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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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4 Research Design

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4 Research Design

I will now focus on the methodological approach – corresponding to the research design (Chapter 4) and the context of the study (Chapter 5). The research design stresses how I tackle the research questions (the methods: my tools in this study) (Subchapter 4.2) and the justifications for using the methods I chose (the epistemology: the philosophical argument supporting the scientific validity of the methods chosen to construct knowledge) (Subchapter 4.1). Moreover, the present research is qualitative. Thus, I show that contextualising the conditions of production of the study is a necessity, because qualitative interviews are by essence heavily dependent on context. Therefore, the methodological part bridges the theoretical and the empirical parts, by explaining the epistemology, showing the methods, and contextualising the conditions of production of the study.

4.1 Epistemology

I use the qualitative methods of social science research (Beaud and Weber 2003; Becker 2008; Flick 2009; Lamnek 1993; Van Campenhoudt and Quivy 2011; Witzel 2000) and take inspiration from the “grounded theory”, based on the ideas of Corbin and Strauss (2008). The underlying epistemological tenet of these methods is that a qualitative research design implies interpretative research findings: “unlike quantitative studies, where researchers claim to hold the objective perspective of the “disinterested scientist”, qualitative researchers work from a tradition which recognizes that all research findings are interpretative and that the researchers are engaged participants” (Walsh 2003, 72). For most qualitative studies, the researcher creates his or her own empirical material in the field that he or she sees as relevant. A qualitative study is not “laboratory work” where the researcher controls all the factors influencing the study; or, if there is a laboratory, then the world itself is the laboratory. Thus, the epistemological foundations and the scientific validity of qualitative research lie in philosophical traditions other than the (neo-)positivistic leanings of (many) quantitative studies practised widely in the natural sciences. The principle of replicability is not attainable, as it is impossible to recreate the same study under the exact same conditions. In a sense, these conditions are gone forever, and no one will ever be able to replicate the context of Frankfurt am Main, for instance, during the warm spring of 2017 when I carried out interviews. Though conducting another study on the same topic is possible, the interviews and the whole manner of ←95 | 96→conducting it are going to be different. In fact, only the title may be similar. The experiment cannot be replicated.

Qualitative researchers do not work with “pure materials” (Becker 2008, 152). Geologists can measure, for instance, granite at different places, at different times, and will allegedly always find the same characteristics. Qualitative research does not work like this, as it relies on heavily contextually and relationally dependent material. In this context, Maxwell (1992, 279) quoting Bosk (1979) highlights the central question that researchers in qualitative science need to answer: “All field work done by a single field-worker invites the question, Why should we believe it?” (1979, 193) A qualitative answer to this epistemological question is that the more the reader understands precisely how, where, when, and by whom the study was conducted, the more the quality of the empirical material increases. In the absence of the possibility to replicate the study, the scientific validity is constructed around the capacity of the researcher to explain as precisely as possible how the research was conducted and constructed.

The central idea is that the qualitative empirical material is contextual and relational. Metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as a “data tree” that the qualitative researcher finds in the “wilderness of the social world” to then collect the “authentic and unaltered fruits of knowledge”. The conditions of production of the empirical material are, in fact, always relational because “whatever the configuration of the study, the researcher is, in practice, never absent” (Papinot 2014, 237)28. Thus, there is no data per se, as they are always produced in a relational context. Papinot (2014) quoting Bourdieu, reminds us that “real is relational” (Bourdieu 1994, 18 quoted by Papinot 2014, 238). The empirical material is nothing more than the result of the meetings between the respondents and the researcher in the context of a sociological interview. Yet, this encounter is by no means neutral. Reflexivity is therefore of the utmost importance. A reflexive approach requires that the researcher concretize how s/he gathers the empirical material (the “objectivation” in French). The goal is to overcome the naiveté of the positivistic “tree of knowledge” and – simultaneously – the pitfalls of a relativist approach in which no general knowledge is possible, as everything is unique and contextual. Though the situation of the interview is unique, it remains, nevertheless, a social interaction, in which the actors mobilise “schemes of meaning” or “habitus” (Bourdieu 2012) or “dispositions” (Lahire 2006) which are present before the interview. Language ←96 | 97→is an example of what is in place prior an interview. From this perspective, the matter of knowing whether or not respondents are telling the “truth”, i.e., to know if the data collected by researcher are “pure” and “unaltered”, becomes less important than understanding why respondents develop a particular discourse in a particular interview. From a reflexive perspective, the empirical material is not “self-sufficient” and needs to be interpreted and contextualised further in order to anchor its scientific value. What is at stake during this interview? Why do the respondents depict themselves or the family the way they did? What kind of power game did the researcher create by soliciting the interview? These are questions at the core of a study that reflects on the conditions of its production.

