Show Less
Open access

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.

Show Summary Details
Open access

9 Theoretical and Empirical Insights

←288 | 289→

9 Theoretical and Empirical Insights

Two chapters structure the discussion section of the dissertation. In the first (Chapter 9) I review and summarise the main contributions of the current study. I answer the research questions posed at the outset and point towards some ideas for further research. In the second (Chapter 10) I discuss the theoretical and empirical insights of the study. I emphasise some differences that I have noted between the Geneva and the Frankfurt region, combining the contextual chapter (Chapter 5) and the three empirical chapters (Chapters 6, 7, and 8). Though this study does not develop a formal comparative design, some elements, for instance, of the “family policy”, deserve further comment. Finally, I focus on the different actors I have encountered during this study to offer them some recommendations. Let us start by reviewing the crucial insights of the study with a view to answering our research questions.

9.1 Decentring the Literature and the Research Design

The main purpose of the theoretical part is to decentre the current literature on highly-skilled migration and expatriation. In other words, I develop a decentred theoretical framework, which is to say an innovative way to assess the scientific literature on highly-skilled migration and gender. Doing so, I create the notion of a “polarisation of migration” in order to express the way research opposes “Normalfall Migration” and “highly-skilled migration”. I present two seminal theories in Migration studies, the “neoclassical theory of migration flows” (p. 37) and the “dual labour market theory” (p. 38). These two theories are usually opposed, the one being seen as “mainstream” and the other, “critical”. Nevertheless, I argue, both depend upon a “polarisation of migration”, opposing two types of migration that speak to to two different social processes. Opposing these two types of migration does not only refer to the skill level of the migrants in question, but implies normative categorisations that span far beyond the realm of social sciences. In fact, these categorisations are at the core of a worldview, which largely transcends social sciences: a widespread oversimplified worldview (“Weltanschauung” in German).

Figure 26 offers a useful way to illustrate what this worldview is all about. It shows the opposition between a “controlled migration” and a “frictionless mobility” (Favell 2014) and represents the “migration binaries” opposing “us/them”, the skilled professionals who move by choice versus the unskilled migrants ←289 | 290→ ←290 | 291→who are forced to move. In fact, it represents a seminal distinction in Western social sciences, that Edward Said discussed in his Orientalism (2003 [1978]). He spoke of the “Europeans [and] in front of them, the non-Europeans” (ibid., 38). The argument is close to what Bhambra (2017) describes as “methodological whiteness”. For her, “it is clear that the category of ‘class’ is not being used as a neutral or objective one, but rather as a euphemism for a racialized identity politics” (2017, 227). Al Ariss (2010), similarly, notes that as soon an “expatriate” comes from a country of the “global South”, he or she is considered a migrant. In his words, this conceptualisation “comes to replicate and support a stereotyped image of migrants who are less advantaged in terms of their originating country and ethnic origins” (2010, 80). Through the “migration binaries”, I deconstruct a worldview implying “white upper middle-class mobile professionals” opposed to “racialized under-class [sic.] migrants forced to flee a scorched country”. Therefore, this study develops a decentred theoretical framework able to deal reflexively with the scientific literature without reproducing a “polarisation of migration”. The distinction does not only imply normative assumptions but also produces performative effects, as the collective image of a phenomena already contains, in part, its political answers. Thus, it should not be taken for granted in the scientific literature. One of these assumptions is that highly-skilled migrants will not stay in their new country of residence: they are here only temporarily. They are not a “threat” to the “imagined community” of the nation (Anderson 1991) because they have somewhere to return to, where they “belong”, as if the “norm” is to live only in the place “where one comes from”. My analysis challenges this assumption and shows a type of “family-strategy” which precisely allows for a long term stay in the host-country.

