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Gendering return migration

posted on 23.09.2021, 08:15 by Russell King, Aija LulleAija Lulle
Except in a few dark corners of migration studies where gender-blindness and patriarchal interpretations still hold sway, with migrants implicitly assumed to be male or treated as genderless units of labour, it is now accepted that migration is a fundamentally gendered phenomenon. Over the past three decades, gender has progressively been ‘mainstreamed’ into the study of migration, albeit this process has been uneven and has proceeded in stages. One aspect of the wider phenomenon of migration which has received less attention from a gendered perspective is return migration. On the one hand, the literature on gender and migration tends to overlook the return stage of the migration cycle. If we scan the standard texts on gender and migration, we find that they mainly or even exclusively deal with the initial structural, network, family and individual factors framing the act of migration, and the gendered roles, divisions. tensions and changes which take place amongst migrant communities in their destination settings. And on the other hand, if we examine the literature on return migration, we discover that gender is given scant attention. One further general remark is crucial to make at the outset: the conflation of gender in migration with attentiveness solely to the experience of women. For a time, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, but also occasionally since then, this seemed to be an almost automatic assumption. Take for example the title of an important edited collection by Anthias and Lazaridis (2000): Gender and Migration in Southern Europe: Women on the Move. Or the revealing index entry in Urry’s (2007) landmark book Mobilities: ‘gender: see women’. It needs to be emphasised that gendered experiences of migration and return are about the experiences of both women and men (and of other gendered identities). Such roles and experiences are relational, conditioned by power-laden dynamics across the gender divide, both within and outside the family. Moreover, these relational dynamics also exist within genders, formed by power hierarchies and other relations shaped by generation, ethnicity, race, culture, class and employment status. In the next section of the chapter we briefly recount the incorporation of a gender lens into the field of migration, including return. We sketch out a typical assumptive model of gender dynamics throughout the migration process, from departure to return and post-return. We then examine in more detail the gendered motivations for return migration. The succeeding section deals with the more specific phenomenon of forced return, based on selected case-studies from the literature, which illustrate how masculinities and feminities are affected by this form of return. The penultimate section examines gender roles after return to the home country. The conclusion sums up key messages from the chapter and identifies avenues of research for future attention.



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Geography and Environment

Published in

Handbook of Return Migration


Edward Elgar


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This is a draft chapter. The final version is available in Handbook of Return Migration edited by Russell King and Katie Kuschminder, published in 2022, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd



Book series

Elgar Handbooks in Migration




Russell King; Katie Kuschminder


Dr Aija Lulle. Deposit date: 21 September 2021

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