Submitted by Leslie Walker, project manager, AAA public education initiatives.
On August 25, 2016, the AAA hosted our second book reading in conjunction with our public education initiative, World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration®. Leyla Keough, Research Development Coordinator and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UMass, read selections from her recent book, Worker-Mothers on the Margins of Europe. Throughout the evening, Keough shared insights about domestic work in Istanbul, Turkey and shifts in gender role and socioeconomics in Moldova.
Keough discussed how in recent years the transnational labor migration of Moldovan women has grown significantly. She also included discussions of how extended absence from their families shifts traditional social and family orders, but also introduces a considerable amount of anxiety regarding these transformations.
Keough’s book is one of only a few ethnographies that examine transnational labor and gender roles of post-socialist states. In opening her talk, Keough stated how much of the literature of former Soviet-bloc countries focuses extensively on the transformations of a socialist society to a new post-socialist one. However, previous works do not mention gender roles— in how the economic shift has both changed and represented them. Keough’s book talk was one that illustrated how an ethnographic study of migration and gender that draws upon post-structural feminist works sheds light on how gender plays a significant role in the labor demands of domestic workers.
Leyla Keough opened her book reading with a conversation about the Syrian refugee crisis and how the Turkish people view this situation. Keough stated that most Turkish people often refer to Syrians as labor migrants using the Turkish word misafir, a guest or visitor. Keough stated that Moldovan migrant women who travel to Turkey are considered “trafficking victims.” When one is viewed as a guest, they are someone who is invited to visit the host’s home. These categorizations of migrants thus structure the type of aid that is available to them. For Syrian refugees, this means they are only eligible for temporary assistance and not for citizenship. For undocumented Moldovan migrant women, it means they are only eligible for aid if they are trafficking victims, but not if they are suffering other types of labor exploitation.
It is easy to comment and call these female migrant workers bad mothers, blame the societal and economic structure of Moldova, or criticize the growing demand for migrant workers in Istanbul that prompt Moldovan women to leave their families. Keough cautioned against the quick judgment of these mothers but encouraged the audience to understand why these women are going abroad to find work instead of expecting the government to provide jobs for them. In this way, these worker-mothers are attempting to define a new moral economy that is aligned with the shifts in the global economy that drive countless other groups to migrate elsewhere.
You can view a segment from the event on the AAA Facebook page here.
Join us for our next World on the Move event at the Hyattsville location of Busboys and Poets on October 25. RSVP here.