This imperative of reflexivity is central to the philosophies of qualitative research. Brinkmann (2017) – author of Philosophies of Qualitative Research – differentiates several epistemological “traditions” in qualitative research. These “traditions” each tackle the question of reflexivity and subsequently the way of grounding and justifying a scientific knowledge through a qualitative material in slightly different ways. My study mobilises a mix of two of them: the American tradition known as “pragmatism”29 (Becker 2008; Dewey 1957; Goffman 1990; Rorty 1982; Thomas 1928) and the French one known as “post-modernism” (Derrida 1978; Lyotard 1979). Brinkmann (2017) summarises the American tradition through the following idea “making the hidden dubious implies a critique of the very idea that there are hidden dimensions of meaning behind our common superficial experiences and practices” (2017, 19). The major part of my empirical analysis is grounded on this idea. “Doing family” is ultimately a process that I can grasp through three concepts: the practices, the narratives, and the strategies. According to this tradition, (social) sciences do not reveal the “far side of the moon”, but rather show the practices, the narratives, the representations, and the strategies of the actors – furthermore, doing so is a practice, too. For Dewey, a leading pragmatist figure, “the so-called separation of theory and practice means in fact the separation of two kinds of practice, one taking place in the outdoor world, the other in the study” (Dewey 1957, 69). The next subsection of the present chapter will describe how I conducted the study (4.2 Methods in Practice, 99). It allows the reader to understand how I practically (and pragmatically one might add) created the study. It is a first step to contextualising the ←97 | 98→conditions of production of the study: a necessary but insufficient step. Indeed, to understand the conditions of production of the study comprehensively, the reader needs to know more about who crafted this study (5.1 Contextualising the Researcher , 115) and the reason why the study took place in specific regions and not others (5.2 Contextualising the Lake Geneva Region and Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region, 118). The scientific justification of a study such as this one is not only grounded in the contextualisation of the conditions of production of the analysis; but also, in the contextualisation of the study itself. The researcher cannot be overlooked and should not be hidden, as he or she is a central actor of the process.

Brinkman (2017) characterises “post-modernism” as an extremely skeptical tradition when it comes to understanding the social scientist as a neutral producer of scientific knowledge on “society”. “Making the obvious dubious implies an attempt to question what we take for granted to show that our meanings and understandings are unstable and endlessly ambiguous” (2017, 19). These ideas guide the state of the art (2 Moving with Skills: A Review of the Literature, 31) and the theoretical framework (3 Decentring the Research on Highly-Skilled Migration and Expatriation: Three Methodological Premises, 71) through the “migration binaries” and the “gender binaries”. In these parts, I deconstruct and decentre the meanings and understandings of previous studies to reveal some of their non-reflexive arguments. Deconstructing and decentring other studies is one thing; doing the same in the process of the current study is another. In other words, decentring other studies does not protect my research from (re)producing non-reflexive assumptions and arguments. One method to control – as much as possible – the knowledge taken for granted is a recurrent toing and froing between the construction of the empirical material and its assessment. Thus, I use a “circular” model rather than a “linear” hypothetico-deductive model. The “circular” model relies on “feedback loops” (Van Campenhoudt and Quivy 2011, 209) between the empirical and the theoretical work to create knowledge which considers what the respondents have to say in the construction of the research. As a learning being, the researcher develops and sharpens his or her own understanding of the topic during the research. Not only does the theoretical work influence the understanding of the topic; but, during the fieldwork, the respondents give their perspective, underlining the challenges and the questions that are relevant to them. The respondents draw attention to topics that the researcher might overlook, leading the latter to reorient the study. Thus, the research design is open and flexible. Ultimately, it grounds the research in the discourses and the practices of the respondents, who are understood as the experts on their own lives. The sociologist does not know more than any of the ←98 | 99→respondents but knows what they all say, the collection of all discourses (Becker 2008, 123). Subsequently, he or she provides a respectful, yet critical, account of the respondents’ discourses and practices. Practically speaking, it means reworking the core conceptualisation of the study based on the empirical material produced to analyse it. In sum, I develop a qualitative, empirical, reflexive, and circular study.

