I started the Love Migration Project because I found that I knew so many people who have moved because of love. My interest in migration and love grew out of my own experiences - I was living in Mexico and was getting married. At the same time I was doing a master’s degree in Applied linguistics (1), at the Universidad Autonoma Del Estado de Mexico in Mexico and I was reading about language acquisition and learning form migrants.
I couldn’t find myself represented in the literature though, as it concentrated on people who were moving from ‘poor’ countries to richer ones.
While the research on these migrants is important and necessary, I felt that representing other groups of migrants, such as Europeans, would allow researchers to consider the intricate types of power relationships involved in such migration. I wasn’t alone in this.
Other researchers have expressed their unease at white, relatively privileged migrants being left out of the research. Sheila Croucher (2) critiques the portrayal of migrants as always poor and dependent in her study of US citizens living in Mexico. Karen O’ Reilly (3) looked at British migration to the south of Spain and showed how it wasn’t as easy as people thought for these migrants. Michaela Benson (4) has shown how class identities of elite and privileged migrants are affected by migration. Sam Scott (5) as considered the labour migration of British migrants to Paris.
In conjunction with this, and through my work as an English teacher I had met many people whose main reason for moving or staying in the host country was a love relationship. This too, was an important trend in migration, which was not represented. The centrality of love to migration is highlighted by the attention given by eminent scholars, such as Russell King (6) , who called for more attention to be paid to love migration over 10 years ago. More recently, Umberto Eco (7) has said that love is the way that Europe will become a united Europe is through love.
And while researchers have looked at family love, at sex, at distance relationships, this is the first project to deal explicitly with love migration. This reflects on the ways that emotions, love, and migration are enmeshed and advances the argument that without considering different cultural notions of selfhood, it is impossible to explain why Western ideas of romantic love are taken up or not. Ideas about what loving someone means, how and when to demonstrate that love differ in different groups, societies, generations, and across an individual’s life. If, as Claire Langhamer has demonstrated, love is central to people’s identities, then it is important to consider how local understandings of love are entwined with how love relationships are manifest.
What are the main objectives of this research? What are the assumptions? To whom is it addressed?
The main objective of the research is to think about migration through the love relationships that migrants have. International migration, often defined as the permanent relocation from one country to another, has come to be associated with economics, politics, social unrest, but one objective of the project is write back in the significance of personal, intimate relationships which tend to be ignored in the literature about migration.
People do move for and because of love, and through our intimate relationships cross-cultural bonds can be forged. As Umberto Eco mentions, programmes such as the Erasmus university exchange programme facilitate opportunities for young people to meet and fall in love with someone from another country. They meet, fall in love and start a family, perhaps in a third country, and it is this which fosters supposed borderlessness. A recent study published by the European Commission said that the one millionth ‘Erasmus baby’ was born in 2014, which is testament to the libidinal opportunities, which such programmes create.
The study will interest academics working on privileged migration as it will offer a complimentary perspective to the economic and political considerations of migration. The public interest in the site is testament to the timely nature of the study, and the relevance it has to a large and important sector of the migrant community.
What are the phases and the features of the Love Migration project?
The project, which is for my Phd research, began in Brussels, in January 2015.
For four months, I am interviewing people about their experiences of love migration. I aim to speak to people in a variety of different situations - including those who moved expressly for love, but also those who moved for work, for example, but found that their relationship was altered in some way because of the migration, those whose relationships didn’t work out. The research takes a wider perspective of love relationships than other research, which has often limited the focus to heterosexual marriage, by including all forms of love relationship.
The project will then move to Barcelona, where I will be interviewing more people for the same reasons. The choice of these two cities was because they are quite different in terms of climate, the reasons people move to them, yet they are both major European cities.
One important feature of the project is the way the interviews are carried out. Firstly, I interview couples together, which is uncommon in academic research. This is underpinned by the theoretical understanding that love is mutually constructed, so I am eliciting mutually constructed narratives about the relationship.
Another aspect is that I ask couples to choose an object which has some significance in the context of their relationship, and this object forms the starting point for the conversation. The object could be anything from a souvenir, to a photograph, to a train ticket from a recent journey - it does not have to be an expensive or beautiful thing - it could be something from the past, or present or something which represents the future. Asking people to choose an object allows them to start the conversation at a point which is important to them, and gives more control to them in how they tell their own story.
Are there similar projects running? How is “The love migration project” different and why?
The Love Migration project (LMP) is unique. While there are other projects which look at love, such as ‘Enduring Love’ , at the Open University, this focuses on family love, and not in a migration context. But there is nothing which considers the importance of love relationships in a migratory context, except of course The Love Migration project.
Why will people be interested in this project and its results?
Migration and mobility are increasingly important in contemporary life. Moving for work is not uncommon, nor is studying abroad. For many people, having some overseas experience is imperative as part of their professional CV. With this in mind, more people are negotiating relationships within this climate of mobility. This project addresses this and asks what happens when love and mobility are two central events in a person’s life? As there is little research which has sought to understand how love relationships are found, negotiated and experienced in migrant lives, people who are living this will be interested in the results.
How can people participate in this project?
Those who do not live in either of those cities can join the community of love migrants by signing up on the website. Joining the community will facilitate conversation among those of us who have moved for love, and create a space to share experiences. The LMP hopes to travel to other cities, so there will be opportunities to take part in the future.
Yvonne, what has the Love Migration Project to do with your professional dreams?
I am a strong believer that academic research should not be confined to university walls. The Love Migration Project is relevant to a large and important sector of the migrant community, and I want to contribute to understanding how that community works.
Personal and intimate relationships are central to our lives and should, therefore, play an important role in academic research about people. I want to contribute to making love a central feature of social academic research. What I hope to achieve is to contribute to an understanding of a community which is growing and way of living which is becoming increasingly common and necessary for so many.
Yvonne, have you ever thought to narrate in a book the most beautiful and interesting love stories you have collected through the LMP?
This is one of the planned outcomes, as well as an exhibition of photographs from the project, and a series of talks to disseminate some of the findings of the project.
1. Applied Linguistics is the study of language in everyday situations. There is a lot of focus on sociolinguistics, or the social use of language, and applies theories to how language is used and the effect it has on the users.
2. Croucher, S. 2010 The Other Side of the Fence. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
3. O’Reilly, K. 2000 The British on the Costa del Sol. London: Routledge
4. Benson, M. 2011. The British in Rural France: Lifestyle Migration and the Ongoing Quest for a Better Way of Life. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
5. Scott, S. (2006) The social morphology of skilled migration: the case of the British middle-class in Paris.Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 32, pp. 1105-1130.
6. King, R. (2002). Towards a new map of European migration. International Journal of Population Geography, 8(2), 89–106.
7. Eco, U 26th January 2012. Eco: scommetto sui giovaninati dalla rivoluzione Erasmus. La Stampa
8. European Commission 2014. The Erasmus Impact Study. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union