"RE:EU" Team members organize seminar for Radboud University faculty to share their first impressions of fieldwork

"RE:EU" Team members organize seminar for Radboud University faculty to share their first impressions of fieldwork

On March 19th, members of the ERC-funded project “Reproducing Europe” organized a seminar entitled: “Negotiating Good Lives: Migrant Parenting, Professionals and the Welfare State” at Radboud University Nijmegen.

The seminar attracted university professors, students and researchers from the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies as well as faculty members from other departments, such as Gender Studies and Geography. The seminar, which marks the conclusion of fieldwork and the beginning of analysis, explored three emerging themes from fieldwork. The PhDs, whose research had focused on the experiences of migrant families in Amsterdam, Milan, and Paris, compared their findings on the meaning of being a parent in these three European cities, each focusing on the aspects that were more intriguing for them.

In Amsterdam, PhD candidate Wiebe Ruijtenberg examined the idea of hope and disillusion among Egyptian parents, especially from the perspective of fathers. Wiebe took up the cases of divorced fathers, which were the focus of his fieldwork, to shed light on the idea of anxious parenting that characterizes disintegrating families in the framework of what the welfare system offers them in Amsterdam.

In the case of Milan, PhD candidate Lucrezia Botton put the focus on the mothers, her main informants, and parenting as an activating process; she elaborated on how mothers become socially active and engaged after they came to live in Milan, in order to meet the needs of their children, even though they are rarely recognized as such by welfare workers and volunteers.

In Paris, PhD researcher Soukaina Chakkour, shed light on the space of hesitation as a structure of parenting for Egyptian migrants. Soukaina spoke of the aspects of daily life of Egyptian parents living in Paris from the point of view of their future aspirations to go back in Egypt, while residing in Paris, which marks their parenting process with overwhelming hesitation and doubt. This allowed for a comparison of different aspects of parenting in the three cities, at least at this point of the development of the project of research, prompting consequently a brief discussion with the audience of the seminar.

Reproducing Europe Team Members Meeting in Milan in June 2017

On the other hand, the second nexus of the seminar traced comparative puzzles concerning parenting policy in Milan, Paris and Amsterdam, the focus of the principal investigator and the two postdoctoral researchers on the team. The lead researcher, Anouk de Koning, presented her findings on the parent-child teams in Amsterdam North, which represent a prominent new domain of Amsterdam’s municipal governance. Anouk shed light on the different institutional organizations of the parent-child teams in Amsterdam North, characterizing the role of these teams as complex, serving simultaneously functions of support and control vis-à-vis the parents, in order to secure and enhance the welfare of children.

In Italy, on the other hand, Dr. Milena Marchesi described how parenting support is entangled with welfare reforms, particularly the ongoing decentralization and delegation of public services to non-governmental entities. Parenting support projects in the city in the time of austerity and prolonged economic crisis are entangled with new welfare configurations, which according to Milena, “include interventions that combine programs aimed at children with the aspiration to stimulate relational ties among families of diverse backgrounds, particularly in marginalized neighbourhoods”.

Lastly, in Paris, parenting support policies are connected to anti-poverty and social inclusion agendas and have a strong emancipatory aim of restoring parents’ confidence and expertise. Dr. Anick Vollebergh described how, in this context, a parenting program that is usually associated with a distinctive middle-class lifestyle - education bienveillante - has been taken up by parenting support professionals in a surprising way. Professionals in associations and community centers draw on it, not so much as a model for 'good' parenting, but as a model for reimagining French citizenship and for reshaping professionals and state institutions towards a more “humane” treatment of parents and children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Team Members Discussing the Project in Paris, November 2018

Despite vast differences of the three sites, the team of “Reproducing Europe” is also keen on articulating and elaborating on the convergences of their site of research. In the last section of the seminar, “parenting encounters”, Anouk de Koning proposes the idea of the “tentative state” as a reconfiguration of the links between parenting policies and professionals. By comparing the different positionalities and roles of the professionals working in the field of parenting support and examining the navigations of these professionals in the space that the state allows them, a new understanding of the state and its welfare policies emerges. One in which professionals are deeply entangled with the social they are tasked to govern.

One of the aims of the team is to shed further light on this understanding of the state as the project develops further. In the end, Anouk de Koning and PhD researcher Wiebe Ruijtenberg elaborated on the opaqueness and affective labor that is invested in these encounters, opening the way for ongoing puzzles regarding diversity and discrimination within migrant communities in these cities. The seminar wrapped up with questions from the audience and allowed for a discussion of the emerging themes with faculty members.