Transnational family networks:
An analysis of caregiving arrangements within migrant families
The Transnational Family Networks project focuses on the maintenance of family solidarity across borders, by examining the experiences of Dominican and Brazilian migrants in Belgium, and their relatives (ageing parents and siblings) in the home country. The specific question this study addresses is the extent to which transnational adult migrants are able to exchange care and support with their geographically distant parents, and the specific role that intra-familial dynamics play in the exchange of care between adult migrants, their siblings and their ageing parents.
In order to grasp the diversity and complexity of family care within transnational families, the study focuses on three types of caregiving arrangements:
- long distance caregiving, that is, provision of financial, emotional and practical support from a distance ;
- aged migration, that is, permanent or temporary migration of dependent elderly parents in order to be cared for by their child(ren) in the host country and/or care for their grandchildren ;
- and permanent or temporary migrants’ repatriation in order to provide personal care to disabled parents.
Of particular relevance here is an analysis of the processes by which family commitments are negotiated within families whose members are living in different countries. Particular attention is paid to gendered dynamics and power relations within the families, as well as other structural factors that impact on people’s capacity to negotiate their contribution to the provision of care.
This project is located within the growing literature on transnational families that has emerged over the past decade. The notion of ‘transnational families’ acknowledges the fact that migration does not end with settlement and that migrants maintain regular contacts with their dispersed kin. Transnational families have been defined as “families that live some or most of the time separated from each other, yet hold together and create something that can be seen as a feeling of collective welfare and unity, namely ‘familyhood’, even across national borders” (Bryceson & Vuorela, 2002: 18). This research builds on a broad understanding of transnational families that involves multidirectional exchanges between several generations, with a specific interest in caregiving relationships between ageing parents and adult migrants. Research in this field has shown that, contrary to the assumption that geographical distance negatively affects kin relationships, transnational families exchange all the forms of care and support that are exchanged in proximate families (Baldassar et al. 2007). These not only include financial assistance, but also emotional and practical support that can be exchanged transnationally through the use of various communication technologies, and personal care and accommodation which require co-presence and can only be exchanged during visits. This perspective highlights the fact that, over the life-course, members of transnational family networks are passively and actively engaged in the reciprocal, though uneven, exchange of care that ‘circulates’ within and between home and host societies (Baldassar and Merla, 2014). These circuits of care thus involve both geographically proximate and distant family members, connecting local and transnational care circuits.
This research will provide an understanding of the challenges that migration from Latin America to Europe poses to intra-familial solidarity and the participation of migrants to the care of their parents, and deepen our understanding of a variety of issues that include, the impact of migration policies on family solidarity, the relations between migration and development through an analysis of the migrants’ contribution to his/her parents’ wealth, the specificities of work-family balance issues for transnational families, and the use of communication technologies within migrant families.
Major studies in the field were carried out by Australian and North American academics, while research in Europe has mainly focused on the UK and Southern Europe. It is therefore important to develop further this field of study in the European context. By increasing our knowledge and understanding of the lives of migrant workers, further research in the field will also contribute to the design of policies aimed at improving the situation of migrants in Europe.
This project has received funding from the Belgian National Funds for Research (FNRS), the Belgian Science Policy (Belspo) and the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7_PEOPLE_2011_CIG) under grant agreement n° 293461.