Michaelmas 2021

Gender, Love and Migration

Thursdays, 4:00pm - 5:15pm (GMT)
Online (Zoom)

Convened by: Dikmen Yakali

Listening, telling, gathering, and imagining stories of the migrant experience matters enormously – and increasingly urgently – in its impacts upon public opinion and indirectly on public policy. This seminar series explores the narrated, the affective, relational, and performative dimensions of migrants’ experiences of agency and exploitation in different gendered social settings with a particular focus on ‘love’.

This event is free and will take place online, using Zoom. To join this meeting please click the following link: https://zoom.us/j/95476749395

When you click this link you will be taken to Zoom where you can join the event; you can also join the meeting by visiting the Zoom website/app and entering the meeting ID: 954 7674 9395]. You will not be ‘admitted’ to the event until the specified start time and will be placed in a ‘waiting room’.

About the convenor: Dikmen Yakali received her PhD on Cultural Studies from the University of Birmingham. She is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies. In her research and publications she focuses on narratives of self and family; and explores how interconnections of gender and love are integrated in our gendered narrative identities. She is the president of the International Society for the Study of Gender and Love, and has been affiliated with COMPAS since October 2018.


02 December

Whose Versions of Love and Marriage?

Lustful Prophets, Colluding Fathers: The Trafficking of Young Brides between Canada and the US for the Purposes of Multiple Covenant Marriage
Serena Petrella, Associate Professor Chair, Sociology Program Coordinator, Gender and Women’s Studies, Brandon University, Canada

This presentation focuses on marriage trafficking, a form of religious “bride smuggling” in which families trade their daughters into “celestial marriage” in exchange for power and prestige in their Mormon enclaves. “Celestial marriage” is a form of polygyny, in which a young girl is married off to a high-status man, who is already married to one or more wives. Mormon belief stipulates that multiple marriage is salvific and required to ascend to heaven.

In 2011, a British Columbia Supreme Court adjudication examined the practice of Mormon polygamy. The practice had been quietly resurging, over the last 60 years, in a small community of about 2,000 people in British Columbia. The courts needed to ascertain whether Mormon polygamy was inherently harmful and whether it might by protected by the “freedom of religion” clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Judge Bauman, presiding on the case, concluded that Fundamentalist Mormon polygamy was always harmful, and upheld its criminalization in the Criminal Code, while re-centring monogamy as the unshakeable pillar of sexual citizenship.

Shortly after, the state unleashed its disciplining zeal on the small Mormon community, as the adjudication had found evidence that up to 31 young girls, as young as 12, had been smuggled back and forth from the USA, over the past decade, to be married off in multiple celestial marriages to much older men. Two among these underage brides from Bountiful were married to the infamous Mormon leader Warren Jeffs, currently serving life in prison in Texas, for sexual assault and exploitation of minors. Adjudicators and jurors moved forth on multiple fronts: first, they stripped the community of its tax-saving “special religious status”; next, they prosecuted and charged two of its leaders, Mr. Winston Blackmore and Mr. James Oler, with polygamy in 2017. Mr. Blackmore came under scrutiny for the lax fiscal management of his flock and charged with tax evasion. Earlier this year, Mr. Oler, and two other community members, were prosecuted and charged for human trafficking, for willingly smuggling their own daughters to the US, knowing they would be married off into multiple “celestial” unions and sexually exploited by their much older husbands.

In this presentation, I will examine a body of literature that includes the texts of the adjudications for the court cases brought against these Mormon Families, as well as the support materials and testimonies collected in preparation for these trials, to examine the manner in which the Canadian State sponsors a very specific and narrow form of “erotic propriety” for sexual citizenship in the Law. I grapple seriously with the question: whose versions of love and marriage gain ascendancy, become licit, and are legally entrenched through recognized and state sanctioned unions, in religiously pluralistic societies such as Canada?

In my analysis of this literature, I will grapple with the following questions: given that these crimes took place in 2004, why prosecute at this juncture? Were these court cases attempting to protect underage members of the community from sexual exploitation? Was the state truly attempting to create more gender equal conditions, to ensure that young girls could grow up and live fulfilling and equal lives? Was something else at the heart of the draconian “crackdown” on Mormon polygyny? My analysis aims to ascertain whether the trope of “bride smuggling” between Canada and the United States of America was adopted by the Canadian state to normatively impose a very specific kind of erotic civility, while at the same time safeguarding both the purse strings of the state and the borders of the nation.

