Doing Family on the Move

Highly-Skilled Migrants in Switzerland and Germany

by Florian Tissot (Author)
©2020 Thesis 358 Pages
Open Access


This book focuses on the coordination between family life and professional career under the condition of repeated mobilities. It analyses the division between the labour force work and the care work of couples of highly-skilled migrants settling in either Switzerland or Germany. A mutually exclusive model provides an innovative understanding of gendered hierarchies in career achievement. The male partners operate three parallel elements: an upward professional career, a family-life implying child(ren), and maintaining their availability to further unplanned relocations. The female partners can only coordinate two of these concurrently. In fact, the male partners combine the three elements by taking advantage of specific, and mostly invisible, care work that the female partner provides.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Relevance of the Study
  • 1.2 Structure of the Study
  • Theoretical Part
  • 2 Moving with Skills: A Review of the Literature
  • 2.1 Historical Overview
  • 2.2 Conceptual Overview
  • 2.2.1 State
  • 2.2.2 Employer
  • 2.2.3 Migrants, Families, and Couples
  • 2.3 Highly-Skilled Migration Studies
  • 2.3.1 Dichotomising Migration
  • 2.3.2 Deepening Migration
  • 2.3.3 Intermediary Summary: Construction of a Polarisation I
  • 2.4 Expatriation Studies
  • 2.4.1 Defining Expatriates
  • 2.4.2 Assigned Expatriate and Self-Initiated Expatriate
  • 2.4.3 Expatriate Adjustments
  • 2.4.4 Intermediary Summary: Construction of a Polarisation II
  • 2.5 Gender and Highly-Skilled Migration
  • 2.5.1 Gender Binaries
  • 2.5.2 Gender as a Dichotomous Variable
  • 2.5.3 Gender as a Relational and Situational Feature
  • 2.5.4 Intermediary Summary: Overcoming the Polarisation
  • 3 Decentring the Research on Highly-Skilled Migration and Expatriation: Three Methodological Premises
  • 3.1 Decentring and Deconstructing
  • 3.2 Methodological Individualism
  • 3.2.1 Defining the Family and the Couple
  • 3.2.2 The Hidden Economy of Kinship
  • 3.2.3 Doing Family
  • 3.3 Methodological Nationalism
  • 3.3.1 Changing the Entry Points
  • 3.4 Methodological Economism
  • 3.4.1 Mobility and Migration
  • 3.4.2 Temporal Mobilities and Permanent Migration
  • 3.4.3 Defining and Problematising the Skills
  • 3.5 Research Questions
  • Methodological Part
  • 4 Research Design
  • 4.1 Epistemology
  • 4.2 Methods in Practice
  • 4.2.1 Accessing the Field
  • 4.2.2 Constructing the Interview Corpus
  • a. Constructing the Corpus of Interviews
  • b. Interview Grid
  • 4.2.3 Analysing the Interview Corpus
  • 5 Contextualising the Study
  • 5.1 Contextualising the Researcher
  • 5.2 Contextualising the Lake Geneva Region and Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region
  • 5.2.1 Family Policy in the two Regions
  • Empirical Part
  • 6 Professional Careers Coordination
  • 6.1 Migration Triggering: An Individual Approach
  • 6.1.1 Assigned Expatriate
  • 6.1.2 Drawn Expatriate
  • 6.1.3 Intra Self-Initiated Expatriate
  • 6.1.4 Inter Self-Initiated Expatriate
  • 6.2 Migration Triggering: A Collective Approach
  • 6.2.1 Primary-Mover and Secondary-Mover
  • 6.3 Conceptualising the Professional Careers Coordination
  • 6.4 Primary-Mover
  • 6.4.1 Expat-Move
  • 6.4.2 Local-Move
  • 6.4.3 Continuum of the Primary-Mover
  • 6.5 Secondary-Mover and Secondary-Stayer
  • 6.5.1 Total-Move of a Partner-Initiated Mover
  • 6.5.2 Unique Challenges of a Partner-Initiated Mover
  • 6.5.3 Half-Move of a Partner-Coordinated Mover
  • 6.5.4 Immobility of a Secondary-Stayer
  • 6.5.5 Access to the Labour Force
  • 6.5.6 Types of Moves of the Secondary-Mover
  • 6.6 Theorising the Professional Careers Coordination
  • 7 Representing Migration: Between Motilities and Anchors
  • 7.1 Displaying Family
  • 7.2 Motile Narratives
  • 7.2.1 Structural Constraints
  • 7.2.2 Career Men and Career Women
  • 7.2.3 Paradoxical Family Men
  • 7.3 Anchored Narratives
  • 7.3.1 Ignoring Motility
  • 7.3.2 Refusing Motility
  • 7.3.3 After Motility
  • 7.4 Gender and Motility
  • 8 Family-Strategies of Highly-Skilled Migrants
  • 8.1 Conceptualising the Family-Strategies
  • 8.2 Motile Family-Strategy
  • 8.2.1 Prioritising one Career
  • 8.2.2 Homemaking and Caregiving
  • 8.2.3 Company’s Support
  • 8.3 Local Family-Strategy
  • 8.3.1 Low Support for the Care Work
  • 8.3.2 Combination of Formal, Informal and Non-Formal Care Support
  • 8.3.3 Separations and Divorces
  • 8.4 Mobile Family-Strategy
  • 8.4.1 Succession of Half-Moves
  • 8.4.2 Power-Dynamics
  • 8.4.3 Mobile Family-Strategy and Children
  • 8.5 Theorising the Family-Strategies
  • 8.5.1 Care Work Organisation and Social Networks
  • 8.5.2 Iterative Logic, Path-Dependency, and Conflicts
  • 8.5.3 Mutually Exclusive Model
  • Discussion Part
  • 9 Theoretical and Empirical Insights
  • 9.1 Decentring the Literature and the Research Design
  • 9.2 Doing Family on the Move
  • 9.2.1 Consequences following the Decision to Migrate
  • 9.2.2 Narratives Displaying the Division of the Tasks
  • 9.2.3 Family-Strategies
  • 10 Recommendations for Practice
  • 10.1 Migration, Children, and Gender Wage Gap
  • 10.2 Childcare in the Geneva and the Frankfurt regions
  • 10.3 Family-Friendly Companies
  • 10.4 Summary of the Implications for Further Research and the Recommendations for Practice
  • 11 Conclusion: Motility and Mobility
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography

