Field research is done


Our field research is done! Feelings of relief are mixed with regret. After all anthropologists live for fieldwork! At the same time, we are happy we conducted interviews with some 130 Polish women who are living or have lived in different cities in Norway. Our team traveled to Oslo, Bergen, and Kristiansund to talk to women who have spent anyway between just a few months and several years in Norway.

As we embark on the next phase of our project–data analysis–we are also reflecting on the ease—and a few challenges—of conducting field research with Polish female migrants in Norway. Most women we approached were eager to share their experiences. The challenge was to find time in their busy schedules. Even those who did not work outside the home, had packed schedules caring for their children, studying, or learning Norwegian. Most conversations started with issues of individual mobility or the when, why, and how the women found themselves in Norway. We also talked about their everyday lives, the advantages and disadvantages of being a transnational migrant, and plans for the future. Recurring themes included: job hunting; “work-life balance” (virtually every single woman talked about the Norwegian attitude to work and life); relations with native Norwegians (not very easy for most of our interviewees) and other Poles (mixed feelings about fellow Poles); and differences in male and female experiences with finding work (some women argued that female migrants have more difficulties in finding work than men since women are not easily employable in construction, the industry where the demand for workers continues to be the highest).

The one group of women who seemed to be less visible and therefore more difficult to recruit for our study were married women who came to Norway to join their husbands or partners. We managed to talk to a few of them, but generally speaking they were hard to find. The prevailing opinion was that these women do not work outside the home, do not learn Norwegian, and live relatively isolated lives staying home and caring for their children. And finally, many conversations center on Barnevernet or the Norwegian Child Protection Services. Some respondents are genuinely afraid of the agency, others talk about the “myths” that surround the child protection system. These conversations prompt us to read Maciej Czarnecki’s book Dzieci Norwegii. O Państwie (Nad)Opiekuńczym.

By Marek Pawlak

Gender and Integration. Polish migration to Norway


The context of everyday life is undeniably the most important sphere for anthropological exploration. The observation of daily habits and mundane routines of people we study provides us with unexpected outcomes and interesting food for thought. After all, it is the everyday life that problematizes our ‘taken for granted’ ideas, imaginaries, and ways of understanding. In case of migrants, however, it also reveals different social and cultural contexts—often neglected in public discourse on integration–in which integration processes take place. In other words, by taking a closer look at migrants’ daily practices, we may uncover important integration mechanisms.

I am no stranger to conducting field research on Polish migration to Norway. In 2009, I worked with male migrants—mostly construction workers—living and working in Oslo, whilst this time around, I spent six weeks observing and interviewing Polish women in Oslo. I believe that comparing different mobilities of Poles residing in Norway brings interesting insights on gendered migratory practices and integration efforts.

Hailing from the same country, these two groups of migrants used their spatial mobility in remarkably different ways. Mobility was a livelihood strategy for the men I studied. They made the most of their freedom of movement. Their “ideal life” consisted of “living in Poland” and “working in Norway.” Fellow Poles called them pendlerzy (pendulum migrants). They would come to Norway for two or three weeks and promptly return to their families as soon as they received their paychecks. As a result, they did not feel any genuine need to interact with Norwegians, let alone a desire for any deeper kind of social, cultural, and political integration. While the men seemed to have thrived or at least didn’t mind the lives in motion, many of the women I met this past summer were “fed up” with transnational lives and split families.

Krystyna came to Norway over 10 years ago to join her husband, who had already been working in Oslo as a construction worker. She thought their son, Kamil, who was 6 years old, should live with both of his parents on a daily basis and not see his Dad every few weeks. Although happy to be reunited with her husband, Krystyna recalls the beginnings as rather difficult and harsh. Living in one room in a shared flat with other Polish migrants was tough, she said. At first, Krystyna stayed at home, helping her son to adjust to Norwegian educational system. Having a child in a Norwegian school “forced” Krystyna to interact with Norwegian parents. Needing to communicate with Norwegians—at her son’s school and in the playground—Krystyna promptly enrolled in a Norwegian language course. Now Krystyna and Jan have their own construction company and since Jan is not fluent in Norwegian, it is Krystyna who not only takes care of the household, but also manages the company and negotiates with Norwegian clients.

Many of my female informants often compared their labor market opportunities with those of Polish males. Eliza and Dagmara remarked that it is easier for men to find jobs, especially in construction, a sector that always needs new manpower. Having fewer job prospects, women have to invest in language skills in order to compete successfully in the labor market and find opportunities beyond the proverbial house-cleaning. Many of my interlocutors aspire to work as waitresses or shop assistants.

