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Deadline Call for abstracts | Academic Workshop: “Strange(r) Families”: Political contestation over family and nation in migration regimes

12 May

The question which relationships qualify as ‘family’ in migration policy is key to defining who gets to legally migrate to and reside in Europe. It is central to family migration politics obviously, but plays a crucial role in other aspects of migration regime as well, including the governance of forced migration, labour migration, detention, and deportation. Dominant family norms also play a crucial role in the intersection of migration regimes with welfare regimes. But who decides what a ‘proper’ family is? Or what families are ‘deserving’ enough to belong here?

The inclusion or exclusion of non-normative families depends on how their deviation from the dominant norm is interpreted and is often prone to political contestation. This political contestation is an encompassing societal process, which happens not only in parliaments and ministries, but also in the media, in street protests, in bureaucratic procedures, and in courts. In contemporary Europe, families may be considered ‘strange’  in different ways. Families may be seen as ‘culturally different’, i.e. a product of non-European tradition, for instance polygamous families, matrifocal families, or extended families where more than two generations live together, positioning the ‘migrant family’ as ‘traditional’ in contrast with the ‘modern’ host society. Families may also be seen as ‘queer’, i.e. as a modern, progressive break with traditional family forms, for instance same-sex families, polyamorous families, or families with transgender parents. Intersecting with these conceptions of normative deviance is the construction of certain families as ‘(un)deserving’ or marginal to the nation in terms of class, i.e. being able to ‘take care of their own’.

In this workshop, we aim to explore conceptions of ‘nationhood’ and ‘family’ as subject to ongoing political contestation. Feminist students of nationalism and empire have shown that from colonial times to the present day, defining collective identities and boundaries – be they cultural, racial, or national – inevitably involves reference to proper roles of men and women, proper dress, proper parenting, proper loving, and proper sex. The politics of belonging are intrinsically connected to the politics of intimacy, as distinctions between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ are most fundamentally drawn in the intimate sphere – between those who love, have sex, marry, and raise their children ‘properly’ (like ‘we’ do it) and those who do not. By studying these constructions, we hope to better understand how contestation over ‘nation’  and ‘family’ in migration politics is shaped by postcolonial- continuities and discontinuities; by intersections of gender, race, class and sexuality; and by shifting constructions of ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’.

We invite paper proposals that explore how dominant family norms are (re)produced and contested in migration politics. We are particularly interested in work that approaches this question from one or more of the following perspectives:

·        coloniality and race;

·       affect and bureaucracy;

·       class and the welfare state;

·       survival and resistance

Confirmed speakers:

·       Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship at the University of Bristol

·       Anne-Marie D’Aoust, Professor in Political Science at Université du Québec à Montréal


Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Elsemieke.vanosch@kuleuven.be no later than 12 May 2023. Include your name, contact details, and institutional affiliation.

This workshop is convened by Eline Westra, Elsemieke van Osch, Saskia Bonjour and Sonja Evaldsson Mellström as part of the Stranger Families Project.

There will be no participation fee. If your home institution does not cover your visa, travel & accommodation costs, please let us know. We have reserved part of the available budget for travel grants (maximum 500 euro per grant, which may have to be reduced depending on the number of applicants).


University of Amsterdam