Category Archives: Research notes

Can we afford waiting?

These are some of the considerations about waiting I presented as the keynote speaker recently at the ANTHROMOB international workshop on Mobility and the Future of Work.

Immobility and waiting have been often disregarded as irrelevant topics of study. In fact, waiting is often attached to those called left-behind, people who do not migrate but are part of families with migrant members. In particular women have often been perceived as “waiting penelopes” (Mata-Codesal 2016) from Homer’s Odyssey and the image of Penelope, who waits for her traveller Odysseus. The so-called Odysseus and Penelope syndromes are particularly illustrative of this: the former to name the feeling of displacement experienced by migrants, while the latter refers to the sense of abandonment experienced by migrants’ relatives. The impossible situation of waiting is sublimated and poeticized in this ancient epic, where love and faithfulness are able to overcome twenty years of separation. Penelope as the ‘left behind’ is commonly portrayed as passive, subordinated and lacking agency in their relatives’ mobility decisions. However, recent research questions the passive nature of the so-called left behind, and show the necessary roles they play in their relatives’ migratory projects and the development and maintenance of transnational social fields (Mata-Codesal 2015). People’s waiting for their relatives’ return may not just entail a passive inertial situation, in some cases we can even consider their waiting agential, active and intentional (Gray 2011), fulfilling essential tasks for the success of the migratory project.

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Are women less mobile than men?

The State ideology, says Deleuze and Guattari, has the “pretension to be a world order, and to root man” (1980: 24). And I add, to root women as well.  The rooting process resulting from the sedentary logic of the nation state, does not deploy its effects homogeneously over the whole population. Who is perceived as mobile and whose mobility is considered socially abnormal is a highly gendered issue. As Carla Freeman states “travel, with its embodiments of worldliness, adventure, physical prowess, and cultural mastery, is widely constructed as a male pursuit” (2001: 1018). Gender ideologies of what being a woman versus being a man entail are key to understand the differential representational processes women and men are subjected to regarding immobility. There are many studies, particularly in Mexico and other places where migration is prevailing and there is a “culture of migration” in place, which show how men are expected to migrate in order to become fully members of their community, while women are expected to stay put and wait for their male relatives to return. The sedentary logic of the nation state, which normalizes immobility, couples with a patriarchal ideology which aims to control and regulate women’s behaviour. The intertwining of both ideologies, roots women more deeply than men. As Jaume Franquesa states “power is not so much an attribute of the “mobiles”, but an attribute of those who can decide who is mobile and who is immobile” (2011: 1024). Such power is exerted through the gendered social desirability of mobility and immobility, with the construction of female mobilities as an exception.


Women are often portrayed as rooted to the soil, charged with the physical and cultural continuity of the group. They are expected to give birth and to pass on the central values of the group to their offspring. Because of this frequent association between women and roots/soil, the relationship between being a woman and not migrating is naturalized: female immobilities are socially constructed as natural. Women, particularly those with children, who fail to comply with this imaginary, are discredited as denaturalized and bad mothers.

In Ecuador, and this is well-known for anyone working on migration in the Andean region, men have been migrating to the US for decades. When women started to migrate internationally as pioneer migrants to Europe in 1990s, there was an upsurge in catastrophic discourses about the risks of family disintegration brought about by women’s migration. Migrant women were nationally portrayed as bad mothers, contrary to migrant men who have been traditionally portrayed as entrepreneurial selves. In a context of acute economic crisis, I found in my research in Ecuador that in many cases, women had to resort to international migration in order to make a living for their children because of men not taking care of their family responsibilities. But still, migrant women were portrayed as bad mothers. Gender ideologies are key in shaping the process of stating who is desired to stay put, which in turn influences who is perceived as immobile. I found something similar in Mexico. Although women in the village of Zacualpan have been migrating for decades for family reasons, to study, and even to work as unqualified and qualified workers (domestic workers, teachers, etc.), their mobility was still presented as an exception.