However, it cannot be denied that the life of a highly-skilled migrant working for a multinational company in the Geneva or the Frankfurt regions is dramatically different from that of an asylum seeker in the same regions. Indeed, the two terms refer to very different lived experiences. Yet, they not only express different lived experiences but also the different theoretical frameworks used to study them, which is where things become problematic. My work is an attempt to propose an analysis that bridges the two theoretical frameworks they presuppose; this is what I referred to earlier as overcoming the “migration and the gender binaries”. In chapter 6, I developed, for instance, a distinction between the “partner-initiated mover” and “partner-coordinated mover”. This analytical tool combines studies focusing on family relationships that are mostly developed along the “migrant” side of the binaries, and on the question of who is the initiator of the move, which comes from studies on expatriation (Andresen et al. 2014) refers to the “highly-skilled migrant” side of the binaries. The goal was to decentre both sides of the ←291 | 292→“binaries” in order to propose a more innovative framework. Doing so, I created a discussion between disciplines which were, thus far, almost hermetically sealed off from each other, and focused on the strong points of both, showing the possibility of a mutual prosperity. This is the first theoretical implication of my work which should encourage further research.

By exposing such a “polarised worldview”, this theoretical part of the study stresses the need to acknowledge the “polarisation of migration” and to deconstruct it. This idea comes from the work of Derrida (1978) who advices us to treat the existing concepts as old tools to be used à défaut de mieux. I have developed the “migration binaries” and the “gender binaries” around the idea of a “polarisation of migration”. Yet, my proposal for overcoming this worldview is to develop a “decentred theoretical framework” based on the “migration and the gender binaries”. This decentred framework aims at deconstructing the unquestioned assumptions that the “polarisation” implies. In order to do so, I developed three “methodological premises” (3 Decentring the Research on Highly-Skilled Migration and Expatriation: Three Methodological Premises, 71). Respectively, these three “methodological premises” are “methodological individualism”, “methodological nationalism”, and “methodological economism”. While the first two are not new and can be found in many studies, the third one, the “methodological economism” represents a theoretical insight of the current study. It relies on the “migration binaries”, because it refers to the biases of opposing permanent controlled migration to temporal frictionless mobility. Wimmer and Glick Schiller (2002, 2003) coined the notion of “methodological nationalism” to denounce the biases of either naturalising or ignoring the nation-states involved in various studies: it refers to a methodological position that acknowledges the nation-states without naturalising them. I develop the “methodological economism” following the same logic and propose a position that would depoliticise migration while problematising mobility.

Table 7: Summarising the Methodological Premises. Source: Own Elaboration.

Table 7 summarises the main ideas of the decentred framework for studying highly-skilled migration that is presented here. Each “methodological premise” corresponds to a set of biases that I aim at overcoming in the empirical analysis. Thus, I construct an original research design that breaks with the unquestioned assumptions of the three “methodological premises”. This forms the second theoretical insight and, again, demands further research.

My proposal for overcoming the assumptions behind “methodological individualism” relies on the socio-constructivist approach developed by West and Zimmerman (1987), who coined the phrase “doing gender”. Many scholars use this approach to study topics other than gender. Amelina and Lutz (2017) speak of “doing migration” and Baldassar et al. (2014) speak of “doing family”. Such ←292 | 293→ ←293 | 294→a perspective goes beyond the limitations of “methodological individualism”, as it overturns the conceptualisation of an isolated migrant by re-embedding him or her in the social context in which they live. In fact, I am responding to Baldassar et al. when they propose that “we need to further develop our understanding of the meanings, actual practices, and obstacles related to doing family in a context of increased mobility and geographical distance” (2014, 171). Thus, my endeavour was to develop further empirical research about the process of “doing family” in the case of highly-skilled migration, and I analysed the process of “doing family” on the move by simultaneously taking into consideration the care work and professional work that gets done in the wake of a migration initiated for professional reasons.

When it comes to the “methodological nationalism”, my proposal has been to take two localities as occasions to contextualise the lived experiences and narratives about professional migration. By choosing the Geneva and the Frankfurt regions, I developed an analysis that took the specificity of each region into consideration while remaining attentive to what is common to them. Glick Schiller and Çağlar (2010) develop this way of overcoming the “methodological nationalism” in their book Locating Migration: Rescaling Cities and Migrants. Thus, the two first “methodological premises” are not as such original, given that scholars have already proposed ways of overcoming them.

