The ‘successful’ return: Caribbean narratives of migration, family, and gender


  • Earlier versions of this article have been presented at seminars and conferences at the University of London, the Danish Folklore Collection, the Danish Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters, the University of Vienna, the University of Oslo, and the University of Helsinki. I wish to thank participants in these seminars and conferences for their input and suggestions and the reviewers of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute for their helpful and constructive comments.

Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353 K, Denmark.


Research on female migrant caregivers has tended to focus upon the emotional and social problems they encounter working abroad, given women's traditional role as caregivers for their own families. This article analyses how Caribbean women who have returned after a period abroad as domestic workers inscribe their migration experiences within the gendered narrative of the good relative who migrates to help the family left behind and therefore deserves social recognition in the community of origin. It argues that this narrative allows the women to both affirm and reinterpret local family and gender roles within the context of migration. This analysis points to the close connection between narrative structures, accounts of migration experiences, and self-presentations and suggests that narratives about family and gender roles not only reflect people's lives, but are also a malleable resource that can be (re)shaped to validate a variety of life-courses.