- Sex, Love, and Migration: Postsocialism, Modernity, and Intimacy from Istanbul to the Arctic by Alexia Bloch
Since the 1970s, globalizing economies, alongside the withdrawal of welfare provisions in most neoliberal states and a growing demand for transient low-wage labor, have made women worldwide increasingly mobile. Postsocialist women joined the global trend in the 1990s following the collapse of state socialism in Eurasia. Drawing on over ten years of multisite field work comprised of participant observation and semistructured interviews with numerous people in Russia, Moldova, and Turkey, Alexia Bloch's ethnography Love, Sex, and Migration documents post-Soviet women's entry into the transnational migrant work force. The book explores the lives of post-Soviet Russian-speaking women who, being driven largely by inability to find work and liveable wages in home communities decimated by postsocialist economic restructuring, and by their aspirations and even imagination, come to Turkey to work, often undocumented, as domestic servants, entertainers, and shuttle traders. Captivatingly written and rich with thick descriptions that virtually transport the reader to the featured locations and people, Love, Sex, and Migration makes an impressive contribution to the scholarship on gender and transnational migration in postsocialist societies.
Unlike most scholars who have written about gendered mobilities in post-socialist Eurasia, Bloch does not approach the subject in terms of human trafficking and exploitation. Rather, she is interested in the role of mobility in the ongoing transformation of intimacy experienced by her participants, who she calls "consultants." Bloch looks at the close interpersonal relationships migrant women develop and maintain with their friends, families, relatives, and lovers, especially romance, marriage, and parent-child ties. She argues that intimacy is affected by the development of transnational capitalism, labor migration, and border regimes upheld by nation states, as well as by local histories and legacies of state socialism. In the book's six chapters she demonstrates how these structural processes produce new forms of intimate practices. For instance, migrant women engage in serial marriages and divorces to remain mobile in spite of the increasing border securitization policies implemented by receiving states. Moreover, migrants' remittances facilitate extended modes of interdependency and care in multigenerational households. Lastly, some women strategically deploy "sexuality without hang-ups" to benefit from encounters with Turkish men. By emphasizing the significance of local contexts in post-Soviet women's mobility, Bloch complicates existing assumptions [End Page 119] about transnational women migrants. For example, she introduces the concept of the "transnational nexus of care" to challenge the common negative stereotype that women migrants "abandon" their children in the care of others and are thus failing mothers. Drawing on the Soviet history of childcare, Bloch argues that historic patterns of combining state support with help from other female relatives are reflected in post-Soviet transnational mothering in such a way that both "othermothers"—relatives taking care of children locally—and "other mothers"—biological mothers who provide material support from a distance—view their contributions to child-rearing as valuable.
The book's strength lies precisely in the privileging of migrant women's own voices and agency. Bloch does not allow her own interpretations to overshadow her consultants' experiences and perspectives. While scholars often construct migrant women as victims, Love, Sex, and Migration stands out in its desire to represent its subjects as those who try to master their own lives. As she does not ignore the role of larger, structural forces at play, such as neoliberalization of post-Soviet societies and the resulting precarity faced by people in Eurasia, perhaps due to a wish to empower post-Soviet women through her writing, Bloch leaves other pertinent issues unexplored. One such issue is the transition between Soviet and post-Soviet gender contracts. It remains unclear how the notoriously sexophobic Soviet culture—best represented in the famous "There is no sex in the USSR" catchphrase—where women's only erotic option was that of being "worker mothers," was transformed into the post-Soviet "sexuality without hang-ups" observed by Bloch among Russian-speaking entertainers in Turkey...