4.2 Methods in Practice

I repeat: the epistemology is the underlying philosophical argument justifying the scientific value of the methods. The methods are the tools to produce the empirical insights. As such, it is very difficult to present methods in abstracto, as they are, following a pragmatic standpoint, literally the practice of the research. Thus, the present subchapter (4.2) focuses on the methods in practice.

4.2.1 Accessing the Field

I will use the first stages of my fieldwork and the initial lack of access to the field as means of illustrating the circularity of the research process. At the start of this study, I wanted to analyse the “internationalisation processes of four multinational companies”, focusing on the “role” of expatriates and human resources in the aggro-food business. In January 2014, I began looking for potential respondents. I sent requests to the companies and their employees for interviews; at first, I received no answer. When I received a response, it was a categorical “no go”. The public relations representatives of the companies redirected me to their company website. The potential respondents systematically refused the interview, telling me that the information I was asking for was too sensitive. Besides, I needed to have the agreement of the public relations teams of the companies, they told me, which, of course, I did not have. In short, I could not access the field. Darmon (2005) stresses how the “refusals of fieldwork” (“refus de terrain” in French) and the “struggles to access the field” are valuable empirical material. Darmon’s main point here is that the fieldwork does not start when the microphone is on and when the respondent starts to talk, but rather it starts even as the sociologist is negotiating access to the field. I wanted to enter a protected milieu, which generates a lot of money, and which feels threatened by many external actors. These companies aim to avoid “bad communication” with such actors. They had nothing to gain by accepting a study such as mine. For them, it implied only risks. Furthermore, had they wanted to know more about their “internationalisation processes”, they would have investigated it internally. Their image is of the uppermost importance and ←99 | 100→they felt threatened because I wanted to analyse a critical, and yet crucial, aspect of their work. If I wanted to have access to them, I would need to present my research in such a way that it would not be perceived as a threat. My intention to study four specific companies increased their fears and thus raised the barriers to my entering. In fact, these companies are as afraid of seeing their company name appearing in a study as much as people studying them specifically. Such is the difficulty of studying multinational companies, as they restrict access to information concerning themselves.

One way to circumvent their fear was to change the “unit of analysis” of the study. Rather than analysing specific companies, I decided to study the “role” of the employees in multinational companies in general as well as their professional careers. In other words, the “unit of analysis” changed from the company to the migrants. A personal contact gave me four email addresses of potential respondents, whom she had known through her professional activity. This contact asked the potential respondents beforehand if I could send them an email. It is only when they accepted to be contacted that I sent them my requests. While I established that I was only interested in their personal experiences of migration and underlined that I would completely anonymise the interviews, only two of them accepted to meet for an interview. During the interview, the respondents did not fully trust me when I asked them questions about their employers. Their answers were brief and general. They were not at ease and defensively wondered at my questions. They did not know what to say when it came to the alleged employment strategies of their company. It is only when I started to ask personal questions about their private lives and the challenges they experienced during their various stays abroad that the respondents started to feel more confident. I felt a relief in their attitude when they understood that I was interested in their personal experience of migration. In the empirical analysis I will discuss further the fear of losing one’s position in the labour force. Briefly put, the fear of saying something that could be used against the company and subsequently having consequences for the respondents themselves explains why many respondents were reluctant to agree to my first requests for interviews and why they felt so ill at ease speaking about their company as such. This line of questioning is also a matter of ethics as the researcher should not harm the respondents. Thus, these two first interviews were crucial to better understanding the people I wanted to interview.