The logic of the nation-state permeates much of the academic work on mobility and human migration of the recent decades. It means that too often studies have taken the limits and categories of the nation state as units of analysis. Although this idea goes a long way back, in Migration Studies it has been best articulated by Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller, with the concept of methodological nationalism. To put it simple, methodological nationalism is to take the nation-state units as our units of analysis without thinking previously if such units are relevant or not for the specific research project. By doing so, some realities are obscured while some others are brought to the front. For instance, taking the State borders as the natural delimiters of our research units, zooms in on the mobility patterns more often followed by men while hiding women’s mobilities. In Mexico, as in many other locations worldwide men have traditionally outnumbered women in international migration. The academic importance given in the last decades to international migration has contributed to overshadowing the mobilities women more often engaged with. Already in 1885, Ravenstein, one of the pioneers of Migration Studies, stated in his Laws of Migration that: “woman is a greater migrant than man. This may surprise those who associate women with domestic life, but the figures of the census clearly prove it […] women certainly are greater migrants than men, but they go shorter distances”. The academic importance given to international migration has gender-biased our understandings of mobility. By overshadowing mobilities more often followed by women, women’s mobilities have been socially constructed as more unusual than men’s. By constructing women’s mobilities as exceptional, women become rooted.

To read more:

Mata-Codesal, Diana (2017) Gendered (Im)mobility: Rooted Women and Waiting Penelopes. Crossings: Journal of Migration and Culture 8(2): 151-162.

Mata-Codesal, Diana (2015) Ways of Staying Put in Ecuador. Social and Embodied experiences of mobility-immobility interactions. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies41(14): 2274-2290.

¿Qué significa participar?

En el marco del congreso anual de la Asociación de Estudios Latinoamericanos en Barcelona-LASA2018 (del que tengo bastantes críticas que hacer pero que dejaré para otra ocasión) junto con Yvonne Riaño de la Universidad de Neuchatel, organizamos un espacio de encuentro para quienes tenemos interés en las metodologías participativas.

photo_2018-05-26_10-58-01Riaño, Y. (2015) Minga biographic workshops with highly skilled migrant women: enhancing spaces of inclusion. Qualitative Research 16(3).

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El olor del cuerpo migrante en la ciudad desodorizada

El olor del cuerpo migrante en la ciudad desodorizada. Simbolismo olfativo en los procesos de clasificación social

Grupo de Antropología del Cuerpo del ICA-Institut Català d’Antropologia

Presentación 9 Mayo, 16h. CSIC

El olor se utiliza como marcaje de subalteridad en los procesos de diferenciación y evitación del inmigrante en la ciudad convirtiéndolo en un otro inferior que “huele mal”. A partir del ejemplo etnográfico del barrio del Carmel se analiza la odoro-socialidad relacionada con la construcción del “cuerpo del inmigrante” en el aparentemente desodorizado entorno urbano de Barcelona, espacio que en realidad ofrece un complejo paisaje olfativo sujeto a lógicas de mercantilización.

¿Qué es lo nuestro?

Un lujazo haber podido compartir con la gente del Grup de Recerca d’Antropologia del Conflicte Urbà de la Universidad de Barcelona algunas de las cosas en las que ando, sobre todo poder pensar y debatir sobre cómo se construye el nosotros en un espacio donde no se puede recurrir de manera directa a la habitual triada legitimadora del “Nosotros-Aquí-Siempre”.

captureTodo el mundo en el barrio de El Carmelo en Barcelona está de acuerdo con que es un barrio creado por inmigrantes, los que llegaron a partir de 1940 desde otras partes de España primero, a los que se unieron a partir del 2000 personas procedentes de otros países. Cuando hablas con aquellas personas, hoy ya mayores, que literalmente construyeron el barrio te dicen “El Carmelo es un barrio de inmigrantes, gente obrera. Antes no había nada. Pero los que han venido ahora es distinto, nosotros somos diferentes.”

¿Á qué nosotros se refiere? Y ¿Qué los hace diferentes? Pero sobre todo ¿por qué o para qué se activan los procesos de diferenciación?

En esta presentación mostraba cómo se articula el “nosotros” frente al “otro” en un caso etnográfico muy concreto, el barrio de El Carmelo, y en especial cómo despliega sus efectos en distingos espacios abiertos del barrio. La “nosotrosidad” se utiliza como una herramienta de legitimación de demandas, entre las que se incluyen la definición por el uso “correcto” de los espacios urbanos, lo que lleva a que cuestiones que en realidad son luchas generacionales sobre recursos escasos (como es el espacio público de calidad en el barrio) se presenten por ciertos grupos como problemas de convivencia derivados de diferencias culturales.