Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Politics of Bi-Nationality in Couple Relationships: A Case Study of European Bi-National Couples in Manchester

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Politics of Bi-Nationality in Couple Relationships: A Case Study of European Bi-National Couples in Manchester

Article excerpt


With the debordering of Europe and the development of intra-European mobility, the number of bi-national couples formed by European nationals is on the rise (Gaspar, 2009, 2012; Kofinan, 2004). Whilst the national and European authorities customarily regard these European bi-national couples as a desirable by-product of the European project and a concrete step towards European integration 'from below,' European bi-national couples remain relatively understudied.

The limited attention given to middle-class European bi-national couples may be explained by the fact that their protagonists tend not to be regarded as migrants but as 'movers' (Favell, 2003a, 2003b, 2006), a group ofprivileged and skilled EU nationals, "who have individually chosen the path of individual free movement within Europe" (Favell, 2003a: 7). IntraEuropean movers can freely cross national borders without declaring their residence. State authorities tend not to actively monitor their presence (with the exception of incoming Bulgarian and Romanian nationals who are required to obtain a work permit from the UK authorities). The relationships they enter also remain virtually invisible to the authorities and the general population unless officialised through marriage and/or civil partnership. Moreover, European movers are deemed to 'blend' easily into their country of residence. Perceived as unproblematic, they attract little media attention, although this statement needs relativising in the case of Central and Eastern nationals who caught the UK media attention in the runup to the 2004 and 2007 European enlargements (Favell andNebe, 2009).

This article explores the politics of bi-nationality both between partners and in their relationships with their families of orientation and procreation. It is based on qualitative research conducted in Manchester (UK) with forty-two participants either involved in a binational couple formed by one European mover and one British national (E/B couples) or a bi-national couple formed by two European movers of different nationalities (E/E couples). The present article is divided into four sections. The first section seeks to locate mixed couples in the sociological field of enquiry. Section two briefly discusses research methods and the sample used in the study underpinning this paper, whilst sections three and four, sequenced according to a life-course approach, present an analysis of the data collected.


Mixed marriages have attracted a lot of attention in the field of migration studies, which, in turn, have deeply influenced their study, firstly through a focus on certain types of mixed marriages such as mixed race marriages (particularly couples involving Western and nonWestem partners) and interreligious partnerships (Barbara, 1985; Caballero et al., 2008; Cottrell, 1990). The influence of migration studies on the research interested in mixed marriages is also noticeable through the concentration on specific research themes such as social integration and intergroup relations. The reception given to mixed couples by their local communities has gathered substantial interest as evidence suggests these dyads face additional social sanctions in comparison with imagined 'endogamous' relationships (Alber, 2000; Barbara, 1985; Lauth Bacas, 2002; Streiff-Fenart, 2000; Waldis, 2000). The popularity of research questions seeking to understand the effectiveness of intermarriage as a mechanism of social integration for the foreign partner illustrates the influence of migration studies on the research concerned with mixed couples.

Moving away from research themes prevalent in migration studies, some researchers have considered the question of the distinctiveness of mixed marriages in comparison with other unions. For Beck-Gemsheim (1999), mixed couples owe their specificity to the presence of the cultural component and the necessity to build an intercultural lifeworld for which no precedent exists. …

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