The “feedback loops” between the theoretical work and the fieldwork imply that the latter influences the former. I transcribed the first two interviews and decided to approach them by asking myself which question these interviews answered – following the “trick of the trade” of Becker (2008, 196). I needed to account for ←100 | 101→what the respondents were telling me and not consider their discourse as irrelevant just because it was not what I wanted to hear. Analysing these first two interviews revealed that a central concern of the respondents was the coordination between care work and labour force work. I reworked the research questions and subsequently reformulated the way I was presenting my research to include this aspect. In doing so, access to the field became easier. I specifically explained in my requests for interviews that I was interested in better understanding the “work life balance” (Wilding and Baldassar 2009) in the context of highly-skilled international professional careers (Appendix 1: Contact Letter, 324). This way, I began to receive positive responses to my requests for interviews. Furthermore, the new interview grid (Appendix 2: Interview Grid, 325) focusing on the lived experience of migration was better understood by the respondents: they accepted the “contract” of a sociological interview (Kaufmann 2011) and began to share. The respondents did not necessarily speak without “filters” telling the “truth” about their “work life balance”. Papinot (2014, 239) shows that such a naïve conception of the interview practice would mean that the moment in which the interview takes place would be out of the social, “floating in a social zero gravity zone”. This was not the case. The respondents judged me, as well as the situation, judged my questions as well as the relevance of my study and presented me with a discourse they perceived relevant according to their judgement. Many of them told me before the interview that my study tackled a central concern for them. Changing the topic of the research, going in the direction of what the first two respondents were concerned about, made for a study that genuinely interested potential respondents. They not only felt less threatened but were also curious about my work. For me, it meant, that the respondents would agree to see me and to “play the game” of answering my questions.

4.2.2 Constructing the Interview Corpus

Overall, I did four waves of interviews, each time focusing on another characteristic of the interviewees, my goal being to maximise the heterogeneity amongst the respondents. Thus, I conducted the fieldwork between the Spring 2014 and the Summer 2017 in the Geneva Lake area, Switzerland, and the Rhein Main area, Germany. I ran semi-directive interviews with 36 skilled migrants, problem-centred interviews with eight key informers, and participated in three meetings dedicated to skilled migrants and expatriates. Table 4 describes the main characteristics of the respondents of the 36 semi-directive interviewees.

Table 4: Interviewees Characteristics, Absolute Numbers. Source: Own Elaboration

As Table 4 shows, the interviewees have some characteristics in common. In fact, these characteristics mirror the way I selected the respondents. They ←101 | 102→all have a university degree or equivalent; technically, they are all highly-skilled. They are all in the second period of their lifetime – what Kohli calls the “period of professional activity” (1989, 2), compared to the “period of education” and the “period of retirement” (ibid). Thus, none are retired, and all ←102 | 103→have completed their studies. Their ages show that they are most likely to be in this second period of life too as all are between 25 and 65 years old. Most of the respondents work in the labour force and most of them are employees of a multinational company. In fact, most of the respondents are part of the upper category of the middle management in multinational companies. I carried out the interviews in six distinct companies active in various sectors. Also, five respondents are active in research and one is employed in education; namely a specialised school. On eight occasions, I conducted interviews with four couples, each partner separately; which means I have the story from the perspective of each partner four times over. The two interviewees without a paid job were two (female) partners who – though they completed a university degree – stopped their professional activity for the sake of the (male) partner’s work in the labour force. All the respondents were born outside of their current country of residence and all had lived abroad for at least two and a half years, which corresponds to the time spent abroad by the youngest respondent who was 28 years old. In fact, most of the respondents lived a least a decade abroad and some more than 25 years. To take an example from the interviews, Hannah left Britain at the age of 24, lived in Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, and is now back in Germany at the age of 52, having thus lived abroad for more than 25 years. Thus, they all experienced professional mobility at least once. To conclude, it is important to underline that the respondents all correspond to a privileged group of professionals with relatively high financial means.

