‘The family’ in migration politics

Strange(r) Families

“Family” is the main reason why migrants are permitted to move to European countries. But who decides what a ‘proper’ family is? Or what families are ‘deserving’ enough to live here? Families which include “strangers” – meaning non-citizens – require state permission to live together in Europe. For families which are “strange” – who diverge from the norm – such state permission is not self-evident. Same-sex families or polygamous families are commonly denied family migration rights. Who and what states consider “family” is therefore key to defining who gets to legally migrate to and reside in Europe.

From colonial times to the present day, defining collective identities and boundaries – be they cultural, racial, or national – inevitably involves reference to proper roles of men and women, proper dress, proper parenting, proper loving, and proper sex. Distinctions between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ are drawn in the intimate sphere. Between those who love, have sex, marry, and raise their children ‘properly’ (like ‘we’ do it) and those who do not.

Assessments of the family are also classed: ‘proper’ families should be able to ‘take care of their own’. Court rooms and immigration offices become intimate spaces, as migrants are expected to prove their true love, true sexuality, true parenthood. This afternoon we explore how the boundaries of “family” and “nation” are defined and contested by politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, activists, and families.

About the speakers

Apostolos Andrikopoulos is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow at Harvard University and the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on themes such as kinship and marriage, migration, and citizenship, as well as gender and sexuality. His book Argonauts of West Africa: Unauthorized Migration and Kinship Dynamics in Changing Europe examines the paradoxes of kinship in the lives of unauthorized African migrants as they struggle for mobility, employment, and citizenship in Europe.

Bridget Anderson is the Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol where she works in both the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law as well as the School of Sociology, Politics, and International Studies. Her research highlights ethical, political, and epistemic problematics through the interplay of the relations between migration, temporalities and future making claims; in particular the ways these relations work out in the labour market. She is the Author of Us and Them? The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Controls.

Anne-Marie D’Aoust is Professor of Political Science and holder of the new Canada Research Chair on the Security Governance of Bodies, Mobility and Borders at the Université du Québec à Montréal.  Her work interrogates the connections between love, corporeality, and the governance of mobility. She recently edited the collective work Transnational Marriage and Partner Migration: Constellations of Security, Citizenship, and Rights, published in 2022 by Rutgers University Press.

Saskia Bonjour is associate professor in political science at the University of Amsterdam and leader of the Strange(r) Families Project. Her research is about the politics of migration and citizenship in the Netherlands and in Europe, with a particular focus on the role of family, gender, and sexuality norms in the construction of national, cultural, and racial identities.

Sonja Evaldsson Mellström (moderator) is a PhD researcher at the department of political science, University of Amsterdam (UvA) working in the Strange(r) Families Project.  Her research project looks at affective governance and epistemic violence in the politics of French LGBTI asylum migration.

About the Strange(r) Families Project

Strange(r) Families provides insight in the fundamental role of gender, sexuality, and family in shaping conceptions of nationhood, citizenship, and belonging. In doing so it aims to bridge the gap between gender, queer, and postcolonial studies on the one hand, and migration and citizenship studies on the other hand. This project is funded by an NWO Talent Programme Vidi grant from December 2019 until December 2024. It is hosted by the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Amsterdam

Read more about the project: https://www.strangerfamiliesproject.com/

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