Prof. Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo has written a review of Migration and the search for home that has been published in Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia, 3/2018: 619-620.
We live in the age of global migration, and it is now impossible to escape this social fact. International migration goes together with globalization and it has become extremely diverse, fanning out not only from the global South to the North, but also from East to West, between nations within the Eastern hemisphere and the global South, and encompassing labor migrants, political and now climate refugees, educational migrants, professionals and elite entrepreneur investors. Refugee crises in Europe and the United States fill our daily newspapers and fuel new nationalist movements for border fortifications and expulsions. While migration has grown as a social phenomenon, new theoretical explanations of international migration have lagged, scarcely diverging from the two dominant paradigms, assimilation theory and transnationalism. Assimilation remains rooted in early twentieth century assumptions, and while the transnational turn of the 1980s and 1990s yielded innovative insights, the focus on global circulation and movement overlooks how migrants may establish a sense of place in the era of hyper-mobility. With this book, Italian sociologist Paolo Boccagni offers a new way of thinking with “the migration-home nexus” framework.
Boccagni defines home as “a special kind of relationship with place,” one that involves materiality and the realm of social relationships, memories and discourse. The theoretical point of departure begins with the observation that migration throws into relief the natural, taken-for-granted assumptions of home. How is home reconstituted, reimagined and enacted? According to the author, it is an active process, not just an outcome or a place, and in this subject-oriented framework, migrant home-making most fundamentally involves efforts to establish security, familiarity and a sense of control or autonomy. This is no romantic vision of home, but a critical and imaginative theoretical blueprint. And while the focus is on processes, attention to materiality is also a key dimension.
“Homing” is the central concept that refers to migrant homemaking processes. For the native English speaker, this word brings with it the unfortunate connotation of “homing pigeons,” which suggests some kind of biological navigation, when in fact, for the purposes of this book “homing” signifies the creative engagements to recreate home in all of its dimensions (materially, socially, discursively and so on). One chapter focuses on temporality in migrant home making practices, taking into account life course, and another on spatial issues, exploring public/private definitions of home as well as the varying degree to which home may be portable and reproducible. Another chapter is devoted to methodological issues that may arise in studying migration and home, covering qualitative research, ethnographic dilemmas and the rising use of social media and tech tools for spatial analysis. Boccagni advocates continued “refinement of fine-grained, sensory ethnographies” and the development of more international, comparative empirical studies.
This book is not a monograph based on an empirical study. Rather, it is a theoretical treatise and scaffolding to buttress current and future research. As such, it all remains a bit abstract. The author is currently conducting an ambitious, multiple-year, multiple-country European Research Council-funded research project, employing a talented team of young scholars who are fanning out to Madrid, Amsterdam, Milano, and to cities in South Asia, Latin America and Africa in order to conduct fieldwork on the ways in which migrants enact home. That project promises to empirically flesh out and nuance many of the claims made in the book (I am an advocate of the immigrant home-making paradigm, now currently adapting it to explain the experiences of Latino immigrants in the historically African American neighborhoods in Los Angeles).
This book exemplifies the sociological imagination at its best, starting with a taken-for-granted assumption and developing it into a unique lens on the social world. Boccagni has read widely and deeply across disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, and he succeeds in weaving together the rich insights he has gleaned, using these as building blocks for this theoretical framework.
In terms of limitations, parts of the book suffer from slightly convoluted writing, with an over-reliance on the passive voice and some repetitiveness. This is easily forgiven, as the author is not a native English speaker, but a good copyeditor should have remedied some of the prose. Of course, these days most academic presses operate with limited resources for such services. Another limitation is that the book does not fully engage head on with political debates. Chapter five, the penultimate chapter, reminds us that a home-centered discourse can be appropriated by social movements, both by nativists seeking migrant exclusion as well as migrants seeking inclusion. So perhaps this is a prompt for the next wave of research? Rather than offering a grand theory of immigration, Boccagni has given us a malleable theoretical platform for expansion, extension and empirical engagement. How well will this framework help us understand the historical moment, when policies of exclusion, deportation and fortified borders now accompany the vilification and demonization of migrants and refugees in Europe, the United States and elsewhere? A valuable migration theory must address this reality, and that will be part of the challenge and test of this very promising migrant-home paradigm.
Migration and the Search for Home: Mapping Domestic Space in Migrants’ Everyday Lives. Paolo Boccagni. Palgrave Macmillan. 2017.
Reviewed by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, University of Southern California.
For Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia, 2018.