FAMILIES, CONSTRUCTIONS OF FOREIGNNESS AND MIGRATION IN 20th CENTURY WESTERN EUROPE
Conference at Leuven University, Belgium, May 15-16 2008
Date proposals: October 1 2007
Historians increasingly compare migration across specific periods as well as societies. So far, the comparisons have mainly dealt with either ethnic groups or societies of settlement. This conference aims to deepen the comparative endeavour by adding a comparison from a new angle. Instead of comparing ethnic groups or nation-states as a whole, which runs the risk of overemphasizing ethnic and national differences, it invites researchers to compare time-specific policies and experiences of migration and family in 20th century Western Europe.
One striking difference between then and now, and here and there, is indeed the meaning attached to the 'migrant family', i.e. the close or less close relatives of the recognized central actor (male or female) of the migration process. Family boundaries widen and narrow, of course, according to circumstances. Like gender, family is first of all a social construction. Specifically, it is the construction of meaningful relationships with regard to sex as well as generation. Since the 1970s, studying family has lost significance in migration research in favour of the analysis of gender dynamics. Bringing family back in is important, however, for two reasons. First of all, 'family' was and is an experiential category of both migrants themselves and policy makers. For most of the twentieth century, 'family' was far more central to people's thoughts, conversations and experiences than gender. Secondly, it is time to analyse the interrelationship of gender and generation more thoroughly. In that way, we will get to know more about age- and kin-related changes in gender roles.
Three perspectives will receive particular attention at the conference. Firstly, policies and their implications on positions and identities of migrants or their relatives will be discussed. Societies, whether sending or receiving nation states or smaller social environments, define and redefine their boundaries in ethnocultural, biological, economic, legal and other terms. These changing constructions of who is one of 'us', what 'we' need and who is 'foreign' imply time-specific policies of family and migration. Importantly, in the course of the twentieth century Western European nation-states have increasingly affected migrants and their families, as states became the principle regulators of migration as well as the main providers of welfare. Welfare regimes entailed new categorisations, like the category 'second generation'.
Secondly, the conference will draw attention to the relationship between the family situation and the stereotyping of migrants or their descendants. Constructions of foreignness have been highly gendered in the last century, as several scholars have shown. As such, in the heydays of male guestworker migration female migrant workers remained largely invisible in Western European societies. Less explored is how children or elders and singles versus families have been constructed as 'foreign'. Participants are invited to discuss different ways of perceiving migrants according to their family situation and the ways in which people of migrant origin negotiated those stereotypes.
Thirdly, we are interested in research starting from the perspective of migrants or their relatives themselves. How did they construct family and how did family cultures affect their experiences and self-identities as migrants or relatives of migrants? Family cultures, which were of course embedded in changing social and political contexts, have given way to different patterns of (network) migration as well as to specific forms of economic, social and political participation in societies of arrival and/or in societies of departure. Instead of treating transnational ties as a side issue, the conference encourages to look at the involvement of migrants in receiving and sending societies alike.
Conference papers may deal with migration for family reasons as such, for instance migration in the case of adoption, marriage or family reunion, as well as with labour migration, colonial migration or refugee migration, as long as the experiences of family involved in these migrations are highlighted. In other words, rather than starting from the given categories of migration research, the aim is to explore possible new ones.
You are cordially invited to send proposals of approx.
500 words to Leen Beyers, Leuven University (Belgium), email@example.com, by October 1st, 2007.
All people submitting proposals will be informed by the end of October 2007. Papers will be due on April 14, 2008. A selection of the conference proceedings will be published.
Department of History
Modernity and Society 1800-2000
Fax: 32-16-324993 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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