Negotiating Love, Trust and Suspicion: Lawyers as Political Actors in the Moral Economy of Marriage Migration Management in Canada
Anne-Marie D’Aoust, Assistant Professor at Université du Québec à Montréal

Suicidal thoughts, heartbreak, shattered self-esteem, financial precarity, and unsurmountable debts: these are only some of the dramatic consequences of marriage fraud on Canadian citizens that the 2013 campaign launched by Citizenship and Immigration Canada – now known as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) – aimed to highlight. The campaign was the result of the Conservative government’s decision in 2011 to put marriage and partner migration under public scrutiny. It notably emphasized its emotional and financial toll on “naïve” Canadians blindly in love.

Following suit, much publicity was made in 2015 around finding that the internal migration training manual on marriage fraud had been containing at least since 2007 a list of “specific clues officers should look for in assessing a spousal sponsorship application”. Red flags included “couples who are not depicted kissing on the lips in their wedding photos”, “university-educated Chinese nationals who marry non-Chinese”, “couples who don’t take a honeymoon trip”, “photos of activities together taken in Niagara Falls” and “a small wedding reception in a restaurant.”

The 2013 campaign, along with the identification and circulation of a list of specific indicators of suspicious activities that could allow for the effective identification of marriages of convenience, highlight how immigration management relies on various assessments, readings, and understandings of people, practices, documents, and pictures, to assess their emotional value in light of what a “true marriage” consists of.

Several authors have already pointed out the normative role the romantic Western love narrative plays as a technique of government in the securitization of family reunification processes. Going beyond this well-documented idea that couples often need to play along this specific love script to make a successful case, this presentation will focus on the political work love does in the strategies put in place by lawyers who help couples complete a family reunification process in Montreal.

Drawing on interviews conducted with immigration lawyers in the Montreal area, I examine how they partake in a moral economy centered around the distribution of trust and suspicion when it comes to spousal and partner reunification processes. Here, lawyers are considered as political actors rather than mere technocrats who possess technical expertise and know-how. Lack of contacts between immigration officers and lawyers often entail that mental projection is central to the lawyers’ file preparation: what would an immigration officer think? These projections are based on an securitized logic of border controls, where “true relationships” must be distinguished from “fake ones.” They guide which material is strategically being included in the application, and how it is being presented.

For this presentation, I will focus my attention on the strategies lawyers have developed to make their cases successful, and on the role love plays in their perceptions of what would generate trust or suspicion. To that end, I center my analyses on three domains or areas where love becomes entangled in the lawyers’ strategies: 1) In navigating the tension between professionalism and “political activism”; 2) In selecting pictures, and the moral gatekeeping practices that emerge from it; and 3) In presenting credible stories of love and “love at first sight.”


21 October

Affective Ties, Citizen-Activists and Migrating Sex Workers

Migration Sex Work and Trafficking
Nick Mai, Professor of Sociology, School of Humanities and Social Science, College of Human and Social Futures, The University of Newcastle (UON), Australia

The paper presents the findings of the ERC-funded project SEXHUM (Sexual Humanitarianism: migration, sex work and trafficking) studying the impact of policies and interventions targeting migrant sex workers in four national settings (Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States) characterised by different legal frameworks (criminalisation, regulation, decriminalisation) addressing sex work. It will draw on Professor Mai’s concept of ‘sexual humanitarianism’, referring to the specific role that neoliberal constructions of vulnerability associated to sexual behaviour and identities play in the onset of humanitarian forms of governance of migrant populations. Drawing on 245 interviews with migrant cis and trans research participants working in the sex industry in SEXHUM’s four national settings, we will examine and compare the different and similar ways in which by migrating and engaging in sex work they both challenge and respond to the sexual humanitarian rules constraining people’s social mobilities and life projects in neoliberal times. In doing so, we will focus on the complex and contextual experiences of agency and exploitation of migrant groups who are constructed and targeted as vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse in relation to racialised and cis-centric sexual humanitarian canons of victimhood, as well as exploring the impact the related social interventions have on their lives and rights.


