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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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3 Decentring the Research on Highly-Skilled Migration and Expatriation: Three Methodological Premises

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3 Decentring the Research on Highly-Skilled Migration and Expatriation: Three Methodological Premises

3.1 Decentring and Deconstructing

In my literature review, I showed studies that analyse highly-skilled migration and expatriation from the perspectives of the migrant, the family, and the couple. I described two sets of unproblematised binaries: the “migration binaries” and the “gender binaries”. In this chapter, I will dismantle these binaries to propose a “decentred analytical framework” that will allow for a more critical analysis of “highly-skilled migration”. A “decentred analytical framework” deconstructs dominant discourses – which can delimit a more or less coherent field of study, such as that of “highly-skilled migration” – and creates space for a more focused discussion within that same field.

For scholars, the process of deconstructing discourses usually entails a critical and interpretative analysis revealing their unspoken, naturalised, and hegemonic assumptions (Hurlbert 2010). All forms of discourse – in any medium – can be deconstructed (e.g., scientific studies, newspaper articles, television shows, movies, and sociological interviews). Scholars of postmodernism create tools to deconstruct discourses in order to analyse the processes of power embedded in them. For Brinksmann and Kvale (2009), “A deconstructive reading tears a text apart; unsettles the concepts it takes for granted; concentrates on the tensions and breaks in a text, on what a text purports to say and what it comes to say, as well as what is not said in the text, on what is excluded by the use of the text’s concepts” (Kvale and Brinkmann 2009, 230). Using the “migration binaries” and the “gender binaries”, I will show what a non-reflexive use of the term “highly-skilled migrant” takes for granted – what the term says and does not say. I will deconstruct the assumptions that underlie such usage. This does not mean, however, forgetting the original concept and producing an entirely new theory. For Derrida (1978), deconstruction rather means to see these concepts as tools that one should use à défaut de mieux. It is about “conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used” (1978, 359). Thus, a “decentred analytical framework” not only deconstructs a non-reflexive usage of a concept, but also nuances it to create an analytical framework aware of the pitfalls implied by such a usage. A “decentred analytical framework” does not ←71 | 72→dismiss the main positions of former studies as though they were now irrelevant or false, but rather focuses on the dominant mindsets they reproduce, showing how these mindsets create biases, in order to then create an approach able to tackle the same topic more reflexively. This implies looking specifically at the blind spots of the dominant mindsets. Metaphorically, the process is similar to moving a light source so that an object’s shadow appears in a new place, and what was formerly in shadow comes to light. In sum, I develop an analytical framework to study highly-skilled migration by deconstructing the hegemonic discourse which the term sometimes implied.

I proceed in three ways in this chapter: (1) I deconstruct three core premises of highly-skilled migration and expatriation studies and propose a “decentred analytical framework” to overcome the biases they involve (which I refer to as “methodological premises”); (2) I develop an original “methodological premise”, namely “methodological economism”; and (3) I articulate the analytical framework for my study. The three “methodological premises” are (1) “methodological individualism” (Mises 1999), which involves a blindness to the social context in which a highly-skilled migrant lives; (2) “methodological nationalism” (Amelina and Faist 2012; Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002, 2003), which corresponds to the systematic superposition of national territory, people (Volk), and culture; and what I call (3) “methodological economism”, which contrasts unproblematic and un-politicised mobilities with problematic and politicised migration. Each methodological premise is linked to one of the two binaries identified earlier, the “migration binaries” and the “gender binaries” (Figure 5). “Methodological individualism” concerns the “gender binaries”, “methodological nationalism” concerns the “migration binaries”, and “methodological economism” combines a critique of both.

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3.2 Methodological Individualism

Intense and frequent international relocations influence both career path and private life. Moving is a key feature of many contemporary skilled careers: indeed, the requirement to be mobile is increasingly present in skill-demanding professional fields. Yet highly-skilled migrants also hold other social roles, as wives and husbands, mothers and fathers. Too often, they are only understood outside of their social and family context; this is what I call the “methodological individualism” bias. When they move, highly-skilled migrants are not individuals abstracted from their social milieu: their professional mobility has consequences for more than just them. Their partner, for instance, will have to decide if he or she will resign from a position in the labour force in order to possibly move, too.

Stemming from economics, “methodological individualism” (Mises 1999 [1949]) influences many studies on highly-skilled migration. It tends to obscure the social context surrounding the daily life of highly-skilled migrants. The problem of “methodological individualism” is not that it focuses on individuals as “the way to a cognition of collective wholes is through an analysis of the individuals’ actions” (Mises, 1999 [1949], 42). The problem is rather the sole focus on the “masculine side” of the “gender binary” – in other words, the economic, skilled, and productive side, which ignores the conditions that make it possible. The “gender binaries” offer a specific way to categorise what is deemed relevant – the economic activities of men and women – leaving unquestioned what is deemed irrelevant – the necessary coordination of the work in the labour force and the care work, as well as the coordination between two professional careers when both partners work in the labour force. I argue that on the contrary, economic and care work exist in a dialectic relationship; one side cannot be understood without the other. An individual usually performs many activities related to both sides of the “gender binary” several times a day. The distinction is only a theoretical one, which has been constructed for practical and legal purposes, opposing, for instance, the public and the private life, the economic and the social realm, or the productive and the reproductive activity. A sociological approach focuses instead on what individuals do concretely in their daily lives; for example, they do not only go to the office18. Thus, I aim to decentre “methodological individualism” by systematically embedding the social and family relationships of highly-skilled migrants into my analysis. Many studies that focus on economic work do not pay heed to the division of the care work ←73 | 74→between the partners. In other words, in much of the existing research, the “masculine economic side” is essentialised and corresponds to the “natural” concern of highly-skilled migration studies. Decentring the analysis means questioning this presumed division; it implies that a study on highly-skilled migration should not only restrict itself to analysing the professional career of one of the partners – his or her productive activity – but should rather focus on the dialectic relationship between the work in the labour force and the care work, as well as the coordination between the two professional careers.