What is original is the proposal to overcome the third “methodological premise”: the “methodological economism”. It is a combination of the work of two scholars: Favell (2014), who denounces the opposition between a frictionless mobility and a controlled migration, and Wieczorek (2018), who points to the mobility that takes place after a migration. In fact, “methodological economism” tackles the “migration binaries”. It opposes migrants, “them”, who need to “integrate/assimilate” as they allegedly remain immobile post-migration, and the mobile professionals who need to “adapt” as they are a hyper-mobile part of “us”. In order to overcome these biases, I underline the need to be reflexive about the “categories of practices” and the “categories of analysis” at work in the study (Brubaker 2002, 2013).

I do so by purposefully articulating the scientific discussion on expatriation and highly-skilled mobility in the semantic realm of Migration studies. This helps clarify what the “categories of analysis” and “categories of practices” are. From this perspective, I decentre the discussion of highly-skilled mobility and expatriation by emphasising that they are also forms of migration. It is never a frictionless mobility. At the same time, I use concepts drawn from expatriation studies to depoliticise the discussion about migration, hence decentring the core concepts of Migration studies.

←294 | 295→

Instead of focusing on the “integration” of highly-skilled migrants, I focus on their ways of coping with (multiple) relocations and so on their chosen “family-strategies” for settling in a new geographical region. Decentring is a barrier against such normative concepts that are hard to define as “integration,” which I deliberately avoid. Research on expatriation develops rather a pragmatic approach concretely focusing on the challenges faced by highly-skilled migrants. Such a focus allows the researcher to examine the problems that the migrants face when they arrive in a new locale, the people who can help them, and the kind of support they can receive.

Table 8: Implication box 1. Source: Own Elaboration.

Implications for further research:

“Methodological economism” is a tool:

1. for deconstructing the worldview that contrasts “white upper middle-class mobile professionals” and “racialised under-class [sic] migrants forced to flee their scorched earth” by problematising mobility and depoliticising migration.

2. for bringing together Expatriation studies and Migration studies, which had not yet spoken to each other. A fruitful approach for further studies would be based on the ability of each field to open the way to original concepts, such as the distinction between “partner-initiated” and “partner-coordinated” mover.

Simultaneously, I continue to use the concept of migrant in order to counterbalance the “polarisation of migration” that these terms imply. In other words, a “highly-skilled migrant” is a “category of analysis” with which none of the interviewees identified. For most, they identified as “expatriate”, “citizen of the world”, “cosmopolitan” or “employee of their company”, which are all “categories of practices”. The very use of these categories, I argue, is an act of power; it is a way of creating an order by “naming the world”, the goal being to differentiate themselves from others, namely, migrants. While this is quite a common effect of “categories of practice”, I aim to avoid reproducing this “polarisation of migration” in my work and thus used a different “category of analysis”, that is, the highly-skilled migrant. Implication box 1 (above) summarises the possibilities for further research focusing on the theoretical part.

9.2 Doing Family on the Move

While the theoretical part of this project does provide some new insights, the core of the most innovative results are to be found in the empirical sections, which offer an analysis of “doing family” on the move (Baldassar et al. 2014; Jurczyk, ←295 | 296→Lange, and Thiessen 2014) through three different facets – corresponding to the three empirical chapters – namely, the practices, narratives, and strategies that are involved. Through these three facets, I show the variety of family dynamics deployed in a highly-skilled migration. Thus, each of the three facets corresponds to a central element of “doing family” and combines the impact of migration on the professional careers of the partners (Chapter 6: Professional Careers, 137), to the narratives that account for a couple’s parsing of the care work and professional careers (Chapter 7: Representing Migration: Between Motilities and Anchors, 183), and the development of their “family-strategy” over the long term (Chapter 8: Family-Strategies of Highly-Skilled Migrants, 225). In a nutshell, “doing family” involves the decision to migrate, the narratives about those decisions, and the strategies allowing families to make the move successful.

