American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Migrants’ decisions to return to their countries of origin are informed by the comparison and assessment of different life scenarios. Such comparison requires pondering and deliberating on life “here” and “there”, gauging various social, political and economic “climates”, and linking such assessment to one’s own circumstances and possibilities. The concrete experience of return also raises a range of moral demands and dilemmas, calling on migrants to (re)negotiate belongings, allegiances, and (re)attune their ways of dwelling in social environments that may diverge from expectations. This session aims to ascertain and explore the key areas of moral concern and deliberation that inform migrants’ return projects as well as their concrete experiences of return. Integral to this line of enquiry is uncovering the source and nature of such concerns and deliberations: When do moral concerns arise? Who is voicing them and in which context? Which moral narratives inform such judgments? How are evaluations articulated? With these questions, we also aim to uncover the reasons that explain the emergence of moral issues in the first place, the way these affect some domains of life over others, and in which manner. This leads us to explore how concerns are linked to specific political economic climates and changes in living conditions. It also draws attention to people’s socio-economic positioning, statuses, and relational entanglements to discern the importance of lines of differentiation linked to class, gender, generation, race and ethnicity among others. While providing a better understanding of the promises and challenges of return migration, these paths of inquiry shed new light on how moral concerns and deliberations emerge, are articulated, and circulate in (trans)national spheres and across a variety of contexts, providing valuable insights on how moralities gain salience and travel different scales and locations. The session gathers contributions exploring the moral aspects of return migration in a variety of contexts and situations, including moral assessments of economic life by Ecuadorian and Cuban migrants returning from a Europe in crisis, the dilemmas of West Africa immigrants in New York City contemplating and confronting the realities of return, feelings of “home” among Jewish migrants returning to Ukraine from Israel, the comparative morality of Spanish migrants’ disappointing return to Andalusia, and moral positionings and tensions in rural returns for the Lunar New Year in China. Seeking comparative insights from the analysis and discussion of these different cases, the session aims to contribute to a broader reflection on the moral dimension of migration, and to do so in dialogue with recent advances in the anthropology of ethics, morality and the good life.