Through a decentred analysis of highly-skilled migration, I hope to overcome the “gender binaries”. This involves revealing the collective social processes while also studying what is referred to as part of an individual economic process. Thus, my research answers the call to open the “black box” of the family in the context of highly-skilled migration (King 2012a, 23). Yet, I do not address the organisation of the family independently from the professional activity of the partners, which would only perpetuate the binary from the opposite side. Instead, I propose a single framework to study the professional and the family life. To explain and develop this framework, it is necessary to present a stronger conceptualisation of the family and the couple: I will briefly do so in the next subsection.

3.2.1 Defining the Family and the Couple

At the beginning of the introduction, I stressed a distinction between families and couples: families are intergenerational, while couples are not. While a couple must coordinate between, possibly, two professional careers and the care work (the absence of children does not mean the absence of care work), a family involves an extra layer of care work because of the presence of children and the need to raise them. At first glance, this distinction seems straightforward, yet it overlooks key aspects of my conceptualisation of the family and the couple. In the following, I will briefly define them, emphasising a distinction between “categories of practices” and “categories of analysis” (Brubaker 2013). Then, I will present the approach that I use to study families and couples in this work, namely “doing family” (Baldassar et al. 2014; Jurczyk, Lange, and Thiessen 2014).

Barry et al. (2000) define a “family” as a “group of people who are joined by consanguinity or by alliance” (2000, 725)19. Besides, Bryceson and Vuorela (2002) speak of “a feeling of collective welfare and unity, namely ‘family-hood’ ” (2002, 3) ←74 | 75→while defining “family”. Drawing on these two elements, I define “family” as a group of people linked by consanguinity or by alliance, sharing a feeling of collective welfare and trust, as well as a sense of unity and responsibility.

Furthermore, Déchaux (2010) defines the “elementary family” as “the residential group composed of adults and their children who were procreated or adopted” (2010, 2)20. Thus, “family” encompasses both the “elementary family” and the larger group united by kinship or by alliance. From this perspective, the “elementary family” and the “family” are different levels of analysis, as the “family” encompasses, arguably, a larger group (implying aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc.) than the “elementary family”; including the partners and their children.

The same can be said when it comes to distinguish the “elementary family” from the “couple”. A “couple” includes only the partners. In other words, the intergenerational link is the key factor of distinction as a “couple” typically does not imply any. The “couple” corresponds to two persons “united by love or marriage”21. However, it does not exclude the embeddedness of the “couple” in larger groups: the partners forming the “couple” may very well have children. In fact, the concepts of “family”, “elementary family”, and “couple” correspond ←75 | 76→to my “categories of analysis” (Brubaker 2013, 2). As categories of practice, the notions of family and couple are used by the actors in their everyday lives “to identify [themselves] and to identify others” (2013, 2). As “categories of analysis”, the three concepts introduce different levels of analysis; implying different possible “units of analysis”. My unit of analysis for this study is the “couple”. In other words, when I speak of a “couple”, I do not presuppose two partners without children, rather I indicate the focus on a specific level of analysis, namely the relationship between the partners – which may very well be at the same time parents, aunts, uncles, etc. Figure 6 illustrates the relation between different possible levels of analysis and my unit of analysis: the “couples”.

Déchaux (2010) underlines the major transformations of the “elementary family” and the “couple” during the last decades. The freedom of choice in terms of sexual orientation freed many people to choose the affective life they desired. Though still suffering intense discriminations, LGBTQ+ communities have earned many rights over the last decades. Homosexual partnerships, marriages, and adoptions, for instance, have become legal in some countries. Furthermore, Giddens underlines that family ties are not naturally assumed anymore and have to be negotiated (2004, 122). As a result, divorces are more common, and children born outside marriages or partners deciding not to marry at all have increased, too. In sum, this emancipation process modified the ways of life of the “family”, the “elementary family”, and the “couple”. For a sociologist, these transformations have to be analysed.

The “elementary family” does not equal what Parsons calls the “nuclear family” (1955) composed of two (heterosexual) spouses and their children. The larger group bound by kinship is excluded from the nuclear family, which is understood as archaic and not adapted to the conditions of modernity. In other words, the “nuclear family” exists independently from the notion of kinship (Déchaux 2010, 92). According to this (evolutionary) perspective, kinship will be, in time, replaced by the welfare state. This is somewhat reminiscent of Durkheim’s distinction between a “mechanic” and an “organic solidarity” (Durkheim 1926). The basic idea is that “mechanic solidarity” – based on the proximity of individuals living in small community – will be replaced by an impersonal “organic solidarity” ruled by public institutions. The concept of the “nuclear family” has been roundly criticised by sociologists of the family because it ignores social context. Catherine Bonvalet (2003) shows, for instance, the persistence of the link between adult children and their parents. For her, kinship still offers concrete support, especially in difficult economic times22. Concretely, the support of ←76 | 77→kinship means a “system of exchange of goods, services, and money” in a family (Déchaux 2010, 98). According to this perspective, adult children are not isolated from kinship, as they receive support, for instance, from their own parents.

