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Transnational Migration: Borders, Gender and Global Justice Challenges

  • Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Sociology


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In an era of globalization, the institutional system of mass migration is being substantially reorganized: its intensity and the variation in its forms are increasing. Global production chains combine diverse areas and different forms of work with varying wage levels by forming worldwide networks. In the Eastern European region, the growing level of emigration and relatively low fertility are leading to population loss. Hungary is not among the Eastern European countries with a high level of emigration; nevertheless, it faces serious challenges, particularly in some regions where after the transition losses of jobs were massive, and a greater proportion of people live under the poverty line than the national average. Our analysis is based on interviews, containing narrative and semi-structured parts, among domestic workers working mainly in Austria and Germany. The paper reveals possible causal mechanisms and the political economic structures behind this type of labour migration. We seek to understand how migrationrelated decisions are embedded in a global and highly unequal economic order.
This paper aims to create a better understanding of the interplay between structural constraints and individual agency in the process of international labor migration based on empirical evidence collected in Hungarian small towns and villages. Drawing on Amartya Sen’s capability-based concept of development, and a theory of agency elaborated by Emirbayer and Mische, the paper focuses on live-in care migration as a specific form of female circular migration from Hungary to Western European countries, and highlights the varying and dynamic nature of migrant women’s agency within the complexity of structural constraints. The object of this paper is twofold: first, it compares and systematically analyzes Hungarian migrant elderly care workers’ coping strategies in the face of constraints set in the global context of care work. Second, it aims to provide a comprehensive theoretical framework based on the concepts of agency in which diverse empirical findings – human games within a host household and narratives problematizing these specific social roles – can be interpreted. Our empirical evidence shows that human games and tactics are triggered precisely by structural constraints; they are directly inspired by limitations. Although these tactics are potential tools for enlarging individual room for maneuver situationally, they evidently cannot alter structures. The asymmetry of structure and agency is clearly demonstrated in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Hungarian care workers describe individual gains from their jobs as fragments of development. These fragments reflect not only structural constraints, but also highlight potential gains from this specific type of circular migration, pointing out that the concept of “remittances” is more complex than a mere increase in financial stability.