Though there are many similarities between the respondents, I maximised the heterogeneity of my sample. Many of the respondents had a position in the labour force before relocating, though with different types of contracts. Some had an “expatriate contract” and others were hired under a “local contract” – depending on the policy of the employer and the way they received the position – some applied abroad, others were transferred by their employing company. I also conducted interviews with people who relocated for the sake of their partner’s professional activity and found a position after relocating. In the sample, the respondents’ citizenships are as varied as their employment situations. This was a deliberate choice. My aim was to gather knowledge that overcomes “methodological nationalism” (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002) by treating nationality as one factor amongst others and in my cases not a determinant one. Their passport did not really play a role as most of the respondents come from the “global North”: underlining once again their privileged status. Those respondents with passports from countries that posed barriers to settlement in Germany or Switzerland were for the most part supported by their employers. The procedure ←103 | 104→is straightforward as the status of being an “expatriate” employed by a multinational company unlocks residency and working permits.

a. Constructing the Corpus of Interviews

I collected the discourses in four distinct waves of interviews. The semi-directive interviews are the core empirical material of this study and are made up of 31 hours and six minutes of recorded, transcribed, and coded interviews. Two interviews were not recorded as per the respondents’ request. It is important to note here that I proceeded through a “theoretical sampling” (Corbin and Strauss 2008, 144). Corbin and Strauss (ibid) compare the “theoretical sampling” to detective work. For each “feedback loop” the research uses the new data gathered to explore another understudied aspect of the topic, meaning, the people I was looking to interview changed slightly between each wave.

In spring 2014, and after the first two interviews, I conducted a first wave of interviews focusing on the mobile background of the respondents as well as their family relationships. I got in touch with the first respondents through the website Internations30. We met briefly at a meeting organised by the administrators of this website and agreed to proper interviews. After I did the interviews, one of the respondents showed interest in my study and acted as a “gatekeeper”, as he gave me the contacts of four of his colleagues. During this first wave, I mostly got to know pharmacologists working in a middle-sized pharmacological multinational company. Most of the interviewees were pharmacologists who have a position in the research department or the regulatory division of the company. The policy of the company concerning the mobility of its employees is specific as none of the interviewees have an “expatriate contract”. They all told me that the company does not offer this opportunity. Instead, they all have a “local plus contract” – a local contract with specific advantages for mobile employees such as tuition fees for the schooling of the children.

After the first wave of interviews, I looked for different profiles, diversifying the employing companies. During the spring of 2015, I carried out a second wave of 12 interviews. This time, I contacted the respondents not only via Internations, but also via Facebook31 and Glocals32. The various entry points allowed me to get in touch with skilled migrants with positions in marketing and consumer goods ←104 | 105→companies. Once I completed the first interviews, I used the “snowball sampling strategy” (Atkinson and Flint 2001) to get in touch with more respondents. While some gave me an additional contact, one specific interviewee – a manager in a large consumer goods multinational company – organised four interviews with her colleagues. During this second wave, the profiles of the respondents were more diverse, emphasising the heterogeneity of the category of skilled migrant. I got in touch with skilled migrants working in research, education and/or in smaller companies too. I noticed that the way the partners divided the care work and the work in the labour force was a central topic of the interviews, and that I was lacking interviews with respondents working for large multinational companies under an “expatriate contract”.

I prepared the third wave of interviews by modifying the interview grid and adding specific questions about the coordination between care work and work in the labour force. In Spring 2016, I started the third wave and contacted an organisation supporting dual couple careers. I did an interview with one of the persons responsible for the program. Thanks to this individual, I managed to get in touch with an employee of a consumer goods company who found employment in the labour force with the support of the program. This employee gave me the contacts of two of her colleagues and I launched the “snow ball sampling strategy”. During the third wave, all the interviews were carried out in a large multinational company based in Lausanne. I managed to interview seven more employees in this consumer goods company. Many respondents emphasised their difficulty in finding day care arrangements for their children, this a hinderance to the possibility of dual careers. Many complained about the price and/or the lack of availability of such care in Switzerland.

