Migration and care - intimately related aspects of Caribbean family and kinship
The "global care chain", a term coined by the American sociologist Arlie Hochschild (2000), has been used to describe the asymmetrical chain of care exchange that emerges when third world women migrate in order to care for children in the Western world, leaving their children behind to be reared by relatives, friends or neighbours. While there is no doubt that this “chain” of relations reflects a world system of severe inequality, focusing only on this clearly negative aspect of care work migration nevertheless does little justice to the complex system of social relations and cultural values in which such care relations are embedded. It is thus problematic to analyze this chain in terms of fixed notions of proper family relations in which the biological mother cares for her biological children because these values can vary both within and between societies.
Drawing on ethnographic research among Caribbean people, I analyze how relations of care are practiced and given meaning within the context of migration. I argue that for Caribbean women, particularly in the lower classes, care work migration does not involve a uni-directional flow of care extending to privileged families in the west. Rather it is part of a circulation of care (Baldassar and Merla in this volume) that is integral to family and kinship in Caribbean societies. This circulation of care, furthermore, is often associated with considerable physical mobility through the life course, beginning with children moving to other homes, where they help with various chores in exchange for their upkeep, and continuing with young women’s migrating to obtain the material basis of the care of children and elderly relatives who are left behind. Finally, there is a return migration to the family home to look after care dependent relatives, or migration to various destinations to provide care to close relatives and/or to receive care. From a Caribbean perspective, migration and care are therefore intimately linked and should be interpreted as a way of doing family relations in a mobile world of unequal social and economic opportunities.