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Conjunctural Reversals, Capital Accumulation and Family Adjustments in Chinese Trans-Pacific Migration

  • Anne-Christine Trémon
Chapter

Abstract

Over the twentieth century, Chinese migrants and their descendants in colonial Tahiti (today French Polynesia) mobilized kin transnationally to accumulate capital. Families were shaped by successive changes and reversals in legal-political and economic events and conjunctures. Using a multigenerational perspective, this chapter examines their transnational practices of ‘flexible kinship’—strategies of flexible (re)location and gender-selective legal recognition of family members in response to fluctuations both in legal and political immigration regimes and in economic opportunities. Transnational practices are not necessarily translocal. In making this distinction, the concept of ‘flexible kinship’ moves beyond the preoccupation within transnational studies with movement or dispersal in space. The shift highlights the importance of addressing practices that involve not just a spatial extension of networks but also practices that cross legal boundaries within the host locality itself. These legal manoeuvres are temporal in that they seek to evade constraints and also to accumulate a variety of resources—different kinds of capital—through the exploitation of differentials in regimes of citizenship and mutating economic contexts. The practices of flexible kinship can be analyzed at the juncture and disjuncture of two temporalities: the migrants’ own, that is, their perspectives, life trajectories and family dynamics across generations; and the global temporality of capitalism and hegemonic relations in the world-system, which influences regimes of citizenship and policies towards migrants and their descendants. I show how the discrepancies between temporalities and the migrants’ resulting strategic adjustments delineate three periods in a history of distancing and rupture with the Chinese homeland. I further argue that successive changes and reversals in conjunctures have shaped a habitus that maximizes economic and legal security for families and individuals, especially women. Today, flexible kinship practices by descendants of Chinese migrants are less oriented to the country of origin than to other destinations. The concept of discrepant temporalities is therefore also a useful guide to the progressive shift and reorientation from a migratory to a diasporic transnationalism.

Notes

Acknowledgments

This is a shortened and modified version of a paper that appeared under the title “Flexible Kinship. Shaping transnational families among the Chinese in Tahiti” in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2017, 23, 1, 42–60.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne-Christine Trémon
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’anthropologie culturelle et sociale, Institut des sciences socialesUniversité de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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