1st Edition

On the Shoulders of Grandmothers Gender, Migration, and Post-Soviet Nation-State Building

By Cinzia Solari Copyright 2018
    270 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    270 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    On the Shoulders of Grandmothers is a global ethnography of Ukrainian transnational migration. Gendered migrant subjectivities are a key site for understanding the production of neoliberal capitalism and Ukrainian nation-state building, a fraught process that places Ukraine precariously between Europe and Russia with dramatic implications for the political economy of the region. However, processes of gender and migration that undergird transnational nation-state building require further attention. Solari compares two patterns of Ukrainian migration: the "forced" exile of middle-aged women, most grandmothers, to Italy and the "voluntary" exodus of families, led by the same cohort of middle-aged women, to the United States. In both receiving sites these migrants are caregivers to the elderly.

    Using in-depth interviews and ethnographic data collected in three countries, Solari shows that Ukrainian nation-state building occurs transnationally. She examines the collective practices of migrants who are building the "new" Ukraine from the outside in and shaping both Italy and the United States as well. The Ukrainian state, in order to fulfil its First World aspirations of joining Europe and distancing itself from all things Soviet, is pursuing a gendered reorganization of family and work structures to achieve a transition from socialism to capitalism. This has created a labor force of migrant grandmothers who carry the new Ukraine on their shoulders. Solari shows that this post-Soviet economic transformation requires a change in the moral order as migrant women struggle to understand how to be "good" mothers and grandmothers and men join women in attempts to teach their children to be successful and honorable people, now that the social rules have drastically changed.

    Looking at individual migrant women and men and their families in Ukraine allows us to see the production of neoliberal capitalism and new nationalism from the ground up and the outside in for a region that promises to be a flashpoint in our century.


    Chapter 1: "Gulag" vs. "Promised Land:" Transnational Migration Patterns

    Chapter 2: Markets, Moralities, and Motherhood in Transition


    Chapter 3: Italy’s Context of Reception and Connections to Ukraine

    Chapter 4: Narratives from the "Gulag"

    Inna: Becoming Capitalist in Europe

    Tatiana: Sacrificing for Motherhood

    Oksana: Talent Shows Performing Family, Nation, and Ethnicity

    Yuriy: Negotiating post-Soviet Masculinities

    Lydmyla: A Family Aspiring to be European

    Data Summary: Exile


    Chapter 5: California’s Context of Reception and State-based Integration

    Chapter 6: Narratives from the "Promised land"

    Viktoria: Married to the US State

    Dariya: Discovering my Capitalist "I" in the United States

    Kateryna: Defining Children’s Success in the Promised Land

    Zhanna: Reinventing Babushka across Migration Waves

    Halyna: Undocumented but Playing the Green Card Lottery

    Data Summary: Exodus

    Chapter 7: Conclusion: Transportable Concepts

    Methodological Appendix

    Bibliography and Endnotes


    Cinzia D. Solari is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her papers on gender, migration, and nationalism have been published in journals such as Gender & Society, The Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and The American Behavioral Scientist.

    "As a fascinating addition to the literature on gender and nation-state building, globalization, and transnational processes, the book passionately integrates personal, biographic, and intimate details of everyday life. On the Shoulders of Grandmothers can easily be enjoyed by academic as well as nonacademic audiences as the life stories hold the core of the book. At the same time, the book is not a simple discussion of the strug-gles and aspirations of Ukrainian grandmothers but rather a valuable source of riveting insights into the everyday life, and the changing moral and gender order, in the post-Soviet period. The clarity of Solari’s writing and the reflexive account of her dilemmas as a researcher makes the transnational, comparative data engaging and fluent. This work should be included in the shelves of various disciplines such as Gender and Women Studies, Global/ization Studies, and Transnational migration studies as well as Area Studies."
    Marhabo Saparova, Northeastern University, in Gender & Society

    "Why would a well-educated, middle-aged Ukrainian woman leave behind a beloved child or grandchild to care for elderly clients in Italy and the U.S.—not to return, in some instances, for many years? Taking a fresh approach to a forgotten type of global woman, Solari offers a poignant account of displaced grandmothers and the dreams attached to their hard-earned remittances. This is a highly illuminating and original book." -- Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

    "A meticulously researched and beautifully written ethnography about how migration transforms nations from the outside in. Solari tells the compelling story of how Ukranian grandmothers living in 'exodus' in California and in 'exile' in Italy helped create the post-Soviet, newly capitalist Ukraine. Her narrative challenges much of the conventional wisdom about gender, migration, and nations." -- Peggy Levitt, author of Artifacts and Allegiances: How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display

    "In this brilliantly conceptualized and well-researched book, we learn to see how motherhood is a key foundation for nation-state building in Ukraine. Solari’s examination of post-Soviet life for Ukrainian women and their families shows how newly idealized neo-liberal versions of the nuclear family are made possible by the migrant labor and sacrifices of a generation of middle-aged and older women, babushka grandmothers who migrate across continents to earn remittances that will sustain nuclear families back home. Balancing original theoretical insights with riveting ethnographic portraits of diverse Ukrainian women, the book offers new insights into the relations between gender, nation and migrant domestic work."-- Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, author of Paradise Transplanted: Migration and the Making of California Gardens

    "Focusing on case studies of female migrant domestic and care workers from Ukraine to Italy and the US, Solari conveys a vivid insight into the issues, exertions and contradictions of transnational family life in post-socialist times. Solari convincingly combines three thematic areas which otherwise are treated separately: gender relations, migration and nationalism and shows that an analysis of their interaction is indispensable for the understanding of Ukraine’s development and current situation. The book is a must read for students and scholars studying gender, migration and nationalism in the 21st century. It deserves to become an integral part of the global migration studies syllabus." - Helma Lutz, author of The New Maids. Transnational Women and the Care Economy

    "Combining the strengths of personal narratives and sophisticated theory, Cinzia Solari challenges traditional categories in her compelling study of a mass emigration movement out of Ukraine after 1991. These diverse migrations, headed by largely middle-aged women in search of employment opportunities, are creating the building blocks of a new Ukrainian nation state from the outside in. In her examination of the effects of this process, Solari charts a bold new course for an innovative study of post-socialist societies in transition." -- Marian Rubchak, author of New Imaginaries: Youthful Reinvention of Ukraine's Cultural Paradigm