Immigrant families in dispute: "internal" agencies, media debates and political practices

Principal researcher: Susana Trovão

Research group: Circulation and Place-Making


Family dynamics | Transnational migrants | Media discourses | Political practices

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT)



Start date


End date





Families of migrant origin have become central to arguments about the rights and wrongs of ways of living in multicultural societies, their (sometimes imagined) practices the focus of debate about difference and its limits, the object of media comment, policy initiatives and legislation (Ba04; Gr08). Migrants themselves, however, are also reflecting on how to manage family relationships in a changing world in which migration is transnational and societies increasingly pluralized (BaBa06; BaBa08). Building on previous studies (BaBa08, BaBa06; BaBaWi06; ChLe04; Ko04; PfTr05; BoGr03; BrVu02; Wi02; BeMoVi98; BrHi98; Fo97) the project would research this contentious domain in "private" lives and the public arena, through a comparative study of the changing dynamics of migrant families (modes of articulating gender and generation relations) among selected segments of migrant background which maintain transnational links with countries of origin or/and with other spaces of diaspora. Key empirical research questions include: How are migratory experiences obliging migrants to rethink, re-interpret, maintain or transform family beliefs and practices? How do migrant relations with communities of origin and diasporas affect their choices and strategies? How are migrants'patterns of sexuality, gender and intergenerational relations interpreted by Portuguese media debates and civil society agencies? How do national political, institutional and legal structures impact on migrant choices and strategies, and their approaches to socio-economic and cultural integration? In order to answer these questions, the proposal would seek to explore two types of family dynamics (BaBa08) whose values and practices have became a focus of public attention in Portuguese debates about integration (Ma07; He05). The first focus would be on a configuration (A) frequently associated with transnational migrants from North Africa, the Middle East and parts of South Asia (Ew06; Sa03; Ga02; BeMoVi98). It often involves a strong corporate family ethos (promoting multiple or extended family relations and values, intergenerational stratification and parental control, etc) combined with a high degree of scrutiny over the sexual and moral behaviour of women (and men), underpinned by the belief (sometimes reinforced by religion) that transgression of certain rules and principles entails shame and harm to the collective family honour. The second focus would be on a configuration (B) frequently associated with transnational migrants of Afro-Caribbean origin or with those coming from certain (ex-slave, Creole) African societies (Ro06; Mau05; Se02 Bar96) in which men build their masculinity, prestige and power partly through sexual and reproductive conquering of multiple women. Erotic and reproductive social capitals are also used by young women as a main way for negotiating social mobility and material security. However, due to the volatility of marital experiences, motherhood and mother-children relationship becomes the major identity investment and source of respectability of the women-mothers, which often assume total responsibilities for subsistence and education of their children. This increasing female agency has strong generational consequences (at the level of gender constructions and practices, parental and kinship identifications, duties and reciprocities). The empirical research will foreground migrants of different origin with a more or less presence in Portuguese society whose family values and practices can be conceived, by previous research, as specific socio-historical and cultural forms of FDa (namely Bangladesh and Morrocans migrants) and FDb (migrants whose origins are in Cape Verde and São Tomé). Research methodologies include: (1) four comparative ethnographic studies employing complementary qualitative methodologies; (2) a comparative survey covering attitudes on family, religion and intercultural relations, using the Inter-Ethnic Scale (IES, cf. BaBa06); (3) a media research study; and (4) a study of policy and institutional practices. Emphasising the role of cultural values and transnational practices in the integration processes and the difficulties to which they give rise, for receiving societies and migrant families, the project would contribute to build theoretical insights about kinship and migration. By exploring the interface between migrant lives, media and political agency, it will also highlight some Portuguese specificities concerning public debate, policy, and law-making in respect of gender, conjugal and parental relations within migrant families.


PhD students Full members

Daniela Rodrigues

Circulation and Place-Making

Full members

José Mapril

Circulation and Place-Making

PhD students Full members

Sónia Ramalho

Circulation and Place-Making

PhD students Full members

Teresa Costa

Circulation and Place-Making