Thus, the fourth wave of interviews stemmed from the necessity to explore the role of the locality on the corpus. Hence, I went outside the Lake Geneva region and chose the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region33. For this wave, I did not want a change in the characteristics of the people I was interviewing. Instead, I wanted to interview them somewhere else. I carried out these last interviews in the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region during the spring of 2017 in multinational companies active in consulting and marketing there. I activated a contact that a former interviewee in Switzerland had given me. I did six more interviews which allowed me to contextualise the data I gathered in Switzerland. I stopped doing ←105 | 106→interviews as I reached a state in which the new interviews were not providing any new information that I did not already know: what Bertaux (1981) and Pires (1997) call the “empirical saturation”. In other words, it is not that I knew any more than any respondent on the topic but I knew what they all knew (Becker 2008, 150). Of course, each new interview would bring a specific configuration of the different elements of the former interviews, but each topic had already been covered at least once in a former interview. Thus, the whole process of gathering the material was deeply embedded in the analysis itself: the distinction is mostly theoretical as usually, after an interview, I started to transcribe it, analyse it and further develop my concepts. A circular model drives my research. For Corbin and Strauss (2008) this process takes shape as follows:

Unlike conventional methods of sampling, the researcher does not go out and collect the entire set of data before beginning the analysis. Analysis begins after the first day of data gathering. Data collection leads to analysis. Analysis leads to concepts. Concepts generate questions. Questions lead to more data collection so that the researcher might learn more about those concepts. The circular process continues until the research reaches the point of saturation (Corbin and Strauss 2008, 145).

This quote summarises how I collected my material for this study. I did it hand in hand with the empirical analysis. Thus, I developed a “theoretical sampling” characterised by “feedback loops” between the fieldwork and the analysis.

b. Interview Grid

In conducting the interviews, I used an interview grid, which served me more as a guide than a strict list of specific questions to ask. More than strictly following the interview grid, I focussed on what the respondent was saying, encouraging him or her to develop and to explain concretely his or her answers. Following the method developed by Kaufmann in L’Entretien compréhensif (2011), the goal is that the respondent feel at ease in front of the interviewer, the researcher encouraging him or her to speak freely. This approach does not neutralise the power play during the interviews. In an effort to do so, I used a grid which was a combination of an open-biographical question and semi-directive questions. I systematically started with the question asking: How did it happen that you are in Germany (or Switzerland) now? The open question was aimed at eliciting a narration on the part of the respondent about his/her journey to the place he or she was currently living in, getting relevant information on the mobile background of the interviewees and their families. It was also an attempt on my part to disrupt the “question answer model” in which the respondent gives short answers. The goal was to encourage him or her to speak. The first part of the interviews consisted ←106 | 107→of the respondents’ story and lasted approximatively 20 minutes in each interview. After the first part, I switched to the semi-directive questions, which composed the second part of the interview. I organised the semi-directive question through different topics: the choice of the country of destination (and who made that choice), daily life in the new place, the partner’s situation and his or her activity, the “work care integration” of the partners (Halpern and Murphy 2005), the schooling of the children, the social life of the partners, the support of the company, the formal and informal support, the relationship to the different state bodies, and questions regarding self-identification. Thus, the interviews encompass both the trajectory to today (the social processes and physical movements of the respondents) and specific questions about the subjective experience of expatriation abroad (Appendix 2: Interview Grid, 325).

