entrepreneur families’ hiring
decisions, but on the other hand based on a parallel
research among Chinese entrepreneurs in Hungary
convincing the fathers to participate in the research
project would have been even more difficult.
Parenting norms and strategies have changed rap-
idly over the past decades in Asian countries, and dif-
fer significantly, not only according to geographical
region and settlement type, but according to parents’
social class and level of education as well. Changes
that are happening in Chinese parenting styles also
vary according to these factors. It would have been
interesting to see, in the discussion of the mothering
approaches of Vietnamese migrant women, whether
and how their strategies vary according to their level
of education, social class, and the type of settlement
they were raised in.
New Perspectives on Mutual Dependency in
Care-Giving represents an important contribution to
several areas of migration scholarship. Souralová
demonstrates excellently how care-giving can estab-
lish ties of intimacy and emotionality, and how it may
lead to a kinning process. With its focus on migrant
children’s experiences of delegated childcare in the
host country, it discusses transnational migrant fam-
ily life from an innovative perspective. These unique
reversed cases, where the care service buyers are mi-
grants and the service providers are locals, open up
alternative ways of thinking about delegated child
care. It is also one of the few rich, in-depth studies of
(South) East Asian immigration and the integration
of migrants in Central Europe.
Nóra Kovács
Hungaran Academy of Sciences, Hungary
References
Kovács N. (2018). Transnational Migrant Entrepre-
neurs’ Childcare Practices from the Carers’ Per-
spective: Chinese Children in Hungarian
Homes, in: V. Ducu, M. Nedelcu, A. Telegdi-
Csetri (eds), Childhood and Parenting in Trans-
national Settings, pp. 2542. Springer.
Wang L. K. (2016). Outsourced Children. Orphan-
age Care and Adoption in Globalizing China.
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Chapter
This ethnographic paper discusses childcare practices of Chinese entrepreneurs in Hungary from an anthropological perspective. These practices differ from mainstream forms of childcare used by Hungarian parents in terms of the space, the frequency, and the duration of care. They generally take place in the carer’s home where children live; and the time span of this activity may extend as long as several years. These rather unique post-migratory childcare arrangements created by Chinese migrants in Hungary form an integral part of their transnational migration processes and demonstrate a reverse case of the ‘international division of reproductive labour' whereby they buy childcare provided by Hungarians. The paper aims at contributing to the knowledge and understanding of growing up transnationally and ‘doing transnational family’ between China and Hungary. It has a special focus on mobile childhoods in transnational families and links specific childcare-related phenomena with the process of the integration of second generation migrants.