3.2.2 The Hidden Economy of Kinship

Déchaux (2010) develops the idea of a “hidden economy of kinship” (2010, 99) to explore the support that exists among relatives. This support is structured around three elements: care work, access to others, and money transfer.

“Care work” primarily entails housework, shopping, cleaning, or caring for child or a parent. Déchaux (2010) argues that these services are mostly exchanged among the female generations; the “interchangeability of the females” (2010, 99) supports the “elementary family” – mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts or nieces. Interestingly, he stresses that “many of these services require geographic proximity” (Déchaux 2010, 99). He underlines that the care work is still predominantly done by women in contemporary families. As we shall see, this has deep consequences on the way in which partners prioritise their professional careers. Déchaux emphasises the necessity of considering kinship when analysing “elementary families” or “couples”. The second element of the “hidden economy of kinship” is the “access to others” (Déchaux 2010, 99). One family member – usually a parent – mobilises their network to facilitate access to employment or to find accommodation for – most often – a child. According to Déchaux (2010), “access to others” involves the mobilisation of social resources (2010, 100). Finally, the third element refers to the money transfers. This implies not only inheritance, but any form of financial transfer (hand to hand, bank transfer, etc.). In this context, transnational studies show the relevance of “remittances” between the members of a family (see, for instance, Abrego 2009). Thus, the “hidden economy of kinship” proposes that “elementary families” and “couples” are not isolated. In a demographic study which took place in France, Bonvalet shows that half of the respondents of her study lives in the same commune23 as a parent (2003, 38). She speaks of the local embeddedness of the family (“famille-entourage local”) to express this idea. How does this support take place when an “elementary family” or a “couple” is recurrently mobile for professional reasons? ←77 | 78→In summary, studies that focus on the “hidden economy of kinship” emphasise the integration of the “elementary family” and the “couple” within the “family”.

3.2.3 Doing Family

Having defined the concepts, I still lack an approach within which to use them. In the context of highly-skilled migration, the approach emphasising “doing family” (Baldassar et al. 2014; Jurczyk, Lange, and Thiessen 2014) lacks the scholarly attention it deserves. “Doing family” – along with “doing migration” and “doing space” (Lutz and Amelina 2017) – are all socio-constructivist and praxeological concepts. They allude to the seminal work from the 1980s on “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987). By “doing gender”, the authors stress that gender is “a routine, [a]; methodical, and recurring accomplishment” (1987, 126). In other words, the way gender is produced and exhibited in daily interactions creates a difference between men and women. The difference is socially constructed and not biological or naturally given. It is a way of defining the attributes of what is accepted to constitute men and women at a given time, in a given historical and geographical context. In this perspective, gender is always situated but “once the differences have been constructed, they are used to reinforce the ‘essentialness’ of gender” (1987, 137). “Doing family” underlines the same socio-constructivist logic, emphasising that “couples”, “elementary families”, and “families” are daily practices. For Jurczyk, Lange, and Thiessen, “doing family” is not only a socio-constructivist concept but also a praxeological one, because it “[d]irects the production and the organisation of personal relationships between generations and, where appropriate, between genders” (2014, 9)24. “Doing family” focuses on the way in which the partners practically construct their “couple”, “elementary family”, and/or “family”. The collective decision-making process orients the actions of the partners, as most of the time they act in a way so as to maintain their personal relationship. The daily and recurring accomplishment of family goes in hand with the production of a discourse on the family. The partners give meaning to their practices. Thus, the socio-constructivist epistemology emphasises the processes by which a family is meaningfully constituted in a given context. It aims at overcoming a positivist and essentialist approach to the ←78 | 79→family which would consider the “nuclear family” as a “naturally” given form of organisation in which each gender naturally has his or her own role to play.

The children are often central actors within the process of “doing family”. That being said, I do not specifically analyse them in the current study. I did not interview children but rather their parents. I shall show that the children are a central consideration for parents when developing “family- strategies”, and are at the core of parents’ way to “displaying family”. I focus on the perspective of parents concerning their children and not on the perspective of the children themselves; my “unit of analysis” being the “couple”. The work of Gaspoz (2013) explores the meaning of “geographic itinerancy” for teenagers. In a way, my work complements hers, as I focus on the parents and she focuses on the children. She analyses the institutional (school, hobbies, church) and interpersonal (friends, family) ruptures that teenagers in “geographical itinerancy” experience and I show the struggle of the parents to organise the institutional and social integration of their children.

