The rapid increase in international marriage across several countries within Asia in recent decades has led to vigorous scholarly attention and debate on cross-border marriage migration and the formation of transnational families in Asia. Earlier studies tended to focus on structural factors, identifying the political economy of gender and the international division of labour in a capitalist economy as root causes (Wijers and Lin, 1997; Piper, 1999) and conceptualising international marriage as part of the feminization of migration (Yamanaka and Piper, 2005; Liew et al., 2009). Demographic studies gave weight to the pull factors commonly shared by the receiving countries of marriage migration in Asia, such as the male marriage squeeze and shortage of care labour as a result of skewed sex ratios, delayed marriage, low fertility rates, and female rural-urban migration (Gavin and Shen, 2008; Yang and Lu, 2009). These structural analyses laid a foundation for our understanding of the why of migration – that is, the way that marriage migration and marital motivations are structured at the nexus of globalized economic systems and local marriage markets.
More recent scholarship has shifted attention to questions of gendered and ethnicized citizenship among marriage migrants. From a historical perspective, regulating marriages, especially inter-ethnic marriages, has been an integral part of the nation-building process of many Asian states (Toyota, 2008), with marriage migrants of certain ethnicities constructed as socially inferior or essentialised as culturally different. Female marriage migrants are also constructed on the basis of gendered identities as biological and social reproducers and carers, who not only fail to contribute to the economic development of the host societies, but also create a burden by draining welfare resources.
One characteristic of international marriages in Asia is that a large percentage of them are mediated either through marriage brokerage agencies or via existing social networks. Mediated international marriages, especially commercially mediated ones, are often framed in terms of the commodification of women and at times equated with trafficking in women. This conceptualization derives implicitly from the ideal that love and intimacy are natural and an essential part of marriage and conjugal relations. Recent scholarship within family studies, gender studies and sexuality studies, however, are beginning to challenge the particular formulation of this ideal as a Eurocentric modern construction by examining how love and intimacy embody political, economic and social processes and cultural meanings (Padilla et al., 2007). In many sending and hostsocieties of marriage migrants in Asia, commercially arranged marriages are accepted or tolerated as a continuation of traditional match-making practice; yet they are also seen as conflicting with narratives of love and companionship in marriage, which are grounded in nations’ modernization projects. Commercially arranged international marriages provide a fertile ground for studying how these different norms and narratives coincide or collide.
As the majority of receiving communities of international marriages in Asia practise patrilineal and patrilocal principles, existing scholarship tends to identify the kinship and family ideology reflected in the policies as the main cause of marriage migrants’ isolation and exclusion. By doing so, it places brides and their negotiation strategies in the private domain and largely within the husband’s kinship structure in the receiving communities. This conference attempts to go beyond the private domain and political citizenship by addressing the brides’ economic and social agency. More specifically, it will study the brides’ position in the labour market, how their work is valued, how work affects their power position, and how they juggle between work and care responsibilities.
Because of the assumption that a bride in patrilineal societies should integrate into the husband’s family, little attention is paid to marriage migrants’ associations with their natal families/sending communities. In this aspect, the research on international marriages could benefit from the growing body of scholarship on transnational families.Transnational families refer to families who live most of the time separated from each other but still hold together to create a feeling of collective welfare and unity (Bryceson & Vourela, 2002). Existing work on transnational families largely deal with members living apart as a result of labour migration, among which attention is paid to migrants’ strategies of building intimacy and affection with separated children through “transnational motherhood” (Yeoh, et. al, 2005; Parrenas, 2005), Yet, much less attention is paid to the transnational economic and emotional ties between natal families and their married daughters – in short, “transnational daughterhood”. This conference will address two dimensions of the lives of transnational familymembers, i.e. remittances and social remittances. Remittances not only indicate migrants’ expected obligations toward their natal families, it also represents migrants’ belonging and emotional ties. Social remittances refer to the ideas, practices, identities and social capital that flow from receiving to sending communities. How do marriage migrants negotiate competiting obligations to husband’s and natal families? How do their economic strategies reflect their sense of belonging? How does the practice of sending remittances challenge or coincide with the gender norms in sending and receiving societies? By answering these questions this conference hopes to push for a research agenda that sees international marriages as foci of cultural hybridism and identities, rather than treating the marriage migrant as the different “other”.
