[URBANTH-L]REV: Garner on Brettell, _Anthropology of Migration_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Tue Jan 18 00:10:30 EST 2005

[x-posted from H-Migration]

Published by H-Migration at h-net.msu.edu (November, 2004)

Caroline Brettell. _Anthropology and Migration: Essays on
Transnationalism, Ethnicity and Identity_. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press,
2003. xxi + 239 pp. Tables, references, index. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN
0-7591-0319-4; $26.95 (paper), ISBN 0-7591-0320-8.

Reviewed for H-Migration by Steve Garner, School of
Sociology, University of the West of England, Bristol

Gendered Migration from the Bottom Up

Anthropologist Caroline Brettell has been writing on the Portuguese
diaspora since 1977, and in the course of her research has focused on the
themes of gender, ethnicity, the importance of place, the roles played by
return migration and the meanings attached by migrants to their own
stories.  This book is a collection of essays published at various times
over the 1979-1996 period and is split into four thematic sections:
"Situating the Anthropological Perspective," "Return Migration,
Transmigrants and Transnationalism," "Cities, Immigrant Communities and
Ethnic Identity" and "Gender and Migration."  Each section contains two or
three essays and is prefaced by short introductory pieces placing them in

Bretell's approach is laid out in the first introductory essay.  "An
anthropological approach to migration should emphasize both structure and
agency; it should look at macro-social contextual issues, micro-level
strategies and decision-making, and the meso-level relational structure
within which individuals operate.  It needs to articulate both people and
process" (p. 7).

In "Migration Stories," Brettell posits that much can be learned about
migration from individual stories, since migration is as much a cultural
as a material phenomenon.  This is a challenging methodological manifesto
to comply with, and one that might raise eyebrows among world systems
analysts for example.  The distinction between the material and cultural,
or structure and agency, emerges as being as salient in anthropology as in
sociology, as does the need to bear in mind that actors do not necessarily
or very often see the bigger picture, or become aware of the multiple
process that set down parameters to their choices.  Yet, on the evidence
of this collection, the author has managed, just about, to maintain a
balance between the two dimensions referred to.  The tools utilized range
from engaging with the personal narratives of contemporary migrant women
in "Migration Stories," through historical archive work on a Northern
Portuguese village in "Emigration and Household Structure in a Northern
Portuguese Parish, 1850-1920," to an analysis of the Portuguese ideology
of return migration in "Emigrar para Voltar," and a consummate blending of
research instruments in "Women are Migrants Too."

The specificity of the Portuguese case is forcefully argued from the
outset.  "The emigrant," she maintains, is a "core symbol," in Portuguese
culture, metamorphosing from the _navegador_ to the _emigrante_ via the
_colono_ to reflect the changing phases in the country's history (p. 16).
Moving on to the topic of return migration, Brettell highlights the
functional uses of migration.  The Portuguese migrants she interviews,
"view the host society as a detoured route to social mobility and social
prestige within their own society" (p. 72).

While later essays introduce more (and sometimes gendered) ambivalence
about return, the theme that strikes me as a reader more familiar with
work on Irish and Caribbean emigration is the implied high actual level of
return and implementation of the planned return, presumably (going by the
date) even before Portugal's economy recovered to the point where it
became a net importer of labor.

Although women migrants are now receiving much more attention than they
did in the 1970s and 1980s, Brettell's work from this period assumes a
pioneering character.  She conceptualizes women as individual workers with
their own agendas, rather than docile, one-dimensional appendages to male
labor migrants.  Arguing this case in contemporary migration studies might
seem redundant, yet writers such as Eleanore Kofman, Jacqueline Andall and
Annie Phizacklea, for example, have all recently urged their colleagues to
do what Brettell was already doing in the 1980s.[1] She provides nuanced
studies elucidating some of the criteria required to answer the question
of whether life as a migrant is better or worse for women than in the
country of origin.  Portuguese women, she maintains, have a long
experience of separation and shared decision-making, which may contrast
with the experiences of other groups and reduce the gap in autonomy (if
not in material gain) between their lives in Portugal and in their host

The author's emphasis in the collection is on anthropology's unique set of
criteria for studying migration, but she might be pleasantly surprised to
see how much some methodologies within sociology, to just cite my own
discipline, overlap with hers.  Reading Brettell alongside Breda Gray's
recent work on Irish women in the United Kingdom is a rewarding exercise,
not only because of the clear parallels between Portugal and Ireland as
mass exporters of people, but also in the way women's voices can be dealt
with so adeptly and placed at the center of an intellectual endeavor in
which the tensions between structure and agency become so immediate.[2]

Last but not least, Portugal, as Brettell points out, is now a country of
net immigration.  The countries of new migration in Europe--Portugal,
Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece--are on the agenda for research as places
in transition between two ways of life, the country of emigrants and the
country of immigrants, each with their own sets of problems to solve.  Add
to this the fact that they are all experiencing continued emigration at
the same time as both return migration and new immigration, and Brettell's
work becomes even more interesting in its provision of insights into the
process of return migration in the European context, an area that has
produced ludicrously little published work so far.

While this is a fine book overall, I have one principal criticism.  This
is to do with an overarching view.  Maybe it is partly a sociologist's
unhealthy taste for theories, but I feel there was an opportunity here to
do something extra in the conclusion.  The introduction is concise and
well-focused, yet the separation of the three levels of analysis contained
in it raises questions about the relationships between them.  While to
some extent this emerges implicitly from particular essays, the collection
could really have benefited from a more heavyweight attempt to draw this
out and tie up the loose ends.  The outlining of a multi-dimensional
methodological mission statement in the introduction could have been
satisfyingly responded to by a "with-the-benefit-of-hindsight" concluding
essay.  However, the excellent and engaging fieldwork is not supported by
a concluding essay of corresponding breadth, scope or quality.  This is
particularly disappointing given the topicality of "transnationalism" as a
research paradigm that has recently thrown up a large-scale project funded
by the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom.  Some
of its findings are summarized by that program's Director, Steven
Vertovec, and others in a special edition of the _Journal of Ethnic and
Migration Studies_.[3] There is plenty over the twenty-seven years since
the author's first publication to have got her teeth into, and it makes me
wonder whether she is planning the review that suggests itself from the
back-to-back reading of these articles.  If she does get round to that
project, it might be a seminal piece.


[1]. E. Kofman, "Family-Related Migration: A Critical Review of European
Studies," _Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies_ 30, no. 2 (2002): pp.
243-262; Jacqueline Andall, "Introduction" in _Ethnicity and Gender in
Contemporary Europe_, ed. Jacqueline Andall (Oxford: Berg, 2003);  A.
Phizacklea, "Gendered Actors in Migration,", in Andall, _Ethnicity and
Gender_, pp. 23-37.

[2]. B. Gray, _Women and Migration_ (London: Palgrave, 2004).

[3]. Steven Vertovec, "Transnationalism and Identity,"  _Journal of Ethnic
and Migration Studies_, 27, no. 4 (2001), pp. 573-582.

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