“Doing family” refers to the ways in which partners co-create a feeling of collective welfare and unity daily within an “elementary family”. It stresses how the partners do family (1) in practice, (2) in discourse, and (3) recurrently. First, “doing family” is a matter of practices. It is about the concrete consequences of the decision to migrate for an “elementary family” or a “couple”, about how the partners recreate the fabric of daily life after a migration. Second, it is about the discourses they develop to present and portray their family, about how they justify their decisions regarding their daily organisation. Third, it is about how the practices and the discourses interact in the long run, as family is usually done over several years if not decades. In other words, it is not a fixed entity, but rather a dynamic among these three facets. Proposing a framework able to encompass the dynamics of “doing family” in the context of highly-skilled migration is the central ambition of my work. I propose to analyse the dynamics of “doing family” through three complementary perspectives which correspond to the socio-constructivist approach I developed earlier: the practice of the move, the narratives to display family, and the “family-strategy” that the partners adopt. The three facets cover three broad fields of sociological investigation: practices, discourses, and strategies. Each of these perspectives corresponds to an empirical chapter, as they each provide a specific perspective on “doing family”. At the beginning of each empirical chapter I will propose a methodological clarification to show how I tackle the three facets of “doing family”. Thus, the first element of my “decentred analytical framework” overcomes the “methodological individualism” by stressing the unquestioned and naturalised assumptions behind the “gender binaries”.

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3.3 Methodological Nationalism

The concept of “methodological nationalism” corresponds to another type of essentialising bias, this time concerned with the processes related to nation-states. I will use the same strategy that I used in the previous section, first presenting the problem and then proposing a decentred way to overcome it. The term “methodological nationalism” already lies at the centre of a large amount of literature (Amelina et al. 2012; Amelina and Faist 2012; Chernilo 2006; Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002, 2003). In their seminal work, Wimmer and Schiller (2002, 2003) underline three forms of “methodological nationalism”: ignorance, naturalisation, and territorial limitation. The first form overlooks a world structured around nation-states that have their own laws, institutions, and constitution; in other words, it ignores nation-states. The second form involves the naturalisation of “nationally bounded societies”, implying a positivistic superposition of territory, people, and culture. On a nation-state’s territory live culturally similar people; the assumption is that nation-states are internally homogeneous and naturally given – for instance, the French live in France. The third form implies the limitation of research to the territory of a single nation-state. Commissioned research paid for by the German government (mostly) deals with Germany.25 Here, nation-states are conceptualised as independent boxes which can be studied as such. In sum, when it comes to “methodological nationalism”, the path between ignorance and essentialism is short, as one must acknowledge the relevance of the nation-states (being complex entities acting at many levels) without naturalising them.

Interestingly, studies dealing with migration often emphasise the country of origin of the migrants. These studies construct their knowledge through an “ethnic” or a “national sampling” (Amelina and Faist 2012). This is much more rarely the case when it comes to highly-skilled migration and expatriation studies. While studies on migration tend to naturalise the nation-state, studies on highly-skilled migration tend to ignore it. Studies on highly-skilled migration and expatriation tend to refer to the larger frame of globalisation – arguably outside of the reach of the nation-states – while studies of migration focus on the “integration” of migrants in a national community. Thus, in many studies on highly-skilled migration and expatriation, the country of origin of the migrant is not specified. A non-reflexive use of the concept of “highly-skilled migrant” assumes a self-explanatory “us”, the dominant group. I interpret these two fields ←80 | 81→of study as either focusing on “us” or focusing on “them” – which generally refers to the “global South”. The approach focusing on “us” is not the same as the one focusing on “them”; this division highlights the relevance of the “migration binaries” in helping to spot unquestioned assumptions. Many of the studies that focus on ethnicity speak about “others”, as if one could understand “them” better as a function of their national, religious, or ethnic belonging. Brubaker (2002) calls this “groupism”: studying Italians assuming a cultural, social, and economic homogeneity among the members of the group created. In fact, studies on “ethnic migration” on the one hand and highly-skilled migration studies on the other develop, in parallel but opposite ways, a seemingly coherent discourse on the stratification of migration opposing an “elite” to “proles” (Amelina 2016). The model of the ethnically neutral highly-skilled migrant reproduces the dichotomy between the Western mobile professionals and the Southern desperate migrants. One way out of this problem would be to “ethnicise” highly-skilled migration studies – to analyse British highly-skilled migrants in Germany, for instance. A seminal study adopting such an approach would be that of Beaverstock (2005); yet he does not speak of “migrants” but rather of “British highly-skilled inter-company transferees”. “Ethnicising” highly-skilled migration studies does not overcome the “migration binaries” but rather reverses them, just as studying only the family relationship of highly-skilled migrants (instead of focusing on their professional activities) only recreates the “gender binaries” in a reversed configuration. In order to overcome this conceptualisation opposing “us/them”, I suggest changing the entry points of the study.

3.3.1 Changing the Entry Points

Overcoming “methodological nationalism” implies finding ways to acknowledge complex nation-states without naturalising them. Glick, Schiller, and Çağlar (2010) develop an approach to do so: I use their approach to establish a suitable framework for my study in the current chapter. In Chapter 5, I will contextualise the two regions investigated in this study and justify the relevance of this choice.

