Gendered Mobilities, Gendered Cosmopolitanisms: Male and Female Expatriate Managers and Their Accompanying Spouses

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anna SPIEGEL, Bielefeld University, Germany
In recent management studies expatriate managers have been celebrated as ‘global managers’, members of a ‘cosmopolitan business elite’ or as successful ‘boundary spanners’. However, most of this research has only focused on the (mostly male) managers without taking into account the role of the accompanying spouses. This paper reassesses the image of the expatriate manager being a cosmopolitan expert by analyzing the gendered division of labor within expatriate couples regarding the everyday activities of enabling, shaping and stabilizing mobility and cosmopolitan lifestyles.

Drawing on 28 ethnographic case studies of German and American expatriate managers in China, Germany and the US conducted between 2011 and 2014, the paper examines two different expatriate arrangements: 1) male expatriate managers and their female accompanying spouses, and 2) female expatriate managers and their male accompanying spouses. We analyze three sets of activities that are crucial for enabling, shaping and stabilizing the entangled mobilities and cosmopolitan lifestyles of mobile managers: 1) activities related to preparing and managing the relocation (mobility work), 2) activities related to building up social networks at the new place of residence (local attachment work) and 3) activities related to maintaining the ties and networks to family and friends at the place of origin or other places of the family’s mobile trajectory (translocal attachment work).

Findings indicate that male managers delegate a significant part of these activities to their accompanying spouses, while female managers themselves are forced to assume a significant part of these activities, due to the reluctance of their male accompanying spouses to take over the role as ‘family mobility manager’. We thus argue that the cosmopolitanism of (male) expatriate managers is a gendered social position which is highly dependent on the intense informal work of their ‘non-working’ accompanying wives.