Breaking the in-group out-group: shifting boundaries in transnational partner choice processes of individuals of Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian, Turkish, Punjabi Sikh, Pakistani and Albanian descent in Belgium



The ongoing popularity in some second and third generation migrants in Western Europe of marrying a partner from the countries of origin of their (grand)parents is considered to be problematic for micro and macro level societal integration of some migrant populations. Partner choice and marriage practices in migrant communities are problematized in public, media and political discourses by discriminating them from marriage practices in the ‘native’ population on the basis of three related dichotomies: (1) agency versus structure, (2) us versus them and (3) romantic versus instrumental marriage intentions dichotomies. By means of in-depth qualitative research methodologies on the partner choice processes of women and men of Turkish, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Punjabi Sikh, Pakistani and Albanian descent in Belgium and an intersectional theoretical approach, this article aims to deconstruct popular and simplifying dichotomous representations of partner choice processes in these migrant populations. Our study reveals how religious, gender and social class boundaries are stretched to meet personal/individual desires and preferences. Individuals do experience social restrictions when it concerns social group boundaries and the potential partners that they can look for. At the same time individuals are never fully determined by their social environment, they creatively develop strategies to by-pass certain restrictions and to some extent are able to meet their personal needs while being sensitive to the desires of their social environment.