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Research project

Gender and transnationalism: Moroccan migrants and their descendants in the Netherlands, 1965-2000

Subproject of "Differences that make all the difference. Gender, migration and vulnerability (migration to the Netherlands 1945-2005)"

2006 - 2012
Marlou Schrover
NWO Vici NWO Vici

Migrants’ engagement with their country of origin has become increasingly important in academic and policy debates. On the one hand, mainstream Dutch political parties stress the undesirability of migrants’ double loyalty, since belonging both ‘here’ and ‘there’ is perceived to be conflicting with national interests. On the other hand, new technologies make movements and communication over large distances possible with much greater frequency, speed and regularity than was possible fifty years ago. Consequently, migrants are not limited to one geographical location, but can engage in socio-cultural, political and economic activities that transcend national boundaries. 

Transnationalism is not a new phenomenon. However, over the last two decades research on transnationalism gained much attention. Transnationalism does not correspond to the dominant assumption in political discourse on integration that states that maintaining transnational activities constitutes a major obstacle for integration. With the introduction of transnationalism in scholarly and political debates the focus shifted away from host society-centred assimilation to transcending immigrant identities and commitments. Within these debates, the Moroccan case-study is particularly interesting because Moroccans are considered a poorly integrated group in Dutch society that faces serious challenges in important domains such as language, education and access to the labour market. Thus, the dominant idea in political and public debates is that Moroccans and their descendants should fully be committed to Dutch society and that an orientation on the country of origin will harm their integration into Dutch society. However, recent research has shown that maintaining transnational ties does not hinder integration in any sense. Accordingly, without explicitly addressing the integration of Moroccans in Dutch society I will argue that for the Moroccan case transnationalism and integration are not incompatible. I will analyse the economic, political and cultural transnational activities of first and second generation Moroccans over a period of 40 years (1960 - 2000). Furthermore, I will argue that the migrant’s ties with the sending as well as the receiving country changed significantly since the beginning of the Moroccan migration to the Netherlands in the 1960s, due to chances within the Moroccan community itself, developments within the Netherlands, Morocco and the international community. Transnational lives of Moroccans in the Netherlands and in Europe are thus strongly connected to the political and socio-economic developments on both sides of the Mediterranean. 

My PhD-research is part of a research project called ‘Differences that make all the differenceGender, migration and vulnerability (migration to the Netherlands 1945-2005). In my research I will focus on the transnational activities of Moroccan migrants and their descendants from a gender perspective. Gender goes beyond the dichotomy of male versus female. It is much more complex and leans on the different meanings cultures give to the biological differences between men and women. Gender is a ‘layered’ construct that operates on three levels, the personal, the symbolic and the societal level. 

In my research I use gender as an analytical framework by looking at how gender operates in relation to transnationalism. My starting point is that transnationalism is not a neutral space. I will argue that men and women engage differently in transnational activities. The different roles women and men have (as a daughter/son, mother/father and wife/husband) determine which activities they take on. For example, women are more likely to take on care activities (in the home country as well as the country of origin) and to bring gifts to family members who stayed behind, while men are more perceived as senders of remittances. The different experiences of transnationalism are closely linked to the different positions and representations men and women hold in their country of residence and in their country of origin. 

Consequently, as several authors suggested migrant men and women shape and sustain ties with the home country differently. Contemporary research indicates that men are more involved with the country of origin and home country organizations, while women are more focused on the receiving country. The explanation for this lies in the fact that men experience status loss upon arriving in the host country and, as a consequence, have a stronger orientation on the country of origin, whereas women gain status, and as a result they are much more focused on improving their situation in the country of settlement. In my research I will examine whether Moroccan men and women share similar experiences. 

Focusing on the experiences of first and second generation Moroccans in the Netherlands I will examine whether the processes of transnational engagement, in particular transnational practices are different for men and women. Apart from detecting differences between first and second generation Moroccan men and women, the leading question of this research is how these differences can be explained. My underlying assumption is that the ties with the country of origin will change over time and furthermore, descendants of migrants will give other meanings to these ties. 

In order to answer the central question of this research a number of sub questions are formulated. Looking at transnational ‘lived experiences’ means taking into account the migration experiences of men and women. How did Moroccan men and women experience their migration? What factors determine transnational involvement? Are all Moroccan migrants transnationally engaged? What is the nature of their transnational activities? Why do Moroccan men and women of first and second generation maintain ties with the home country? What is the role of Morocco and the Netherlands in determining the transnational involvement of Moroccan men and women? This research takes up these questions and analyses how gender, class and ethnicity facilitate or restrain both men’s and women’s transnational practices and linkages, considering three dimensions: economic, political and socio-cultural activities. By considering a period of 40 years (1960 – 2000) I will try to identify changes over time and thereby uncover its determinants. 

Based on the research questions three preliminary hypotheses are formulated. First, men and women perceive and live their migration experiences differently and as a consequence differences will occur in their integration in the host society as well as in their involvement with the country of origin. Thus gender plays an important role in the maintenance of transnational ties and practices. The second hypothesis is that transnational activities will not diminish with the emergence of new generations. However, younger generations will give other meanings to these activities. Thirdly, both the receiving and the sending society exert a strong influence on transnational involvement.

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