4.2.3 Analysing the Interview Corpus

So far, I have explained how I created the corpus of interviews. In this part, I will show how I analysed it through three angles, each corresponding to an empirical chapter. I conducted the analysis of the corpus using the free software for qualitative research, Sonal34. The strength of the program is that it proposes an “all integrated” solution to analysing qualitative data; from transcribing to coding audio files and later text documents.

a. Objective Data

Yet, the tool does not make the research. The first part of the analysis was about organising the data. To that purpose, I completed the corpus of interviews with “objective data”. At the end of each interview, I asked the respondents to fill in a form in which I asked for basic sociodemographic data: the country of birth, the nationality, the highest qualification achieved, the marital status, the children (if any), the current place of residency of the partner and the year of birth (Appendix 3: Data Sheet, 331). I also used the LinkedIn profile35 of the respondents and I combined it with the data of the interviews to recreate the mobile background of each respondent. Thus, I could see the professional career of the respondent (the succession of positions in the labour force) (Baruch 2006). Furthermore, I combined the objective data of the respondent with the situation of the partner and the children to get an overview of the family-strategy ←107 | 108→of the partners over time. In order to do so, I use another free software called FreeMind36 to create a map for each interview. The map below is the example of John and Aurelia. I conducted the interview with John at his office and recreated his background as well as Aurelia’s on this map, crossing the information from the interview, the data sheet and his LinkedIn profile. These maps would be central to understanding the family dynamics in the long run. The circle at the middle of the map summarises basic sociodemographic information about John. The numbers symbolise the different professional moves. The right-hand side of the map emphasises John’s background while the left-hand side of the map highlights Aurelia’s background.

The map (Figure 7) helps to illustrate the impact of one partner’s career on the other partner, as well as the “family-strategy” that the partners develop: in this case, we shall see that the “family-strategy” is gendered as Aurelia consented to moving to follow John and to do the care work for their children. In other words, her professional career was strongly impacted by her move with her future husband and by the eventual arrival of their children. John’s career has not been similarly affected.

b. Subjective Data

The bulk of the data is composed of transcribed qualitative interviews. I systematically coded the interviews by using a list of pre-set codes and developed a list of emergent codes (Appendix 4: Code Book, 332). The list of “pre-set codes” (also known as “a priori codes”) corresponds to the codes that I developed before assessing my data. These codes in fact came from my conceptualisation and my research interests. They corresponded to what I was looking for. I prepared the list, as the name suggests, before assessing the interviews. Examples of “pre-set codes” are: professional career, support of the company, support of the state, private life, self-identification, etc. The list of “pre-set codes” was mostly a tool that I used between the different waves of interviews. It allowed me to see if my conceptualisation fit with the interviews, or if I needed to change my conceptualisation and rework my interview grid. It was a controlling tool to anchor the study in the interviews, to avoid the risk of over-conceptualisation. Thus, it created a discussion between the fieldwork and the analysis, allowing for the construction of a study that takes advantage of the information gathered during the fieldwork. This is a strategy to enrich the study and increase its ←108 | 109→ ←109 | 110→quality. Thus, the pre-set codes are crucial to recalibrating the interview grid after having carried out a wave of interviews in order to explore new dimensions in the following wave.

An “emergent coding” (also known as inductive coding) develops the empirical analysis based on the content of the interviews. As its name suggests, the codes emerge out of the interviews. In other words, the researcher creates the analytical categories through codes coming from the data. Furthermore, the research notes, the memos are an important tool to develop the “open codes” as they contain a multitude of thoughts, “hypothesises”, ideas, and notes taken, for instance, just after an interview. Strauss and Corbin insist on the importance of this tool (2008, 164). The goal of using “emergent coding” is to stick as much as possible to the content and the context of the interviews. It is about developing codes based on the interview and the research notes. The first step is to develop “open codes”, that is a significant list of codes close to the text, describing and pointing at specific processes and topics developed by the respondents. “Open coding aims at developing substantial codes describing, naming, or classifying the phenomenon under study” (Flick 2009, 309–10). To illustrate this method, I present in Table 5 a part of my code book. In this example, the “open codes” are: being divorced, marriage, discussion, division ←110 | 111→of care work, etc. They correspond to various excerpts of the interviews and I linked them to research notes and memos that I collected during the research process. In the list of code, I summarised the main idea of the research note.