9.2.1 Consequences following the Decision to Migrate

The empirical section started with an example of the “professional approach” (6.1 Migration Triggering: An Individual Approach, 138). Four empirical cases served to stress the variety of different professional moves being referred to by the term “expatriation”. Following the work of Andresen et al. (2014), I showed the difference between the “assigned expatriate”, the “drawn expatriate”, the “intra self-initiated expatriate”, and the “inter self-initiated expatriate”. Noting the relevance of this typology in our attempts to better understand what drives “highly-skilled migration”, I also developed a complementary, more “collective approach” (6.2 Migration Triggering: A Collective Approach, 142) in order to facilitate that analysis. This approach is careful to acknowledge the social embeddedness of highly-skilled migrants in order to help overcome what I called the “methodological individualist” bias. I used the same principle to distinguish different types of moves, as Andresen et al. do (2014), by attending to the question of who in the couple is the initiator of a move.

Table 9: Implication box 2. Source: Own Elaboration.

Implications for further research:

The “collective approach” aims at overcoming “methodological individualism”. Further research should systematically imbed highly-skilled migrants in their family relationships while studying their inclusion in the labour market.

The important difference here has to do with the fact that, while a “professional approach” focuses on the relationship between employer and employee, a “collective approach” focuses instead on the partners. By decentring the “professional approach”, I described two seminal types of movers: the “primary-mover” and the “secondary-mover”. Each of these types is determined by its position relative to the initiator of the migration. Thus, I was able to show that the consequences of a migration for professional reasons follow different logics for the “primary” and “secondary” movers. This distinction is at the core of my work, in that it changes the way we might conceptualise highly-skilled migration (Implication box 2).

Table 10: Summarising the Types of Move. Source: Own Elaboration

←296 | 297→

Consequently, I went on to analyse the way in which the experience of a professional migration differs according to the role one plays as either “primary-mover” or “secondary-mover”. This leads to a differentiation of two types of moves for the “primary-mover” and three types of (im)mobility for the “secondary-mover” (Table 10). This typology of movers and types of moves is the foundation of my research. I built the whole empirical section around a recombining and detailed analysis of each separate types. In chapter 6, I analysed each individual type of move for each type of mover. In chapter 7, I showed in each type of move the power of the “primary-mover” to shape the narrative of “displaying family” (Finch 2007). In chapter 8, I combined the different types of moves in order to construct larger patterns of “doing family” (Baldassar et al. 2014): patterns that I called “family-strategies”. Table 10 illustrated this conceptual bedrock of my work.

The second part of chapter 6 (i.e. the first chapter of the empirical section) explored the different types of moves, showing that the “expat-move” implies “motility” in a way that a “local-move” does not. The analysis of the types of moves of the “primary-mover” revealed a further concept which is absolutely central to my work: the concept of “motility” (Kaufmann, Bergman, and Joye 2004; Flamm and Kaufmann 2006). I classified the types of moves of the “primary-mover” through a continuum on which the capacity as well as the openness to “motility” makes the difference between an “expat-move” and a “local-move”. This distinction does not really refer to mobility as such, given that all the respondents described some level of mobility for professional reasons, but rather to an ←297 | 298→individual’s openness and capacity to be mobile. This way of typifying the moves of the “primary-mover” through a continuum based on “motility” may initially seem harmless. However, once the perceived need to be “motile” is called into question from the perspective of the “secondary-mover”, the concept makes visible the strongly gendered effects that lead many “secondary-movers” to quit the labour force. Truth be told, analyses of these types of moves by “primary-movers” are numerous, constituting the bulk of all studies that analyse professionally triggered migrations, but few of them seem equipped to account for the gendered effects that result.

