In/visible femininities, whiteness and migration

Given the strong links between national/ist discourses and the idea of the family in a wider context where who is ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ of state resources is constantly picked over by the press, perhaps it is unsurprising that ‘the migrant mother’ has emerged as a target of tabloid angst. Too many children, not good enough English, not doing enough to prevent radicalisation, the migrant mother becomes held up as a figure of blame. However, exactly who the figure of the ‘bad migrant mother’ is is enmeshed with racialised fears, islamophobia and shifting anxieties about particular forms of migration. As some of the papers in our conference explore, there are ‘new hierarchies of belonging‘ within the category of ‘migrant’ (see also Kirsten Forkert and Sukhwant Dhaliwal’s paper).

Agata Lisiak‘s paper on the experiences of Polish mothers living in UK and German cities approaches these questions about visibility, whiteness and migration, asking: ‘Can whiteness render the migrant condition invisible? Can Poles pass for Germans or Brits in their new places of residence? Do they even want to?’ The paper focuses particularly on how ‘blending in’ is bound up with particular performances and judgements about femininity.

Agata’s findings also make an important contribution by contextualising migrant mothering experiences – particularly, in the case of her research participants, feelings of relative safety and security – within the bigger picture of austerity in Europe, she writes:

‘As austerity policies in Britain have disproportionately targeted women and children, it may seem surprising that recent immigrants feel safe there. It is important to remember, however, that Poland and other not-so-new-anymore EU member states have been experiencing austerity ever since the demise of communist regimes in 1989-1991 – and that it is predominantly women who have been acutely affected by these transformations. Feminization of poverty is a widespread phenomenon across Eastern Europe and South East Europe as Slavenka Drakulic discloses in her essay evocatively titled How Women Survived Post-Communism (And Didn’t Laugh). To those familiar with everyday realities of mothering in postcommunist countries, having children in the UK appears to be a much easier task – despite all the cuts, despite the exorbitant cost of childcare, even despite the geographical distance separating immigrants from their families and friends they could have otherwise relied on when it comes to child rearing.’ Affordable Mothering and Respectability

You can read more about Agata’s research here and the larger TRANSFORmig project here

Agata Lisiak will be presenting her paper ‘In/visible femininities and whiteness in migration and urban contexts’ in the panel New (new!) ethnicities/identities in PSH 314 12-1.15pm.


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