04 November

‘Unfortunately, I am not lucky’: Migrant Writing from Singapore and Australia

Moderator: Deirdre C. Byrne, Professor and Head of the Institute for Gender Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa

Writing the Self: Transient Workers’ Stories of Love in Singapore
Wernmei Yong Ade, Assistant Professor and Deputy Head in the English Programme, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Having the freedom to express our love through small gestures like holding hands, a simple kiss, and saying ‘I love you’, doesn’t seem wrong. Well, those who can do that without worrying that other people might humiliate them are lucky. Unfortunately, I am not lucky. I am a domestic worker in Singapore” (Iyah, transient worker from the Philippines). It is widely accepted that to love and be loved is central to personhood and a sense of self; the loving relation is, after all, a relation based on being recognized as a unique self by another. As Iyah’s testimony demonstrates, this path is however not always open to the transient worker in Singapore. For transient workers in Singapore, practices of love are subject to strict laws of the country and the biases of Singapore society. For instance, transient workers are not allowed by law to marry a Singapore national or a permanent resident. Any Singaporean or permanent resident who desires to marry a foreign national on a work permit (which all transient workers carry), can only do so in the form of “marriage by contract”, in which the transient worker will have had to leave Singapore and remained outside of the country for a number of years before the marriage is legally recognized by the State, and the couple able to start a life together in Singapore. Female transient workers are also required to take a mandatory pregnancy test every six months, and if a woman is found to be pregnant, she must immediately return to her home country. Subsequently, such laws have an impact on the way society views the bodies of transient workers, as less deserving of intimacy and love.

This paper examines the ways in which transient workers in Singapore wrestle with visibility and personhood, particularly as these are constituted through practices of love. My survey of the stories told by transient workers, such as the one told by Iyah, reveals that love, both in its familial and romantic forms, are central themes. Storytelling has always been seen as an important means towards reclaiming voice and visibility, particularly for marginalised groups of individuals. My presentation proposes that the telling of love stories comes to stand in for the loving relation as a form of inter-relationality that reveals the uniqueness of lovers as persons, a loving relation that many migrant workers, in leaving their home countries, are often forced to give up, and find challenging to rebuild in Singapore.

Sources for data will primarily consist of published poetry and short prose written by transient workers in the last 3 years. Sources will also include interviews with editors of the collections of works, as well as interviews with the transient workers who have authored the works referred to, subject to approval by the relevant organisations.

Writing the Refugee Experience
Kelly Gardiner, Lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing, La Trobe University, Australia

In 2013, in an effort to deter people from seeking asylum by boat, the Australian Government introduced off-shore processing – detaining people outside its territorial waters, so that they are unable to claim refuge. This has resulted in hundreds of refugees, including children, being imprisoned in Papua New Guinea, Nauru, and elsewhere for many years. Some have died or been killed, and many have been ill for months or years, living in limbo. While the majority of Australians welcome migrants, and the country prides itself on its “multiculturalism” as a result of post-war migration, public opinion on offshore processing is divided,[1] and “border protection” continues to be a significant political issue, furthered by media coverage and political commentary found to dehumanize the people affected.[2]

At the same time, writers have focused on gathering, representing and publishing stories by or about refugee experiences, as a conscious way of garnering public support for a change of policy. This paper focuses on the efforts of many writers for children and young people to represent refugee stories, including award-winning novels (such as The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon), graphic novels (The Arrival by Shaun Tan), and picture books (My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood). Through analysis of selected works and of paratexts outlining authorial intentions, it examines the ways in which such works use concepts of love – often gendered – and belonging alongside literary strategies (especially voice), to give voice to, and “re-humanise”, the real human beings whose humanity is under erasure by government and political commentary. It will consider the ways in which storytelling can intervene in public debates, with writers acting as advocates, and why both writers and publishers choose to focus on young readers.

[1] Lowy Institute https://poll.lowyinstitute.org/themes/immigration-and-refugees/

[2] Roland Bleiker et al., “The Visual Dehumanisation of Refugees,” Australian Journal of Political Science 48, no. 4 (2013).


