Chapter 14: Even a Transnational Social Field Must Have its Boundaries: Methodological Options, Potentials and Dilemmas for Researching Transnationalism
Paolo Boccagni This chapter explores the methodological bases of empirical research on migrant transnationalism. Most studies on the topic, as I will argue, show remarkably little concern with the import of the methodologies applied. Yet, studying transnationalism in empirical terms requires a peculiar emphasis on methodological issues – well beyond the criticism of ‘methodological nationalism’ – for many a reason: the integration of two different contexts at least, within one’s analytical framework; the need to appreciate both the differences and the commonalities between them, as well as their evolving intersections in migrants’ everyday lives; the need to delve into the variable degree and frequency of immigrants’ transnational engagement in different life spheres and across their life courses. Is it possible, and if so under which conditions, to translate the theoretical assumptions of transnationalism into circumscribed hypotheses to be empirically tested? How can researchers verify, and even measure, immigrants’ interactions with their motherlands? The chapter will explore the main methodological options applied in linking the concept to empirical research, detecting the reach, distribution and intensity of transnational ties and weighing up their use and consequences in host and home societies. After a theoretical review of the debate of transnationalism (Section 14.1), a case will be made for the peculiar relevance of its methodological implications (Section 14.2). The significance of a qualitative framework of research, with particular respect to multi-sited ethnography, will then be discussed, along with its typical limitations (Section 14.3). This will be followed by a review of the state of the...
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