Paolo Boccagni will give an invited presentation at a workshop on Migration and belonging in times of crisis: Troubling Transnationalism and Home-Making in Latin American Trajectories to/from Europe, to take place in Geneva on 13-14 September. The workshop, promoted by the Geneva Graduate Institute and the Global Migration Centre, has been convened by Valerio Simoni, PI of the ERC project BETLIV –  Returning to a better place: the (re)assessment of the ‘Good Life’ in times of crisis.See the title and abstract of Paolo’s presentation below.

Unpacking the migrant / non-migrant relation: Insights on transnational homemaking from fieldwork in Ecuador and Italy

Paolo Boccagni (University of Trento)

Over the last decade, the category of migrants, as a catchword for those who have left their countries, has been increasingly problematized. What should we say, however, about its supposed opposites – non-migrants, left behind, and the like, primarily meant to refer to migrants’ relatives and friends in the countries of origin? And regardless of the category, how does the relation between the former and the latter evolve over time? I address these emerging questions, in my lecture, drawing on longitudinal fieldwork on the lived experience of migration between Southern Ecuador (two municipalities in El Oro) and Europe (Northern Italy). In a historical period of unprecedented infrastructures for migrants’ transnational connections, the risk exists to overstate migrants’ engagement in everyday life in their communities of origin, and perhaps the impact of emigration itself. While this is central to the livelihood and the moral economies of the families involved, it is still only one aspect of their lives – not the most visible one, in the public domain. In an epoch of instantaneous and worldwide connectedness, people may just neglect the major gaps that do emerge in space and time between those who “move” and those who “stay”. As migrants themselves realize upon return, there is a normality to the life of their hometowns, for better or worse, that is not fundamentally questioned by migration – unless after especially critical events. Whether “those who live abroad” return or not, life goes on anyway. The ways in which so-called remittance houses are imagined, built and used, as well as their interaction with the broader public space, are especially revealing of these modes of differentiation and dissimilation, with the underlying tensions and conflicts. By revisiting my cumulative fieldwork in some minor and local “doors” of the extended migration corridor between Ecuador and Europe, I argue for a less exceptionalist and more experientially embedded understanding of migration. This is inspired by the changing views and practices about “home” among my research participants. As time goes by, migration is less an extraordinary event than a past background in the life of many – if anything, a last-resort option, in case of an emergency. In practice, remittances keep making a difference, when available. Migrant houses keep standing out in the surrounding built environment, whether they are inhabited and completed or not. However, in most other respects, everyday life “back home” is more a matter of business-as-usual than most scholars in migration studies would probably admit. Virtual connections, including economic ones, can hardly replace one’s day-to-day presence, unless in certain respects. Many keep living “there”, and some others “here”, but few would really inhabit in a sustained way the alluring, ambiguous, and ultimately ephemeral space of the “here-and-there”.