My work deals with migration for professional reasons, meaning that the respondents have, for the most part, a professional position in the country of arrival. Thus, they are embedded in different systems of social security. The region where they hold a professional activity grants them or their partner specific rights (e.g., maternity leaves) and offers specific opportunities (e.g., the availability of international schools) to coordinate the work in the labour force and the care work. These elements create specific realms of possibility for migrants in terms of their settling. I will discuss the case of a French pharmacologist taking ←81 | 82→a French maternity leave to be able to follow and live with her partner in Italy. This example shows how one’s embeddedness in a specific welfare state offers various possibilities when it comes to coordinating the care work and the work in the labour force. The region where the respondents contribute towards social security, live, or are employed in the labour force matters. Thus, acknowledging nation-states means being aware of the variety of rights and social insurances in the different countries where the respondents contribute. The typology of “welfare state regimes” (Esping-Andersen 1990, 111) is useful in understanding these variations. Esping-Andersen (1990) proposes a typology to stress various forms of welfare states. The key variable in this typology is the concept of “de-commodification”. “De-commodification” refers to “granting alternative means of welfare to that of the market” (1990, 105). The more a regime is de-commodified, the more the individuals outside of the labour force can maintain their standard of living. He differentiates between “liberal regimes”, “corporatists regimes”, and “socio-democratic regimes” (1990, 111–114), which all imply different relationships among the state, the market, and the family. In a nutshell, the “liberal regime” looks to the market to provide welfare, the “corporatist regime” encourages the traditional family, while the “social democratic” adopts a universalistic stance. Thus, the “welfare regimes” correspond to the configuration of social rights in different nation-states.

Further refining Esping-Andersen’s (1990) model, Pfau-Effinger (1998)develops the concept of “gender culture” to show that the different “welfare state regimes” have cultural and normative assumptions. She focuses on the development of the various forms of “welfare state regimes”, as well as their impact on the participation of women in the labour force. She underlines that the “welfare state regimes” are based on a certain idea of the “normal way” of “doing family” – in other words, a certain “gender culture”. According to her framework, Switzerland and Germany are “conservative-traditionalist welfare regimes [in which] … a gender policy based on the male breadwinner/female carer family, [is] … least favourable for the labour market integration of women [compared to Scandinavian countries]” (1998, 162). When arriving in Switzerland or Germany, the respondents are confronted with these regimes.

The models of Esping-Andersen (1990) and Pfau-Effinger (1998) capture the structure of the “welfare state regimes” and explain institutional elements favouring or hindering the participation of women in the labour force. Yet they both understand the nation-states as homogeneous units. In this sense, these authors are still trapped in “methodological nationalism”. Other authors stress that the “gender culture” and the structure of the “welfare state regimes” differs at the subnational level (Bühler and Meier Kruker 2002; Riaño et al. 2015). ←82 | 83→The “gender culture” can change if one moves, for instance, from a metropolitan area to the countryside, from (in Switzerland) one Bundesland or Canton to another or from one linguistic region to another. Thus, the very region where the respondents live does matter, not only the country. In this context, Riaño et al. (2015) point out the different elements which constitute a “critical place” – that is, a place where it is especially difficult for the female partner to maintain a professional occupation after a relocation. These elements are “[the] geographical location, [the] availability of childcare facilities, … [the] spatial mobility infrastructure, [the] labour markets, and [the] gender culture” (Riaño et al. 2015, 157). All of these elements play a role in explaining the division of tasks between the work in the labour force and the care work. The notion of “critical places” allows for a detailed conceptualisation of the national and the subnational variations of the “welfare state regimes”, the “gender cultures”, and the support available to highly-skilled migrants when they settle in a new location. This support does not have to be given by the state; I will show that many highly-skilled migrants mobilise privatised support such as international schools, private childcare facilities, au pairs, or nannies. Each region has specific constraints and opportunities, as they are embedded in specific “welfare state regimes”.

Thus, the focus on regions rather than on nation-states acknowledges the inner heterogeneity of nation-states without ignoring their policies. Glick, Schiller, and Çağlar (2010) develop an analytical framework “using the city as an entry point”; this has the advantage of overcoming “ethnic lenses” (Schiller, Çağlar, and Guldbrandsen 2006), as the inquiry does not start by focusing, for instance, on the Turks in Germany but rather on the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region. The focus is not on one ethnic or national group or another, but rather on the processes that happen in given a city. Salzbrunn (2010) develops a similar argument, recommending that we start with the cities. In her view, “Focusing on localities rather than on specific groups based on national, ethnic, or religious criteria allow[s]; us to go beyond methodological nationalism and to follow the actor’s social practices, which extend beyond national frameworks” (Salzbrunn 2010, 189). She proposes to focus on more than a single city (in her case New York and Paris) to assess the ways in which migrants adapt their strategies according to the resources available in specific localities. Performing bi-local fieldwork allows for contrasts in the analysis, which in turn allow the researcher to assess the context in which the migrants live. I use a similar approach, though unlike Salzbrunn (2010) in her study, I do not develop a comparative research design. My goal is to reveal the differences between the two localities while studying while studying “doing family” on the move. In this way, it is possible to take seriously the warning against a “methodological nationalist” bias, by ←83 | 84→acknowledging nation-states without naturalising them – in other words, to assess the impact of policies (whether they come from the national level or the local level) and institutions on the daily lives of the respondents. This is crucial in my conceptualisation as the agency of the actors is oriented by these elements. Different cities, different “critical places”, different regions offer different opportunities and constraints. Thus, doing my fieldwork in two regions allow me to contextualise and decentre the interviews, seeing the differences as well as the similarities in the daily-life of the respondents and producing a study aware of the role of the state in migration processes.