18 November

Religion and Migrating Genders and Loves

Diffractions of Migration, Gender, and Love among Jews in Medieval Europe
Marianne Schleicher, Associate Professor in Jewish Studies, Department for the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark

To understand how material-discursive aspects of migration, gender, and love diffract each other and as such affect contexts of and orientations in individuals and groups, we need “situated knowledges” not only from contemporary and global contexts, but also from different periods in time. This presentation offers one glimpse into gender and love among Jews in Medieval Europe who lived in exile, often with displacement and migration experiences as a common denominator. From the Spinozian perspective of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy of becoming and based on an analysis of relevant passages in Sefer Hasidim, the Hebrew First Crusade narratives and Eleazar of Worm’s elegies for his wife and daughters as well as rabbinical rulings and adjustments of Jewish law by e.g. Gershom of Mainz and RaShI, I shall focus on how migration sometimes stimulated normative performances of gender and love; at other times motivated normative deviation therefrom. The male identity of intersexed people and the criminalization of “lesbianism” were segmented, but so were women’s rights to use contraception, to initiate divorce and to keep her own dowry. More women became agentic in public domains of religion and commerce; yet, were still “trafficked”, but now to establish commercial trade relations between business houses far apart. Due to many Jewish men’s perpetuated migration now in relation to trade, legal experiments were made to protect young women from their husband’s long-term absence and lack of financial sponsorship. Experiments included women’s rights to travelling alone, to dormant divorce bills in case the husband stayed away for more than 18 months, and most importantly a ban on polygyny to prevent men from marrying more women along their trade routes in far-away countries. Reproduction rates lowered to 1.7 child per couple, now living in nucleus families of only two generations, directing mothers and daughters toward education in writing and accounting skills, turning them into important agents in the family businesses. In this Deleuzian perspective, migration involves movement and shifts at increased velocity and detectable instability, vulnerability, and chaos, thus overtly threatening segmentations that otherwise function to uphold illusory, yet vital senses of stability. However, migration also allowed for ruptures in conceptions of gender and love, just as gender and love changed the migration experiences where the intraaction of all three phenomena sometimes have led to increased agency and new domains for Jewish genders and loves.

Migration, Gender and Love during the Roman Empire: The Case of Migrant Women in the New Testament
Anna Rebecca Solevåg, Director, Centre for Mission and Global Studies Professor of New Testament Studies, VID Specialized University, Stavanger, Norway

The New Testament is a valuable source for the study of migration during the Roman Empire, including the migration of women. Drawing on migration theory, migration history, and intersectional theory, this presentation will present three women from the New Testament material: Prisca (Acts 18; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19), Lydia (Acts 16:13-15) and Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2) and argue that there are historical patterns of migration behind these textual representations.

Migration historians have countered the claim that migration and mobility is a phenomenon that came with modernity. The Ancient Mediterranean world is one example of a pre-modern society in which migration and travel was widespread. During the Roman Empire a number of factors conducive to travel and migration were in place, such as peace and political stability, various means of travel and transportation, and few restrictions on travel in the form of state control.

I will use the textual traces of Prisca, Lydia, and Phoebe to address some central topics concerning migration during the Roman Empire. One such topic is the presence of migrant networks, including religious networks such as the Jewish diaspora. Another is the spectrum of migration from voluntary (e.g. trade) to forced (e.g. slave trafficking). The topic of love will be addressed by comparing these texts with the ancient Greek novels (Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe; Xenophon of Ephesus’s An Ephesian Tale; Achilles Tatius’s Leucippe and Clitophon; Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe; and Heliodorus’s An Ethiopian Story). These novels were written around the same time (1st – 2nd c. CE), and within this body of literature women are depicted as on the move. In contrast to the New Testament texts, however, romantic love is an essential part of the travel narrative – the end of the journey results in the reunion with the beloved. In the case of Prisca, Lydia and Phoebe, their migration is connected to work (such as trade and missionary work) as well as religious persecution. Yet, through their stories we can glimpse various family connections that might tell us something about the interrelations between migration, gender and love.


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