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Doing Family on the Move

Highly-Skilled Migrants in Switzerland and Germany

Florian Tissot

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.

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Abstract

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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