3.4 Methodological Economism

I develop the term of “methodological economism” to complement “methodological individualism” and “methodological nationalism”. In a nutshell, I have proposed, thus far, to study how highly-skilled migrants are “doing family” in two locations in order to decentre “methodological individualism” and “methodological nationalism”. “Methodological economism” aims to decentre the very concept of highly-skilled migrant. To do so, I examine the unquestioned assumption that highly-skilled migrants perform temporary moves by choice whereas lesser-skilled migrants are forced to move permanently. The consequence of this dissimilarity would be that highly-skilled migrants only need to adapt for a time in a new location while lesser-skilled migrants need to integrate for good. But I did not witness this contrast during my fieldwork. Thus, I hope to decentre the concept of highly-skilled migrant by “problematising mobility”. I interpret this process as a corollary to “depoliticising migration” (Moret 2018; Wieczorek 2018) or, as Dahinden puts it, “de-migranticising migration” (Dahinden 2016).

3.4.1 Mobility and Migration

The concept of “methodological economism” follows Favell’s critique (2014) opposing “frictionless mobilities” to “controlled migration”. The problem with this conceptualisation is not only that it implies – once again – an opposition between “us” and “them”, but that it suggests that mobility is frictionless. The superposition of the different binaries creates a worldview in which migration and mobility refer to allegedly different phenomena: “Among those moving across the borders of territorial ‘container’ states, there are the immigrants (e.g. refugees and the economically desperate), who are moved by forces beyond their control; and then there the others, most generally thought of as ‘international travellers’ (e.g. tourists, businessmen, expats, exchange students, retirees) who ←84 | 85→move by choice alone” (Favell 2014, 135). Favell shows yet another categorisation cutting the world into two: these are the “migration binaries”. Favell argues that such a conceptualisation does not reflect the challenges that highly-skilled migrants may face in their daily-life. He points at the lack of empirical studies reflexively dealing with highly-skilled migration, underlining that “it is not frictionless mobility but rather differently tracked mobility with its own costs and constraints” (Favell 2014, 136). Highly-skilled migration studies should not presuppose an absence of constraints but should rather consider their possible existence as well as ways to track them. I will argue that the costs and constraints arise, for instance, in the coordination between the care work and the work in the labour force.

Questioning “migration” and “mobility” opens the topic of the nomenclature that I use in the current study. In this study, I have decided to use the term “highly-skilled migrant” and not “highly-skilled mobile professional” or “expatriate”. Using the term “migrant” is part of the process of decentring the analysis. By underlining that the respondents of this study are migrants, I situate them in the field of migration studies. At the same time, placing them in the field of migration studies throws the whole field into question. Green (2008) develops this point while discussing the “migration of the elites”:

Thinking about the “migration of the elites” inserts this topic into the field of the history of migration, while nevertheless placing it at the margins of this field, margins that challenge the field itself. Performing greater mobility, business people are an extreme on the scale of migratory movements. Too rich, and they would be at the economic margins of the field as it was initially defined. The well-to-do migrants would be on the sidelines of a culturalist definition of the immigrant, too; they are often too close to the natives or, in any case, thanks to this social proximity, not seen as problematic. All of these criteria refer to the implicit delimitations of the field of migration studies that have given rise to a rich literature devoted to the migration of workers (Green 2008, 112; own translation)26.

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Green (2008) decentres the history of migration by inserting the “migration of the elite” into the framework of migration – “too rich, and they would be at the economic margins of the field as it was initially defined”. She points to the many unquestioned assumptions that I have presented in my theoretical framework, concerning, for instance, the “methodological nationalism” bias – “they are often too close to the natives or, in any case, … not seen as problematic”. An unconsidered categorisation would be blind to the overlap between social class, gender, and ethnicity. Thus, using the term of highly-skilled migrant is a deliberate choice, as it reinserts these movers into the discussion on migration. Decentring the analytical framework is about precisely that: revealing the essentialised hierarchies of power, or moving the light to see the shadow of a concept. The term “highly-skilled mobile professional” does not insert the respondents into this debate; the light is metaphorically at its zenith and no shadow can be seen. It places the movers on the “frictionless side” of the binaries, coherently aligning race, gender, and class. Indulging in this assumption leads scholars to overlook the possible constraints that (multiple) relocations imply; it presumes a frictionless mobility.

3.4.2 Temporal Mobilities and Permanent Migration

Another binary within “methodological economism” opposes “temporal mobilities” and “permanent migration”. I will use this binary to explain why I use the term “highly-skilled migrant” rather than “expatriate” in this study. Wieczorek (2018) argues that migration studies often fail to see mobility after migration. She develops three patterns of (im)mobility to analyse the various constellations of (im)mobility after initial migration. In her view, the “classic theories of migration” (e.g., assimilation and multiculturalism) assume that migration is mostly immobile, as the migrants are not thought to move again after their initial migration. She thus draws on “transnational studies” and on “mobilities studies” in order to develop other empirical patterns in which further mobilities (after migration) are investigated. In so doing, she underlines the diverse and complex mobilities of Polish migrants after their initial migration. Most studies of expatriation focus on a succession of short-term assignments and/or ultimately the repatriation. There is, however, a third possibility, which is to stay in the long-term in the new country of residence – what Wieczorek calls the “pattern of immobility” (2018, 101).