Table 11: Conceptualised Questions and Corresponding Answers for Chapter 6. Source: Own Elaboration

Conceptualised QuestionsBrief Answers
How do couples “integrate” two positions in the labour force when one has to move abroad for professional reasons?In most cases, the “secondary-mover” decides to follow the “primary-mover” to the new location through a “total-move”. Doing so, this person will face the challenges of the “partner-initiated mover”. Some others prefer a “half-move” facing the challenges of the “partner-coordinated mover”, and some decide against moving altogether.
Is the “secondary-mover” faced with specific challenges regarding their professional career? If yes, what are these challenges about?Yes, the challenges vary depending on the type of move. Through a “total-move”, the “secondary-mover” has to find a position in the labour force in the new location, while in a “half-move” or for a “secondary-stayer”, the partners need to deal with a bi-local settling.

Analysing the situation of the “secondary-mover”, which corresponds to the challenges and reactions of the other partner, also proved to be interesting and rather innovative. I described three different types of reactions as following, coordinating, or staying. Each reaction corresponds to specific types of moves and movers (Table 10). While the “partner-coordinated mover” circumvents the challenges implied by a “total-move”, the “partner-initiated mover” faces a unique set of challenges. I therefore showed what these challenges are (6.5.2 Unique Challenges of a Partner-Initiated Mover, 159) as well as what the different factors are that favour or hinder access to the labour market in the context of a “total-move” (6.5.5 Access to the Labour Force, 171).

An important point that I want to make here concerning chapter 6 is that adopting a “collective approach” specifically means that the secondary mover’s professional activity is not left out of the analysis. In fact, the “collective approach” encompasses the way the partners coordinate their professional careers which I conceptualised as “labour force work integration”. Though it is a complicated ←298 | 299→path, some “partner-initiated movers” do find a position in the labour force after having followed their partner abroad. Table 11 summarises the main answers to the questions I ask for the chapter 6.

9.2.2 Narratives Displaying the Division of the Tasks

The second empirical chapter (7 Representing Migration: Between Motilities and Anchors, 183) focused on the narratives respondents told. The originality of this part has to do with its adoption of a decentred perspective on how the “primary-movers” display their family. The goal was, once again, to decentre common “migration and gender binaries” by looking, this time, at how the one partner who privileges his (and more rarely her) professional career portrays their family. The two first empirical chapters respond to on another in the sense that they both decentre the analysis, however from different perspectives. While the first chapter analysed the often forgotten professional activity of the “secondary-movers”, the second dealt with how the “primary-movers” display their family. In other words, the second chapter reinserted the “primary-movers” into the context of their family. There remained a small nuance to add here, resulting from my analysis the narrative of one “secondary-mover” in the second part of the chapter, namely, Maria’s (7.3.1 Ignoring Motility, 208). Nevertheless, the bulk of the chapter focused on the discourse of the “primary-movers” and was structured around the concept of “motility”.

I differentiated two discursive stances towards “motility” in this context. The cases in which the “primary-movers” develop a narrative that emphasises “motility” reveal a discrepancy between their narratives and actual practices. They show that the respondents avoid depicting their family as a “traditional family”. Instead, they all aim at displaying a fair “family-strategy” in which both of the partners work in the labour force. Paradoxically, they also discursively devalue the care work done in the home, implying that they themselves would not do it. I noted three such stances. One emphasises the “structural constraints” (7.2.1 Structural Constraints, 187) that hinder the “secondary-movers’ ” capacity to find work in the labour force. Another one consists of accepting the perceived impossibility of having two upwardly mobile and motile professional careers under the same roof (7.2.2 Career Men and Career Women, 195). The last tended to underline the alleged efforts of the “primary-mover” in the sphere of the family (7.2.3 Paradoxical Family Men, 201). The common point between these three narrative stances stressing “motility” is the absence of any reference to the support that the “primary-movers” might provide even if they actually don’t. They never mention the possibility of helping their partner in the care ←299 | 300→work so that she might have more time to develop her own professional projects. These discourses reveal the normative standpoint of the respondents vis-a-vis the care work. Indeed, they seem systematically to devalue it. While they adopt a narrative that implies they have wished they could be, or tried as much as they could be, more supportive of a “family-strategy” in which both partners can participate in the labour force, they remain blind to the contributions they might make themselves towards achieving such a “family-strategy”.

