This paper examines first-generation Swedish migrant women’s transnational organization around national identity, foregrounding new forms of national belonging on an increasingly globalized arena, where social and geographical boundaries are simultaneously transgressed and fixed. Empirically, the paper builds upon ethnographic work and in-depth interviews conducted in a global support network for Swedish migrant women in the United States, Singapore and Spain, 2007-2011. The sense of national belonging constitutes the basis of the community, drawing the boundaries of both inclusion and exclusion, in ways that re/construct differences, distances and inequalities between women in a transnational migratory context. In these circumstances, citizenship becomes an important dimension of the women’s sense of belonging and stability. Most of the women interviewed had kept their formal Swedish citizenship as a warrant for welfare, intimately linked to Swedish “women and child friendly” politics, a practice which points to a continuous importance and belief in the welfare State as a national capital on a global neo-liberal market. Such practices highlights what the sociologist Anja Weiss’ (2005) has identified as the “transnationalization of social inequality”, pointing at migrants’ different positions according to their connections to “weak” or “strong” national welfare states. While the lack of citizenship status serves as an additional axis of inequality and exploitation for most migrants, lacking a formal citizenship in the country where they reside is a choice for Swedish migrant women. For them, Swedish citizenship works as a “back up” for health care, education, elderly care, or future reterritorialization. Citizenship thus becomes a crucial form of gendered ‘national capital’ – an economic, social and symbolic resource that distanced and distinguished them from the majority of migrants, underscoring the unequally distributed resources that national belongings provide in a transnational migratory context. Hence, citizenship cannot be approached as a unified and internationally coherent concept. Rather, it raises questions of whom, where and where from, embracing inclusive boundaries as well as exclusive functions.
Thought as Action: Gender, Democracy, Freedom, Bergen, Norway, August 16-18 2012