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When I started this work, I was told that a dissertation is a lonely and yet a collective endeavour. Today, I understand the paradox of this statement and I cannot agree more. Thus, I want to warmly thank all the people and institutions who made this work possible, by their support, their help, and their advice.

First and foremost, I warmly thank all the interviewees, who, in the most literal sense of the term, made this thesis possible. I thank them not only for their time and for having accepted to share their stories but also for having opened the door of their home or their office, inviting me to restaurants for a dinner or a coffee, and for having trusted me. You are too numerous to be individually thanked but should you reads these lines, I want to express to you my deepest gratitude.

This research was made possible by the Université of Neuchâtel, where I was a teaching-assistant for the first years of my thesis, through gaining the grant Doc.Mobility of the Swiss National Science Foundation as well as the Goethe Universität Frankfurt and the Brandenburgische Technische Universität where I was welcomed to do my research during my stay abroad.

I would like to express my special thanks to my supervisors Prof. Gianni D’Amato (Université de Neuchâtel) and Prof. Anna Amelina (Brandenburgische Technische Universität), who gave me critical and encouraging feedback and who never let me down. This Ph.D. is the fruit of their collaboration and the constant criss-crossing of their comments. Thank you for organising meetings and research colloquium: they were each time a source of motivation as well as a moment to meet with other fellow Ph.D. students.

I salute the members of the jury, Prof. Eric Davoine, Prof. Yvonne Riaño and Prof. Tania Zittoun for constructive and critical comments. Thank you to have taken the time to read it through twice.

A special thanks to Vicky Woollard, Alexia Moyer, Laura Cameron, and Richard Cassidy who accepted to reread and clean my rusty English making my work more pleasant to the reader. I thank you all for your critical readings of the entire manuscript.

I want to sincerely thank the administrative staff of the University of Neuchâtel and the collaborator of the library who helped me in my research in many ways. Thank you to Nadja Rinchetti, Christine Diacon, Hoang-Mai Diep, and Aronne Watkins.

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Many thanks to my colleagues of the Swiss Migration Forum in Neuchâtel for having discussed and read the former versions of some chapters: Denise Efionayi-Mäder, Rosita Fibbi, Marco Pecoraro, Noemi Carrel, Eva Zschirnt, Nicole Wichman, Jean-Thomas Arrighi de Casanova, Dina Bader, Johanna Probst, Ilka Steiner, Alice Milivinti, Salomon Bennour, and Irina Sille. I want to especially thank Didier Ruedin, Robin Stünzi and Christelle Maire who helped me to prepare my proposal for the grant.

I want to express my thanks to my sister, my parents, and my friends in Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Frankfurt, Bochum, and elsewhere. Last but not least, my personal gratitude to my wife for her attentive and insightful rereading of the manuscript. You are wonderful; you give me strength, faith, and hope.