In the course of my own empirical work, I met people who had arrived in Switzerland or Germany as expatriates – having a position in the labour force before arriving in the country, most often in a multinational corporation – several ←86 | 87→decades ago. Since then, they have managed to stay on, either by convincing the employer not to relocate them anymore or by changing their employer. In such cases, the border between expatriation and migration is blurred. I already mentioned this point in my review of the literature, but I believe this point is central. The concept of expatriation falls short when the focus is on the biographical dynamics: some people decide to stay. As a result, it can be difficult to conceptualise the expatriate’s inclusion in the country’s “immigrant policies” (Hammar 1985) as well as their efforts to gain access to resources and privileges offered by, for instance, attaining a particular citizenship. It can also be difficult to resist conceptualising the expatriates as part of a “self-segregating” group (Fetcher 2007) who have no interest in the local population and do not learn the local language. I do not say that “self-segregating communities of expatriates” do not exist, as I witnessed some during my fieldwork. Rather, I wish to underline that these assumptions, related to the term expatriate, may blind the researcher to aspects of the study such as people saying that they are expatriates even though they have lived in Germany for 25 years. In this case, the “category of practice” may be expatriate but my “category of analysis” is “highly-skilled migrant”. This choice is motivated by my explicit ambition to propose a “decentred analytical framework” that will allow for the analysis of liminal cases which do not really fit with the classic definition of expatriation but can still enhance our knowledge of the complexity of contemporary human migration.

3.4.3 Defining and Problematising the Skills

Choosing the term “highly-skilled migrant” also implies decentring the notion of “high-skill”. The term underlines the educational achievement of the respondents and/or the level of skills required to occupy a position (OECD). Ryan and Mulholland (2014) stress that “[t];he term ‘highly skilled’ covers a diverse group, but the OECD and European Commission/Eurostat framework defines it as encompassing those who have either successfully completed a tertiary education and/or are employed in occupational roles normally requiring such qualifications” (2014, 6). Therefore, I deal with “highly-skilled migrants”, a heterogenous group which is not constituted through race, ethnicity, or country or culture of origin, but through educational degree and/or the position hold in the labour force. Though straightforward, this definition is problematic because it refers to the binary opposing “high/low skill migration”. This binary needs to be dissolved, as the notion of skill is often used as a proxy to refer to other forms of binaries. Higher skills are often linked, for instance, to the economic and productive side of the binaries; they create a “distinction” ←87 | 88→(Bourdieu 2012) between individuals – and not only migrants. Higher skills are assumed to be central to judging the quality (or the value) of an individual in a society in which the labour market is a central institution (Bommes and Kolb 2006; Polanyi 2001). Yet many studies show the mismatch between a person’s high educational achievements and a powerful position in the labour force. Riaño (2012) stresses that “[t]he presupposition by the human capital theory that educational attainment is rewarded with professional status does not apply to the case of migrant skilled women, especially when they originate from countries outside the EU” (2012, 16). Through an intersectional approach, she shows that the educational attainment alone is not enough to presuppose the position of an individual in labour market. Doing so, she “problematises” highly-skilled migration. She shows that a simplistic definition of the skills hides inequalities in terms of gender and countries of origin, referring respectively to the “gender binaries” and the “migration binaries”.

Concerning the “gender binaries”, Kofman and Raghuram (2005) argue that “the model of the rational and work-oriented male reproduces the dichotomy between economic man and social and cultural woman. … It supposes skilled migrants to always be men and women migrants to usually be less skilled” (2005, 151). They call for more studies on gender and highly-skilled migration precisely in order to deconstruct this assumption. They underline that studies adopting a gender-neutral perspective reproduce a hierarchy and a worldview: that of the dominant. The notion of skill contributes to the objectivation of a relationship of power, as usually a higher skill corresponds to a higher income and a higher social status. And women still face a “gender wage gap” (Blau and Kahn 2017); they earn less than their male counterparts with equal qualifications. On the top of that and in a migratory context, they also are discredited in their negotiations with the male partner concerning possible further professional migrations, as he already earns more: I shall show this in my empirical chapters. It follows that they are more often encouraged to resign in order to follow the male partner, and that they are then the ones who must face the difficult task of finding a position in the labour force after migration, not yet having a secured position in the country of arrival. Not having a secured job in the country of arrival is in turn a further risk of “brain waste and job-education mismatch”, especially in the case of first-generation migrants (Pecoraro 2013, 10). In other words, many of the male respondents have a position in the labour force before moving, securing a relatively high income and recognition of their skills, while a lot of the female respondents, though they also have a tertiary education, struggle to find a position in the labour force corresponding to their skills and/or do not see their diplomas recognised. Though both are skilled, their lived experience of migration differs substantially. Sandoz ←88 | 89→(2018) develops the concept of “migration channels” to express the differences in these experiences of migration. She distinguishes between different “channels of migration”, or different ways of entering and subsequently settling in a new country. She defines the “channels of migration” as “Mobility pathways structured by different actors (states, profit-oriented actors, third-sector actors, and individual social ties) that create specific opportunities and constraints for migrants” (2018, 3). Based on this definition, she distinguishes four “channels of migration”, each involving specific opportunities and challenges after migration: the “family-oriented channel”, the “company-oriented channel”, the “study-oriented channel”, and the “protection-oriented channel”. These four channels encompass the various ways someone otherwise categorised as “highly-skilled migrant” can enter a country. They stress different lived experience for the migrants. In my study, I deal with migrants entering through either a “family-oriented channel” or a “company-oriented channel”. Very often, the female partner enters through a “family-oriented channel” while the male partner, already having a position in the labour force, enters through a “company-oriented channel”. But an oversimplified definition of their skills can lead to an essentialisation of the “gender binary”, as Kofman and Raghuram (2006) show; by decentring the “high/low skill binaries”, using the works of Riaño (2012) and Sandoz (2018), I develop a more nuanced definition of “highly-skilled migration”, showing that the term hides complex interactions among skills, work in the labour force, “migration channel”, “doing family”, and gender.

