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Migrant mothers caring for the future

Creative interventions in making new citizens

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Citizenship, Migration and Mothering

Introduction to the Network

Introduction to the networking activity by Dr. Umut Erel and Prof. Tracey Reynolds, 22nd Novemeber 2013.




Umut Erel and Tracey Reynolds 'Migrant mothers caring for the future'

We will explore how migrant mothers realise and problematise their role in bringing up future citizens in modern Western societies, increasingly characterised by ethnic, racial, religious, cultural and social diversity. In the UK context cultural, social and policy debates identify that the challenge for the future is to form a culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive, citizenry, through sustainable multicultural modes of conviviality. We will discuss the processes that shape migrant mothers' cultural and caring work in enabling their children to occupy a place as future citizens.

Although the family is itself changing and a gender-neutral language of parenting is emerging in the UK, it is still overwhelmingly mothers who care for children. Theoretical accounts of the inter-relationship between motherhood and nationhood position mothers as symbols of the nation who reproduce the group. Thus, mothers are tasked, sometimes in contradictory ways, with safeguarding national continuity, whilst also shaping change in the face of the challenges of the new, in particular increasing ethnic diversity. While policy often problematizes migrant mothers, questioning whether they can help their children to properly integrate, we reframe the debate. We think that migrant mothers are already contributing to UK society by bringing up children here. Instead, we ask what we can learn for social theory and policy by understanding the caring, cultural and social practices of migrant women as interventions into citizenship. By understanding how migrant mothers envisage their futures, how can we rethink plural ethnic identities of citizens. We also look at how these issues are raised in current policy on immigration, and how current politics of austerity affect migrant mothers.

Download the Migrant Mothers human capital paper (Dyck). (PDF document, 138 KB)



Isabel Dyck, School of Geography Queen Mary, University of London

Download the Migrant Mothers human capital paper (Dyck). (PDF document, 138 KB)


Tine Brouckaert 'Undocumented mothers on the national stage'

Undocumented persons are juridical excluded from citizenship. However because of their embodiment that often differs the masculine white norm, they are also socially and culturally excluded from citizenship. Although, through their reproductive status as a mother their political citizenship is ambivalent and contested (hooks 1990; Kershaw 2010; 2011). This paper addresses their response to so-called "niches" (Nicholls 2013) in citizenship discourses and legal categories, setting the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. In their aim to obtain a legal residence permit, I consider here their "becoming mother" an active and political act of citizenship.

This paper draws from a longitudinal in-depth ethnographic fieldwork with ten undocumented migrant mothers. The case studies are composed of a heterogeneous group of women of color in terms of age, class, national and ethnic belongings, in order to primarily focus on the role of undocumented status, gender and identity as a mother rather than to focus upon national, cultural or ethnical belonging. This paper builds upon the post-migration routes of some of the key participants to this research. Responses of undocumented women towards the legal framework seemed to arise from their most intimate sphere and applied to the reproductive dimension of their embodiedness. Confronted by citizenship discourses, ensuring the communities coherence by excluding and including forms of kinship, the women engendered an embodied fictive maternal identity (Butler 1999: 417). It is in the imitation of this figure that enable them to become subjects. I here claim their action as a temporal social constructed identity that attest political citizenship potential.




A migrant died: Abortion and the politics of motherhood in Ireland

Dr Ronit Lenin

The death in hospital of 17 weeks pregnant Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar in October 2012, rekindled Ireland's long standing abortion debate. Locating her case in the politics of birth in Ireland, this paper situates Halappanavar's story firstly within Ireland's gendered birthing politics, where women are cast as m/others, and secondly within the briefer history of casting migrant women's birthing practices as threatening the integrity of Irish citizenship. The paper makes two claims. Firstly, I argue that migrant m/others are the female version of Giorgio Agamben's 'bare life', or homo sacer – femina sacra – she whose life can be taken by the sovereign racial state. Secondly, after Eithne Luibheid, I propose that the casting of migrant mothers as disrupting Irish national integrity originates from an unquestioned heteronormativity and white privilege, and that migrant mothers, in 'childbearing against the state', consolidate rather than disrupt Irish nationhood.


Roundtable discussion Raya Feldmann (Maternity Alliance), Donn Flynn (Migrants Right Network), Luljeta Nuzi (Sphresa Programme) 'Policy and Practice on Migrant Mothers Citizenship'

Last updated: 11 December 2014

Final Conference

18-19 September 2014
Migrant mothers caring for the future: creative interventions in making new citizens, London South Bank University.

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