By focusing on the political economy of international marriages, this conference not only interrogates the political, economic and social structures in which love and intimacy are embodied, but also links intimacy with other domains of experience such as work, gender relations and family. Conversely, the conference also attempts to bring the economic back into discussions of the political, cultural and social processes that shape the contours of international marriage as a phenomenon. More specifically, it aims to:
1. Challenge the policy assumptions and dominant perceptions that marriage immigrants are filial daughters and/or victims of patriarchy, dependent and draining welfare resources of host societies by showing that
a. they are economic actors in both receiving and host societies, in unique ways that are different from migrant (domestic) workers; and
b. the industries and related activities supporting or derived from marriage migration (i.e. marriage brokerage, travel, legal documentation, remittances, marriage immigrants’ work in the informal sector, etc.) may be substantial in supporting local economies and may be linked into the global economy.
2. Use economic transactions and relations as an entry point to understand the power relations of actors involved, as well as the different family/kinship systems that shape marriage migrants’ positions and negotiation strategies. By doing so, it contributes to recent scholarship on the linkages between political economy and intimate relations, family, and sexuality in the globalization process (Langford, 1999; Hochschild, 2003; Padilla et al., 2007).
3. Advance the development of theory on gender and migration by linking yet differentiating women’s labour and marriage migration. This includes exploring how theories of transnational families can be applied to marriage migration and how these theories can be advanced.
We welcome the papers that address one or more of the following questions,
1. Marriage migration and integration policies
* What are the implicit and explicit economic considerations that shape regulatory policies and measures in relation to marriage migration as well as the integration of foreign spouses into host societies?
* How do these policies reflect notions of gender, class and ethnicized citizenship? How do they reshape relations of gender, class and ethnicity within the family and the nation-state?
* How are the economics of demand and supply of ‘foreign brides’ shaped by the political relationships between sending and receiving nations?
2. Commodification or traditional practice? Commercially arranged marriage and the meanings of marriage transaction
* How and why has the marriage brokerage industry developed, and in what ways is it similar or different from traditional marriage mediation?
* What are the politics involved in the state’s regulation of brokerage agencies and what roles do different state actors, NGOs, women’s groups, feminist scholars and religious groups play in shaping these politics?
* Do commercially arranged/transacted marriage differ from other forms of mediated marriage at the level of local practice?
* How does the discourse of the commodification of marriage affect actors’ expectations of marriage relations,sexual intimacy and notions of self?
3. Wife or worker? Marriage migrants’ access to paid work
* How do policies (immigration, family union and labour) define marriage migrants’ identities and place within the wider host society? How are their rights to work governed and what constraints and opportunities do these policies bring to marriage migrants and families?
* What kind of jobs do marriage immigrants do? How do they build a niche in the labour market and in the informal economy? How do these niches reflect gendered and ethnic hierarchies?
* How can marriage migrants’ economic contributions to host societies be measured?
4. Work, family and social support
* How do work and income affect marriage migrants’ position in the family and in society at large as compared to local women? How is the income of marriage migrants used and how do the decision making processes reflect the power relations among family members?
* How do marriage immigrants juggle between work and care (for children and/or the elderly) responsibilities as compared to local women? What local and transnational support and resources do they draw on and what strategies do they use to secure support?
5. Remittances/Social remittances
* How do the remittances of “married-out daughters” and “married-in daughters-in-law” challenge or reinforce the “traditional family and gender norms” (in largely patrilineal and patrilocal societies) ? How are they justified?
* How are remittances used and who are entitled to them? Can the remittances be seen as the brides’ security strategies? If so, how are they different from migrant workers’ strategies?
* How do remittances contribute to the local development of the sending communities economically and socially? Do they trigger chain migration from particular localities?
Paper proposals should include a title and a 500-word abstract. A short biography should also be submitted on the attached form by 15 January 2010. Please visit the website for to download a copy of the paper proposal submission form.
Please submit and address all applications and enquiries to Ms Valerie Yeo (firstname.lastname@example.org). Successful applicants will be notified by end of February 2010 and will be required to send in a completed paper (5000-6000 words) by 1 October 2010. Preference will be given to papers that profile new research, fit with the core panel ideas and complement other papers.
Dr Melody Chia-Wen Lu
Prof Brenda Yeoh
Dr Chee Heng Leng
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