Table 12: Implication box 3. Source: Own Elaboration

Implications for further research:
In my study, I show that the “secondary-movers” are most of the time women. Further studies should focus on the male “secondary-movers” to analyse the reorganisations of gendered hierarchies within these couples.

Truth be told, while some of the respondents may indeed simply be blind, others seem intently to enjoy the status quo in which they get (all) they want. Nearly all the respondents in this part of the study implied that they could not invest more in the care work without consequences on their professional career. By emphasising that he is a “family man”, for example, Dennis shows that he is trying to invest more time into his family, relative to other colleagues. Nevertheless, when he speaks about the daily running of the family, he shows himself to have invested nearly all his time in the labour force, referring systematically to the level of competition at work among his colleagues. In fact, Dennis is in the upper category of the middle management, and for him, as for many of the male respondents, there seems a clear choice between a more balanced “family-strategy” and their career. This point is central to understanding the reproduction of gender hierarchies within the families, given that one of the ways of developing more equalitarian “family-strategies” is the greater contribution of the male partners to the domestic and care work (Implication box 3). Again, they perceive it as an option that would hinder their careers, disadvantaging them relative to colleagues who do not do so. They perceive the situation as an “either/or”, only, which is in striking contrast to they way they ostensibly value an organisation of the family in which both partners can invest in a professional activity. Indeed, they seem to make no such investment in the care work that would be required to achieve such a more balanced outcome. Even Dennis’ narrative (7.2.3 Paradoxical Family Men, 201), who underlines his interest in the family, does not describe any fairer division of the tasks. I showed that while he considers himself a “family man”, as compared to his colleagues, he does not talk per se about his actual engagement in developing a fairer distribution of the care work at home.

Table 13: Conceptualised Questions and Corresponding Answers for Chapter 7. Source: Own Elaboration

Conceptualised QuestionsBrief Answers
What kind of “meaning patterns” do the respondents produce when they “display family?”The respondents develop two kinds of “meaning patterns”; one accepting the “motility” of the “primary-mover”, the other controlling it. Yet, all the respondents try in one way or another to portray their partner as working in the labour force.
Does “displaying family” guide them while making decisions on their “care work integration”? If yes, how do they orient their actions while taking these decisions?Yes, it does. The respondents emphasising “motility” hardly ever speak about how they might help their partner with the care work, whereas those who develop a more controlled stance towards “motility” refuse its disruptive impacts on the organisation of the care work. This shows that maintaining a high “motility” for the sake of one professional career (re)produces gender hierarchies.
←300 | 301→

The second part of the chapter dealt with “anchored narratives”, which is to say, narratives that adopt a stance either ignoring or refusing “motility”. In this part, I referred to the singular case of Maria (7.3.1 Ignoring Motility, 208) who lies to herself in order to nurture the courage required to find a new position in the labour force again after each successive relocation. Her story underlines the difficulty “secondary-movers” have in finding employment when they migrate every four to five years. I also discussed the case of Lynn and Alex (7.3.2 Refusing Motility, 211) who refused further migrations, acknowledging that they could hardly find a better situation than the one they already had. Both are employed in a multinational company in Frankfurt, both have a position matching their professional competencies. Furthermore, both are aware that finding a better position abroad for one of them would not be impossible, doing so for both simultaneously would be difficult indeed. They do not therefore want to take the risk. In fact, they have received individual offers but always considered the other partner? Their problem is that collectively they are convinced that they could not find better and, thus, adopt a narrative stance in which they refuse “motility”. I showed how their “family-strategy” becomes a “golden prison” to them as they must maintain their respective professional activities and are in the difficult situation of wanting to stay in a place they did not choose. All in all, the three narratives stage some desire to control the “motility” of the “primary-mover”, in order to be able to share the care work (involving children or aging parents) and/or maintain a balanced “labour force work integration”. They showed a narrative stance that refuses “motility” as it remains open to an unknown ←301 | 302→destination implied by another relocation, which contrasts strongly with the first three narratives that simply accepted “motility”. Table 13 summarises the main answers to the questions I asked in chapter 7.