Florian Tissot
September 2018

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This study analyses the division between the labour force work and the care work of couples of highly-skilled migrants settling in either the Lake Geneva region (Switzerland) and the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region (Germany). It combines Migration studies and Expatriation studies and adopts a critical and innovative theoretical framework. In order to develop such a framework, it does not only stress the “methodological individualism” and the “methodological nationalism” but also introduces the “methodological economism” to deconstruct an essentialised distinction between migration and mobility. Drawing on this framework and based on 36 qualitative semi-directive interviews with highly-skilled migrants and 8 problem centred interviews with key-informants, the current study deals with the construction of gendered hierarchies between partners who are repeatedly on the move for professional reasons. It shows various ways of settling in a new region after a relocation that I subsume under the concept of “doing family on the move”. Specifically, the analysis reveals a form of settling which readily implies the possibility of a next move: a “motile” settling. This form of settling has serious consequences on the capacity of the partners to coordinate two professional careers. Through an analysis of the decision to move, the discourse about one’s family and the strategies concerning mobility, the empirical part shows the gendered consequences of “motility”. These consequences are articulated in a “mutually exclusive model” deepening the understanding of gendered hierarchies in career achievement, in the context of highly-skilled migration. While the male partners operate three parallel elements: an upward professional career, a family-life implying child(ren), and maintaining their availability to further unplanned relocations; the female partners can only coordinate two of these concurrently. This inequality exists in the way the partners divide the work between the labour force and the care work; as the male partners combine the three elements by extensively taking advantage of specific, and mostly invisible, care work that the female partner provides. This care work does not only include caregiving and housework but also what I call the “homemaking”; that is to recreate the necessary conditions for a family-life after a relocation. Furthermore, the study shows that the couples managing to maintain two professional careers while being on the move actively mobilise local childcare provision. Based on these empirical results, the conclusion of the study proposes practical recommendations to increase the capacity of highly-skilled migrants to coordinate both their professional and family-life.

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1 Introduction

This study asks the question how highly-skilled migrants cope with professional careers on the one hand and family life on the other. To answer to this question, I conducted 36 interviews with highly-skilled migrants and seven other interviews with key informants in the Lake Geneva region, Switzerland, and the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region, Germany. The main finding resulting from the interviews is that highly-skilled migration has specific constraints, which are currently not assessed in the scientific literature. It is neither a “free movement in a flat world” (D’Andrea, Ciolfi, and Gray 2011, 150) nor a “frictionless mobility”, but a mobility whose constraints are differently tracked (Favell 2014, 135). When at least one of the partners is mobile for professional reasons, I argue these constraints emerge for the other partner, as a consequence from the mobility of the former. By identifying which partner initiates a move, I developed a framework structured around two types of mover: the “primary-mover” (who takes the initiative of relocating) and the “secondary-mover” (who reacts to it). Through this model, I show not only that the female partners are more often the “secondary-movers”, but also that the “secondary-movers” face unique challenges after a migration. This distinction is a useful tool to understand better the emergence of gendered gaps in achievement and wage. The experience of highly-skilled migration differs between men and women when it comes to combine (1) family life, (2) upward professional career, and (3) mobility (or, more precisely and as we shall see, “motility” (Kaufmann, Bergman, and Joye 2004; Flamm and Kaufmann 2006), which is the capacity to be mobile). While men can have them all, women can only have two of them simultaneously. It is the central insight of this study: to consider the construction of gender inequalities and gender hierarchies not only per se but through a mutually exclusive model.

To come to this result, I examine the decision and the consequences of the partners’ (multiple) move(s) on their distribution of responsibilities between care work and work in the labour force, using the approach of “doing family” (Jurczyk, Lange, and Thiessen 2014; Baldassar et al. 2014). “Doing Family” is an approach which analyses the practical production and organisation of personal and affective relationships between the members of a family. This implies looking at the ways the partners divide the care work and the work in the labour force and the relationships of interdependencies linking different generations; relationships involved in care work such as emotional work or housework. According to this approach, families are (re)constructed and performed daily by ←19 | 20→their members in relation and in reaction to their environment, incorporating the social resources available, such as kindergarten.


ISBN (Softcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2020 (March)
Career Strategies Family Strategies Gender Highly-Skilled Migration International Work
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 358 pp., 17 fig. col., 10 fig. b/w, 22 tables.

Biographical notes

Florian Tissot (Author)

Florian Tissot studied Sociology and Religion Sociology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, before focusing his research on Migration Studies at the Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies of the University of Neuchâtel. There, he did a Master and successfully wrote a dissertation in collaboration with the University of Frankfurt, Germany.


Title: Doing Family on the Move
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360 pages