Book Review: Migration and the Search for Home

Monday 1st October, 2018

Review by Brandon P. Martinez

Paolo Boccagni is an Associate professor of Sociology at the University of Trento. His main research areas are transnational migration, social welfare, care, diversity, and homemaking – all of them approached in ways that try to illuminate the social actors’ viewpoints, stances, and practices, without losing sight of the structural factors which affect them. His publication record includes articles in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Global Networks, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and Housing Studies. He is principal investigator of the European Research Council project HOMInG – The home-migration nexus (2016–2021). Migration and the Search for Home: Mapping Domestic Space in Migrants’ Everyday Lives was published in 2017 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Home operates as a frame of reference for migrants who leave their native land or dwelling and aspire to reconstruct a new home in new spaces - through materiality, symbolism, emotion, community, or routine. Working at the intersection of migration and home studies, Paolo Boccagni’s Migration and the Search for Home: Mapping Domestic Space in Migrants’ Everyday Lives explores how migration is a useful framework through which we can understand the meaning, experience, and significance of home and homing. Boccagni accomplishes this task with a methodological overview of case studies in both fields, three insightful and detailed chapters on the spatial, temporal, and political frames of homing, and a conclusion that discusses the policy implications of his thesis and addresses future avenues for research. Migration and the Search for Home is an important addition to the sociological literature and presents a well-constructed roadmap for researchers hoping to gain a better and more holistic understanding of the topics explored therein.

Boccagni argues that migration enhances our understanding of home and homing, the process of negotiating “a sense of home vis-a-vis their external circumstances” (p. 3). The book begins with an introduction into migration and home studies, where Boccagni positions the work as situated at the migration-home nexus. Chapter 2 illustrates how and why social research is ideal for understanding these processes of homing among migrants because of its ability to focus on meanings, interactions, and relationships between migrants and home. Boccagni presents a detailed survey of the vast methodological options available to researchers who currently work in home studies, as well as a guide for those who would like to engage in the field. The author constructs a conceptual matrix for comparing home in terms of degrees based on levels of analysis and conceptual frames in a convenient diagram. Boccagni then dedicates three chapters to the spatial, temporal, and political perspectives that can be used to understand how migrants, as a mobile and static population, construct and reconstruct home in space, as place-making, over the course of their lives and throughout their trajectories of social mobility, and as socially defined as “others” in host countries. While each chapter is full of detail and supports the thesis, Chapter 5, on the politics of home, is not only the most fulfilling of these supporting chapters, but also the most relevant given the process of boundary making currently occurring throughout many nations. The author ends on a note about policy and a call for additional empirical research on migration and homing by using established as well as novel methodologies.

Boccagni’s work flourishes not only because of its placement at the migration-home nexus, but also because of the interdisciplinary approaches possible at the nexus. Scholars in racial and ethnic studies, family sociology, life course analysis, and spatial sociology, including urban, rural, and community variants, will find Boccagni’s work useful for their own projects. For example, the author’s discussion of remittance houses as both symbolic and material, as well as mobile and static, is insightful for researchers whose interests lie in migration, transnationalism, and even cultural studies. Spatial sociologists will find interesting the author’s introduction of the public sphere as a space for homing, not only in terms of boundary making among different populations, but also in relation to customs and cultures that manifest as physical and symbolic constructions of home. As one final example of Boccagni’s ability to position his work within other disciplines, the politics of legal and symbolic boundary making in Chapter 6 is particularly useful for political sociologists, historians, and political scientists whose work focuses on contemporary and historical conflict and boundary making. These well-cited chapters will help guide any scholar who may take on the authors’ call for new and exciting research.

Given Boccagni’s thesis that migrant homing is both a process and product, one possible way to enhance this work is a discussion about the legal construction of both homes and migration. Supporting the temporal perspective of homing, this is an especially important dimension of political and spatial boundary making that would further strengthen the author's thesis. For example, zoning requirements dictate the homes/houses that can or cannot be built in some places versus others. How do migrants relate to these structural conditions that do not necessarily relate to their personal positions? Furthermore, how does the legal context of migration change the process of homing? For example, migrants may recreate home in ways that respond to existing politics and policies as a critique, rebuttal, or acceptance of these structural conditions. These responses may provide the foundations for social networks and community building, thus extending the home beyond the personal and into the social, as done in Chapter 5.

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the meaning of making home among migrants. Quantitative researchers who may be interested in the qualitative implications of their research, but feel they need a roadmap to approach the subject, will benefit greatly from Boccagni’s methodological survey and the wealth of case studies he presents. The authors devotion to a solid discussion of methodology alongside a thoroughly explained framework makes the book accessible to both new and established scholars. Boccagni’s work illustrates the importance of understanding home as a process and a product across time, space, and political that is subject to the external constraints of societal patterns. Useful, engaging, and novel, Migration and the Search for Home reaches out to a broad audience with a broad goal: to reframe home as a process and product for migrants - an argument that is useful beyond migration studies.

Review by Brandon P. Martinez, University of Miami.

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