An Epistemological Look at the Concept of Transnational Families

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Hilda Joyce PORTILLA , Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada
The study of transnational families is a recent one, and although many contributions have been produced in the last decade, it is still necessary to look at the theoretical and epistemological characteristics of the concept. Transnational families are not only an outcome of family member’s strategies, but they are also part of broader transnational dynamics particular to global capitalism where a hierarchy of mobility rights exist, depending on skills and talents. As stated in recent literature, the constitution of transnational families is part of contemporary mobility trends. But the use of the concept presents some difficulties that in my point of view need to be addressed. First, it’s hard to find a unique definition general enough to take into account the diversity of families (different migratory conditions) and also to determine its boundaries; for instance, to determine who are involved in the transnational family practices. Second, the predominance of the network’s approach (informal connections, remittances, individual strategies) overlooks other important structural elements, such as the role played by public policies. Third, the evident prevalence of a posteriori perspective in the study of transnational family ties makes it difficult to deeply understand their sociological production; in particular the institutional framework that produces, or at least encourages, the separation of family members. Hence, I strongly consider that we must enrich the knowledge about transnational families by adding a solid background from the field of sociology of the family, instead of only the background from migration studies. Despite their local and culturally determined roots, some contributions related to kinship, parenthood, maternity and paternity are essential. Also, we must include the contribution of gender studies in order to better understand individual and collective experiences of participants, men and women. This epistemological view will thus increase the heuristic value of the concept of transnational families.