“Becoming Expatriate” Foreign Assignments and the Role of Accompanying Spouses in Kampala

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
Julia BÜCHELE , Centre for African Studies Basel, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
Foreign assignments and expatriate lifestyles drew the attention mostly through publications coming from the field of Human Resources. Here the focus lies largely on the risks and costs of premature returns. It is claimed that expatriate assignments often fail and are in most cases caused by marital problems or family issues rather than work environment or poor performance of the employee. Therefore the foreign assignment apparatus of professionals and their families is not only tailor-made to support families but also creates perceptions about how to “live abroad” as expatriates. Spouses are seen as a crucial factor to guarantee the stability of family life and work performance abroad. Scholars have pointed to the influence and constructivist nature of preparation training and the importance of the ‘deploying organization’ in shaping expatriate identities (Hindman, 2007; Mense-Petermann 2012). Until today the aspired stability through support of expatriate spouses rests on a heteronormative perception of family and marriage.
Furthermore, transnational companies through global assignment policies, especially through high wages and incentives create differences between expatriates and their colleagues and between expatriates and the local population (Mense-Petermann, 2013). By the same token, Fechter (2007) highlights the notion of privilege and detachment of the expatriate communities from the ‘host society’ and draws a link between colonial and contemporary expatriate lifestyles in non-western countries.
This paper examines the role of accompanying spouses in the foreign assignment process and poses questions about how the relationship between the ‘deploying organisation’ and spouse is conceptualized. In addition I will draw attention to the ambivalence that derives from (economic) privileges on the one hand, and on the other marital dependency created by the “single breadwinner” who is the contract holder. For this purpose I will utilise the findings of my PhD research on the European expat community in Kampala, Uganda.