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Transnational Migration: Borders, Gender and Global Justice Challenges

Authors:
  • Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Sociology

Abstract

Full texts of the special issue Contested Borders: Transnational Migration and Gender is available at https://www.genderonline.cz/en/issue/47-volume-20-number-1-2019-contested-borders-transnational-migration-and-gender
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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.