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From intimate relations to citizenship? Au pairing and the potential for

2. Summary of the articles

2.2. From intimate relations to citizenship? Au pairing and the potential for

The second article (Stubberud, forthcoming) is part of an edited anthology, Paid Domestic Labour in a Changing Europe: Questions of Gender Equality and Gendered Citizenship, edited by Berit Gullikstad, Guro K. Kristensen and Priscilla Ringrose (forthcoming), and addresses questions of gender equality and gendered citizenship. The overall theme of the book provided me with an interesting focal point for my own material and, in particular, enabled me to look more closely at au pairing as a migration route through the concept of citizenship. In the article, I look at access to formal and informal rights through au pairing, as these rights are imagined or manifested through au pairs’ intimate relationships with host families, friends or partners in Norway. In other words, the article looks at the processes of using au pairing as a migration route and the potential for formal and informal citizenship through intimate relations in a context in which formal rights are lacking.

Out of the 15 au pairs I interviewed, only three stated explicitly that they wanted to return home upon the end of their contract; all others had either already stayed on or were looking for ways of doing so, which reflects a broader trend wherein approximately half of all au pairs on au pair visas return to Norway on a different visa category after au pairing. Two years is, after all, a substantial amount of time to familiarise oneself with a place, learn the language and create a network that might provide a basis for staying. There is also reason to think that


my informants’ high level of education would have helped them make this decision – both because it would have made it easier for them to find work and because navigating through, for example, study options and the migration process requires a certain skill level. Furthermore, during the interviews, we discussed the decision or desire to stay on in Norway, and it was especially when talking about these themes that stories of partners or potential partners came up.

Drawing on my informants’ stories, this article explores au pairs’ narratives and looks at what they can teach us about formal and informal citizenship through intimate relations.

My informants’ opportunities for staying in Norway were closely intertwined with personal and intimate relationships. Their narratives around this topic took a highly gendered form, in which heterosexuality seemed to be a prerequisite. I use the concept of ‘intimate citizenship’ to capture relational routes to formal and informal citizenship rights in the imagined community of the nation (Plummer, 2003). The au pairs’ narratives – or fantasies – of staying seemed largely to rely on the ‘heterosexual contract’ (Butler, 1999; Wittig, 1989), through which host families were imagined to be replaced by husbands as a route to formal rights and informal belonging. Family is a key symbolic structure for belonging in the nation, and becoming ‘part of the family’ in a literal sense through marriage is a way of acquiring legal, as well as affective, citizenship (Fortier, 2008).

In the article, I distinguish between ‘formal citizenship’ and ‘informal citizenship’. The former is defined as the right to reside in a nation through attachment to an existing member or through labour (L. Williams, 2010).

‘Informal citizenship’ is defined as a dimension of cultural membership in a national community connected to practices of identity and belonging (Bauder, 2008). Yet the concepts of formal and informal citizenship do not take into account gendered, intimate and relational aspects, nor are they particularly useful for addressing the intersection between the private and public realms of individual life or the social relations between people that often mediate an


individual’s relationship to the state (Eggebø, 2012). However, drawing on the concept of intimate citizenship (Plummer, 2003), it is possible to grasp the public, as well as the private, dimensions of citizenship both for those with formal citizenship rights and for those without or with limited formal citizenship.

In the article, I analyse the stories of Marian, Imelda, Sonya and Paulina. Marian, a former au pair, had a host mum who was a little more engaged in her dating than Marian seemed to appreciate. Yet Marian found a partner without her host mum’s help; the partner was a pensioner about twice Marian’s age, whom she spoke of humorously as her ‘own au pair’. I argue that this description of her partner explicitly departs from heteronormative ideals and queers her relationship by emphasising both the age difference and the reversed gender roles. In addition, the partner provided Marian with the possibility of long-term formal citizenship rights through marriage. Imelda was torn between her desire for a life working abroad and the possibility of marrying her boyfriend in her home country. She brought up stories of au pairs who had married their host dads, and I argue in the article that Imelda’s host dad became imaginable as a spouse through her already quasi-familial relationship with him and their physical proximity in the household. When citizenship and future ambitions are at stake, intimate relations that are already vague can slide, as seen in Imelda’s case. Sonya, on the other hand, was a Muslim who wanted to remain in Norway, but was highly cautious regarding her self-presentation, as she was well aware of the racism in Norway that particularly affects Muslims. Sonya’s narrative suggests that those who perceive themselves as formally and culturally at the borders of the nation and whose formal citizenship status depends on relationships with others, must carefully manage their informal citizenship. The last story I discuss in the article is Paulina’s. Paulina had formal citizenship rights, as she had travelled from a country in the EU, yet she was disappointed by her host family, who failed to provide her with informal citizenship. Paulina gained a boyfriend in Norway and found other work through his help. I argue that it seems likely that


this intimate relation might have served as a shortcut for her to become acquainted with what Harald Bauder calls ‘the commitment to imagined national behavioural norms, attitudes, and cultural conventions [that] distinguishes citizens from those migrants who are unable to express belonging’ (Bauder, 2008, p. 325). In Paulina’s case, there seems to have been a transition from informal citizenship without agency, based on her relationship with the host family, to what seems to have been a much more age-appropriate informal citizenship with agency.

Following the stories of the four informants, I ask whether attaining citizenship through intimacy is a promising strategy. The au pair scheme provides a confusing space for manoeuvring formal and informal citizenship, rights, duties and interpersonal roles. While au pairs might not fit the images of ‘big sister’ or

‘domestic worker’, their relations with boyfriends might provide them with a more age-appropriate sense of agency that allows for a performance of citizenship through affective investment, and possibly formal citizenship through marriage.

Through the concepts of formal, informal and intimate citizenship, it is possible to address the way in which intimate relations can provide a space for citizenship to be performed, as well as gained. The combination of concepts also allows us to address ‘aliens’ who lack formal citizenship rights but still have a sense of informal citizenship, and those with formal citizenship rights (such as EU nationals) who nevertheless lack informal citizenship – for example a social network to assist them in job or flat hunting.

What the stories discussed here also highlight is that there seems to be a culturally circulated narrative of a gradual transition from ‘daughter’ to ‘wife’

through a cultural kinning process that has its natural conclusion in family reunification. The role of ‘daughter’ can potentially provide au pairs with informal citizenship through a network, language and cultural knowledge, yet formal citizenship can, in reality, only be achieved permanently through marriage. At the same time, it seems as if the label of ‘daughter’ or ‘big sister’ is


supposed to recruit the incest taboo in order to prevent a sexual relation between the au pair and the host dad. This leads to a silencing of exactly how desirable this coupling can seem to both au pairs and host dads, which again makes the sexual exploitation of au pairs more difficult to address.

I conclude by arguing that au pairing as a migration route is an inherently individualistic project wherein each au pair must carve out a road for herself. Yet there is a sense of cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011) to this, because formal citizenship is always, in the end, governed from above. Au pairs walk a tightrope between precarity and agency, due to a combination of their lack of formal rights and the formal and informal acknowledgment of the work they do and the roles they play.

2.3. Framing the au pair. Problems of sex, work and motherhood in