Concerning the “migration binaries” and according to the Database on Immigrants in the OECD (DIOC), the share of tertiary-educated migrants represents a non-negligible share of foreign-born individuals in Germany (14.9%) and Switzerland (23.7%). For the OECD, “population with tertiary education is defined as those having completed the highest level of education” (OECD).27 However, there is no real overlap between the region of origin and the educational attainment. In other words, superposing “high/low skill migration” and “us/them” offers only a theoretical parallel. Table 1 shows that while women are nearly systematically discriminated against – having more often primary or secondary educational attainment – the share of highly-skilled foreign-born workers evolves in a complex dynamic that the “us/them” binary can only subsume with difficulty. There are still strong regional differences, too. 43.8% of ←89 | 90→North Americans and 38.4% of Asians who move within other OECD areas have a tertiary education, while this figure is only 14% for Latin America.

“Methodological economism” thus corresponds to a third type of bias which opposes a skilled, frictionless, and temporal mobility to an unskilled, controlled, and permanent migration. These assumptions have important implications for the conceptualisation of studies, as temporal mobility requires adaptation and permanent migration implies “integration”. Thus, “methodological economism” contributes to developing a framework that will not (re)produce hegemonic perspectives.

Each of the “methodological premises” I have outlined in this chapter offers a way to avoid specific biases in the research. “Methodological individualism” is a tool to deconstruct gender-neutral studies that look exclusively at the professional inclusions of male mobile professionals extracted from their social context. It stresses the necessity of taking into consideration the family-life and the professional-life concurrently. “Methodological nationalism” is a tool to acknowledge the role of the nation-states and their regional influences without naturalising them, by underlining the necessity of having more than one “entry point”. And “methodological economism” is a tool to “problematise” highly-skilled migration by stressing that not all highly-skilled migrants are temporarily on the move for professional reasons and that their mobility is not “frictionless”; it is a tool to “problematise” highly-skilled migration. Finally, “methodological individualism” is the structuring concept of this study; I use it to divide the empirical analysis into three chapters and it provides me with the terms to ask the research questions.

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3.5 Research Questions

The research questions (below) summarises the research questions. The first row of the table stresses the “main research question”, while the three following rows all deal with thematic research questions. Thus, I propose a “main research question” that I subdivide to explore the different facets of “doing family” on the move. Each subset of research questions corresponds to an empirical chapter, and for each subset (i.e., each row of the table), I propose a “key concept” and a “conceptualised research question”. At the beginning of each “empirical chapter”, I define and conceptualise in depth the corresponding “key concept”. For example, I define “displaying family” and “meaning pattern” at the beginning of chapter 7. The three “key concepts” have allowed me to develop a comprehensive framework to analyse “doing family”. Thus, the middle column introduces each of these concepts – namely the practices, the narratives, and the strategies. I rework the “general questions” in the light of the “key concepts” to propose “conceptualised questions”. These “conceptualised questions” are the ones I answer through the three empirical chapters. Chapter 9 offers a brief summary of all the answers. In other words, the “conceptualised questions” are reformulated research questions that take into consideration the main concepts that I use to develop my analysis. The second row focuses on the micro-level of the daily practices after a relocation (Chapter 6). The third row addresses the narratives of the respondents while portray or display their family (Chapter 7). And finally, the fourth tackles the strategies of the respondents on the long run (Chapter 8).

Table 3: Research Questions. Source: Own Elaboration

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18 As we shall see, this is a reason why one empirical chapter focuses on the daily-practices, emphasising a praxeological approach.

19 Ensemble des personnes apparentées par consanguinité et (ou) par affinité (Own translation).

20 Le groupe résidentiel composé d’adultes et de leurs enfants engendrés ou adoptés.

21 Truth be told, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a couple as “a man and a woman [sic.] united by love or marriage”: an heteronormative definition.

22 According to the Observatory of Emancipation almost 80 per cent of youth under 30 still live with their parents in Spain in 2014; retrieved August 3, 2018, from 30.07.2018.

23 In France, a rather small territorial and administrative unit which can be translated as a community.

24 “[Ein praxeologischer oder praxistheoretischer Blick auf Familie als Doing Family] fokussiert sich […] auf die Praktiken der Herstellung und Gestaltung persönlicher Beziehungen zwischen Generationen und gegebenenfalls auch Geschlechtern”. (own translation)

25 On this topic, Favell’s (2001) “Integration policy and integration research in Europe: a review and critique” offers an extensive and insightful state of art.

26 “Penser une ‘migration des élites’ insère cette histoire dans le champ de l’histoire des migrations tout en se plaçant à ses marges, marges qui interpellent le champ lui-même. Pratiquant une mobilité accrue, les gens d’affaires représentent un extrême sur l’échelle des mouvements migratoires. Trop riches, ils se situeraient également aux marges économiques du champ par rapport à la définition initiale. Les migrants aisés seraient également en marge d’une définition culturaliste de l’immigré puisque souvent trop proches des autochtones ou, en tout cas, grâce à leur proximité sociale, non perçus comme problématiques. Tous ces critères nous renvoient aux délimitations implicites du champ des études migratoires qui ont fait fleurir une riche littérature consacrée à l’immigration ouvrière”.

27 Definition available on the website of the OECD, retrieved April 13, 2018, from