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“Driven” women: Gendered moral economies of women's migrant labor in postsocialist Europe's peripheries

Leyla J Keough, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In the last decade, labor migration of women from the former Soviet Union has grown exponentially. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Moldova, where 1/3 of the population works abroad, most illegally, and where about 1/2 of these migrants are women transnationally "commuting" to work for 6 to 12 months at a time. This dissertation examines the effects of the neoliberal global economy in this region on women's migration and questions how notions of gender inform this new economy. Bridging ethnographies of postsocialism with those on migration and gender, and drawing upon poststructural feminist works, I show how shifting ideas about gender play a key role in the moral economies of supply and demand for these labor migrants, in the experience of this migration on the ground, and in state and organizational responses to it. I offer a comprehensive view of one particular migration pattern—(Gagauz) Moldovan women who work as domestics in Turkey—drawing on multi-sited and transnational ethnographic dissertation research and interviews conducted in 2004–5 with these migrant women at home and abroad, their village compatriots at home, their employers and employment agents in Istanbul, and employees of the foremost institution dealing with migrants in the region, the International Organization for Migration. I deploy Bourdieu's concept of social fields of values—here conceptualized as gendered moral economies—to show how notions about women, wealth, migration, and work play out in discursive practices at these sites, conditioning the experiences of this migration from these various perspectives and helping this illegal labor market to function. This dissertation also problemmatizes claims about 'postsocialist women' by specifying their experiences in terms of overlapping and various subjectivities. In so doing, it shifts the anthropological gaze from a narrow focus on 'postsocialism' in this region and 'postsocialist women' as a special case of migrant women to identify problems and processes of neoliberal globalization that hold wider significance. In this, I am concerned with relating the common dilemmas of migrant women, the ambiguities of all female labors, and the complexity of women's agency.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Keough, Leyla J, "“Driven” women: Gendered moral economies of women's migrant labor in postsocialist Europe's peripheries" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325125.