Each “open code”, corresponds to parts of the interviews in which the respondents talk about a specific topic. Thus, the process of developing and arranging the “open codes” is the engine to develop the empirical analysis. Figure 8 is a screenshot of the program I used to transcribe and code the interviews. Concretely, I coded the entire cursus of interviews. The right table entitled “Tags” refers to a part of the list of “open codes”. In this example, I selected the code “206 Family Strategy: Children” which corresponds to 27 extracts; then, I selected the interview with Yuna in which she describes the challenges she faces raising her five- year-old boy while living in Switzerland. The advantage is that I can focus on a thematic rather than an interview as a whole as it is possible to see all the excerpts corresponding the “open code: children”.

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The second step regroups the “open-codes” into key categories, through a process called “axial coding”. “Axial coding” involves coding the codes, regrouping the dozens of “open codes” into meaningful categories and creating connections between the codes. It is a tool that ultimately creates meaning out of the multiple anecdotes, lived experiences, and memories shared within the interviews. It allows the researcher to focus on the main topics of the analysis by regrouping for instance all the codes related to “professional career”, or “family-strategy”. In Figure 8, the process of “axial coding” corresponds to the way by which I group all the “open codes” in the category “family-strategy”.

The last step is the “selective coding” which refers to the selection of the core analytical categories for the study. While presenting this method, Flick (2009) speaks about “the categories that are most relevant to the research question” as being “selected from the developed codes” (2009, 312). The “selective coding” refers to the way the researcher selects the core categories which are going to structure the research. They are going to be the core material of the following three empirical chapters. In the list of codes in Figure 8 (the window “Tags” on the screenshot), three groups of codes can be distinguished. I distinguish three analytical categories that correspond at the same time to the last step of the coding and to the structure of the empirical analysis. These three analytical categories are namely the 300s and 400s codes called “primary-movers” and “secondary-mover”, the 100s codes, “displaying family”, and the 200s codes, “family-strategies”. These three groups of codes correspond in turn to three concepts that I made reference to while presenting the “methodological individualism”: the practices, the narratives to “display family” and the “family-strategy” that the partners adopt. The first chapter of the empirical part (Chapter 6) deals with a typology of moves and movers based on the concept of initiative. It distinguishes the partner who initiates the move (the “primary-mover”) and the possible reactions of the other partner (the “secondary-mover”). It adopts a collective perspective encompassing both partners, not just one of them, to understand the various motivations and the consequences of a professional move. The second chapter focuses on “displaying family” (Finch 2007) and deals with the narratives employed to present and justify decisions made regarding the organisation of the family. It shows that while the discourse regarding the traditional heteronormative family with a male breadwinner and a woman doing the care work is rejected by the respondents; it nonetheless corresponds with their own practices. The third chapter stresses the development of “family-strategies” in the long run and develops different types of “family-strategies” allowing for a better understanding of the interplay between professional migrations and the organisation of the family. Before ←112 | 113→switching to the empirical part, I will present the two central epistemological foundations of my work. I will show that both epistemological foundations underline the necessity to situate the researcher in the context of the study he or she is producing. The next chapter concerning the methodology gives information about the researcher who conducted this study as well as the regions where this study was conducted.

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28 Quelles que soient les configurations de l’enquête, l’enquêteur en pratique n’est jamais absent (Own Translation).

29 For Brinkman, these distinctions are just analytical ones to order various epistemological traditions. It does not mean that the “French” use only the so-called “French” set of theories while the “American” use only the “American” one. They are just labels based on the place where this tradition was originally developed.

30 Website of Internations, retrieved April 13, 2018, from

31 Website of Facebook, retrieved April 13, 2018, from

32 Website of Glocals, retrieved April 13, 2018, from

33 For the in-depth justification of the choice of these two regions, as well as the main differences between them, see the subchapter 5.2 Contextualising the Lake Geneva Region and Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region, p. 98.

34 Website of Sonal, retrieved April 13, 2018, from

35 Website of Linkedin, retrieved April 13, 2018, from

36 Website of Freemind, retrieved April 13, 2018, from