Reconsidering Kinship and Decision-Making in Economic Migration - A Study in Nepal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Social & Cultural Anthropology


Prevailing approaches to explain migration-related decision making have numerous drawbacks: they tend to rely on models of rational choice, they neglect the role of cultural context or the social embeddedness of actors, and mostly fail to adequately explain ethnographic reality (Boholm et al. 2013, Sharma 2008). This DPhil project aims to shade new light on the decision-making process by focusing on the unreflected prestage of a decision. A twelve-month fieldwork in Nepal shall investigate the following question: What are the underlying mechanisms for shaping the perception of options available to the individual in the context of economic migration in Nepal? The research shall moreover contain recommendations for policy and intervention, thereby bridging the gap between science and practice.
The widespread, evermore increasing labour migration in Nepal and prevailing societal consequences puzzle researchers, as well as development actors (e.g. Sharma et al. 2014, Sunam and McCarthy 2016, DoFE 2015, NIDS 2011). There is both migration within Nepal and migration to different regions of the world; it is either seasonal, for the duration of several years, or permanent and forming a growing diaspora abroad (Adhikari 2012, Banerjee 2014, Bruslé 2008, Gellner 2013, Hausner and Gellner 2012, Hutt 1997, Kollmair et al. 2006: 152, Nath 2009: 106). The influencing factors on migration are complex, including both push and pull factors (Oliver-Smith 2014: 146, Hutt 1997: 109f. Researchers and policy makers tend to attach great importance to the economic drivers (Barbora et al. 2008, Oliver-Smith 2014: 146). Yet, it is extremely difficult to separate and isolate the numerous contributing factors, which may also (or mainly) be of social, demographic, or political origin (Oliver- Smith 2014: 146, Poertner et al. 2011: 35). The persisting prevalence of young men in migration practice is pointing towards plenty of "gendered and generational considerations" in this respect (Sharma 2013: 348). Male migrants hope to fulfil their obligation as breadwinners and to enhance the socio-economic status of their family (Sharma 2008: 313). In their statement of grounds they also stress opportunities, the charm of consumption, modernity, and adventure abroad (Sharma 2008: 312). Although the number of women in international migration increases1 (DoFE 2015), the normative constraints in movement and obligation towards the family for women still restrict their migration practice (Thieme and Muller-Böker 2009-2010: 118). This centrality of gender concepts in decision-making is very much in line with my own observations in Nepal2, where I observed a strong influence of social structure on female health seeking behaviour. The differing marriage patterns of Tamang and Chhetri communities are connected to different patterns of residence, fields of activity, related obligations, and relationships. The resulting availability of care-takers and working replacement has strong impact on the decision to see a doctor.
Using this perspective as an entry point, I aim to deepen the understanding of decision-making in economic migration and to learn more about the hierarchy of its influencing factors. A useful concept is what Boholm et al. call "horizons of choice" (Boholm et al. 2013). It is the sum of the factors that shape options of an individual. While the influence of gender concepts, networks, and social and cultural capital on the decision to migrate was already addressed by several scholars as highlighted above, I plan to investigate the mechanisms through which these factors shape the perception of options and choice, and whether they are perceived as options at all.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000649/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1923649 Studentship ES/P000649/1 01/10/2017 30/04/2021 Kathrin Fischer