9.2.3 Family-Strategies

The final empirical chapter sought to conceptualise and show the inherent dynamics of three types of “family-strategies” for highly-skilled migrants. I stressed three processes leading to changes in and/or the sedimentation of a “family-strategy”. First, the “iterative logic” of a “family-strategy” refers to the way the same series of questions recur at each new migration. Second, the “path-dependency” of the “family-strategies” points to the fact that former decisions have an impact on forthcoming decisions – such as when settling in a new locale, the partners have to take into consideration the consequences of their former choices. Third, I noted the possibility of conflicts arising between the partners that may lead to a change in the relative prioritising of their two careers. By this I mean that in some cases, the “secondary-movers” challenge a given “family-strategy” in order to maintain their own position in the labour force (8.4.2 Power-Dynamics, 268). In most such cases, however, the unequal nature of the “family-strategy” is not challenged, which leads to its sedimentation, meaning that the distribution of “primary” and “secondary mover” types does not switch between the partners. Through these three elements, I emphasised the dynamic and flexible nature of “family-strategies” as neither (pre)determined nor totally random.

To better conceptualise the range of available “family-strategies”, I identified three different patterns, namely, the “motile family-strategy”, the “local family-strategy” and the “mobile family-strategy”. Each “family-strategy” both facilitates and hinders specific constellations of “labour force work integration” and “care work integration”; leading me to speak of a “mutually exclusive model”. Furthermore, I showed that each strategy implies a specific relationship to the local space as the partners develop different kind of social networks and mobilise various forms of care support. I constructed each pattern from the particular mix of the types of moves (Chapter 6) and narrative stances towards “motility” (Chapter 7) that are in question.

A “motile family-strategy” makes it difficult to maintain two professional careers under the constraints of the “motility” of the “primary-mover”. In fact, the “secondary-mover,” who can also be described as a “partner-initiated mover,” faces the challenge of redeploying the care work arrangements. In most of the cases, as care work is too important, the “secondary-mover” focuses on it exclusively without seeking external care support (whether of an informal or ←302 | 303→non-formal nature). Consequently, she does not have the time to seek employment in the labour force. This “family-strategy” corresponds to the respondents who usually self-identified as “expatriate”. Their “modalities of settling” are coherent with their idea of having to move again soon, given that the “primary-mover” is “motile” and the “secondary-mover” follows. I demonstrated that the “motility” of the “primary-mover” is supported financially and organisationally by the employing company. This can result in the children studying at an “international school,” which the parents have the means to pay for through the employing company. It follows that the partners and the children are included in an exclusive social network around the international school and the colleagues of the “primary-mover”. I refer this situation as an “expat-bubble” (Fechter 2007a). Their “peers” face the same challenges and they usually help each other. This tradition strategy is characterised by the gendered division of the tasks between the partners, implying a male “breadwinner” and a female “caregiver”.

The “local family-strategy” corresponds to a strategy which favours a long-term anchoring in the new local space. Different from the “motile family-strategy”, the “local family-strategy” is preferred by partners who try as much as possible to stay in the local space to which they have migrated. This often implies negotiations with the employer to secure a long term professional position in the new local space, as we saw in the case of Yuna and Julia (8.3.3 Separations and Divorces, 258). In that context, the respondents developed a strategy allowing them to stay because they needed to deal with a more complicated “family-work integration,” as is often the case with separations and divorces in which a child is involved. Another situation leading to this particular strategy is one in which both partners have a relatively good position in the labour force and do not want to take the risk of one partner losing his or her professional activity as a result of a further migration. Such a strategy, consequently, decreases the “motility” of the “primary-mover”. Indeed, the “local family-strategy” favours a dual career and children at the expense of “motility”. When the partners are able to develop a “family-strategy” in which they maintain two professional careers abroad, they often rely on formal, non-formal and informal forms of care support. They can mobilise the local nation-stated “family-policy”; as they worked in the labour force in the same region for a few years, they are entitled, for instance, to maternity or paternity leave and to a place for their child/ren in a public day care centre. It is also common in this context for the parents to hire nanny or au pair, or that their own parents come to help with the care work”. In the case of a nanny or an au pair, they tend to delegate the care work to other migrants. This is the “global care chain” that others have discussed (Amelina 2016; Degavre and Merla 2016), which only ←303 | 304→underlines the privileged position of the respondents of the current study. Rather than reducing gender inequalities per se, they transfer them to other women.

Table 14: Implication box 4. Source: Own Elaboration

Implications for further research:
My work deals with highly-skilled migrants. Further studies could use the “mutually exclusive model” to focus on the resident population, asking about the “family-strategies” of commuters, or even “extreme commuters” (who commute more than 90 minutes twice a day to reach their place of work)? Can this “mutually exclusive model” be generalised? Further studies could thus focus on the impact the time spent commuting has on the development of gendered “family-strategies”.

The last pattern of “family-strategy” is the “mobile family-strategy” which corresponds to a daily and extensive use of mobility in order to maintain the partners’ “family-work integration”. In fact, their integration of professional work and care work is difficult to maintain, as the partners tend to travel extensively. This strategy is often temporary as it is exhausting. This strategy favours the “motility” and the “careers” but not the “children”. The case of Maria working for an Italian company in Japan exemplifies the difficulty of maintaining this strategy over the long term. Though partners usually do not have children, given that the strategy implies a prioritisation of their professional careers over family-life, some do. In this context, sending the children to boarding school is an option commonly turned to.

From a “collective perspective”, the three strategies offer an innovative way of tackling the (re)production of gender hierarchies within the family: what I call a “mutually exclusive model” (Implication box 4). I distinguish three elements: “motility”, children, and career. I show that while men can have an upwardly mobile and successful professional career, including “motility” and children, women can often only have two of these at any one time. At the core of the model lies the recurring fact that women do the unpaid care work more often than men do and the question is, as Table 11 summarizes, what can be done to diminish this discrepancy?

←304 | 305→

Table 15: Conceptualised Questions and Corresponding Answers for Chapter 8. Source: Own Elaboration

Conceptualised QuestionsBrief Answers

How can the “family-strategies” be conceptualised to study “gendered hierarchies” within families?

What kind of model can I construct for them?

I distinguish three types of “family-strategies”. Each “family-strategy” favours two elements and hinders the third one. The “motile family-strategy” favours the “motility” of the “primary-mover”. Strong “gendered hierarchies” support a traditional division of the tasks between the partners given that the female “secondary-mover” does the care work, hindering any hope for a dual career couple. The “local family-strategy” favours dual career couples and a fairer division of the tasks when it comes to the care work, but hinders the “motility” of the “primary-mover”. The “mobile family-strategy” favours a dual career couple and the “motility” of the “primary-movers” (if not both partners) while hindering family-life.

I articulate the three types of “family-strategies” through a “mutually exclusive model” and show how the strong “gendered hierarchies” of the “motile family-strategy” allows male partners to combine a career, motility, and children. At the same time, it undermines the female partners’ capacity to coordinate all three elements. This model shows that unlike their male counterparts, the female partners cannot have it all.

What is the relationship between the “family-strategies” and the region in which the respondents settle?Each “family-strategy” stresses a specific social network as well as a distinguishable organisation and mobilisation of support for the care work. The “motile family-strategy” requires the financial support of the employing company, involving international schools and networks of fellow “expatriates”. The “local family-strategy” relies more on the local variation of the nation-stated “family policy” as well as a mobilisation of a mix of formal, informal and non-formal care structures. The “mobile family-strategy” implies an extensive use of mobility and refers to boarding schools.
←305 | 306→