Paradoxically, the “traditional” (and oversimplified) division of gender roles in Polish public discourse and imaginaries – i.e., women as “housekeepers”, men as “providers” – leads to women’s engagement in Norwegian society and everyday life. Obviously, the language skills are of a great importance here. Men, who work at various construction sites – usually with other Poles or, broadly speaking, Eastern Europeans – often don’t “feel” the need to learn Norwegian. For women, on the other hand, spending time as stay-at-home mothers–at least at the beginning–provides them with the opportunity to concentrate on learning Norwegian. Daily forays into the neighborhood—to shop for groceries, take children to a park or playground—give them a chance to strike a conversation with Norwegians.

Of course, I also met women, who work outside the home, but they too seem to have more opportunities to learn and practice Norwegian than men. Iwona cleans different Norwegian apartments (so-called domki). This line of work is conducive to chit-chats with Norwegians. As Joanna told me, working mainly for older people and cleaning their flats provided numerous opportunities for her to practice the language. Older Norwegians living alone are eager to talk to break out of their isolation. Integration is often measured by language acquisition, labor force participation, and socio-economic mobility. But these are not the only factors facilitating integration.

Integration also means being engaged in rather “unnoticeable” and “non-measureable” contexts of everyday activities and “ways of being.” Whether it is hiking in the woods on Sunday, meetings friends for coffee in the city center, or getting to know what a Norwegian “work-life balance” is about. After all, this is what the “locals” do, and following into their footsteps means to acquire Norwegian know-how.

Of course, I do not mean to imply that men are not engaged in Norwegian everyday life; there are many male migrants (mostly young), whom I met in Oslo and who are as well adapted to “Norwegianness” as female migrants. Rather, I’m contextualizing the ethnographic detail and compare it to male migrants, whose strategies rely chiefly on transnational commuting between Poland and Norway, and who would rather send money to their families in Poland than go out for coffee to the city center. Their migratory strategies are quite different – usually constrained to hanging out with fellow-workers in rented shared flats – but also very interesting and important from anthropological perspective. They create their own everyday life, which is as fascinating and justified as the everyday life of Polish female migrants.

By Marek Pawlak

Sunday in the Viegeland Park


On a sunny afternoon during my recent field research in Oslo, I was walking through Viegeland Park. The park hosts beautiful sculptures depicting various emotions. Passing the magnificent figures, I thought to myself: What a wonderful pretext to talk about feelings. A true teaching moment. You could take a group of preschoolers on a trip to the park and ask: What do you see? And then talk – about grief, love, jealousy, envy, joy and trust. Different moments in the life cycle and singular expressions of feelings.

To my surprise, the people in the park are not art connoisseurs who came to admire the sculptures or tourists who stopped to take a selfie in front of one of the statues. Instead of looking at the sculptures, they are glancing at their smartphones or tablets, connecting with someone in virtual reality. Even those who came to the park with friends or family members don’t talk to each other, but are staring at their phones. I notice a father with two sons, each glued to the phone. A group of blond-haired boys—most likely classmates—also not talking to each other, but frantically texting someone else, somewhere else.

I am wondering: What are they seeing on these phones, with whom are they communicating? I am searching for people who are present in the moment. Not finding any admirers of art, I return to look at the monuments. I am drawn to a statue of a couple in love. What are they kinking about, I wonder. Maybe they think about the future that awaits them? The children they would like to have? Or have they quarreled and made up?

A few moments later, I spot another man with his sons. They are leaning against the statue, each holding a mobile phone. A woman approaches, perhaps the boys’ mother. She stops, deep in thought, to look at the sculpture depicting a couple in love. I try to guess her feeling. Maybe she is reminiscing about the time, before cell phones, when she came here to stroll among the sculptures with her lover.

I continue to muse about the statues. How do Norwegians interpret them? Does their familiarity with artistic expression of feelings improve their ability to speak about feelings, relationships, and the human body? How do Poles living in Oslo understand this garden of sculptures? Some of my fellow compatriots were turned off by the naked bodies of the statues. Why place sculptures of entwined bodies in the city center, a place where you bring your visiting relatives and friends? My Polish interlocutors find Norway odd. They say they don’t understand Norwegian, not only because they don’t understand the language, but also because they are puzzled by decisions such as this: to have a stone garden of naked bodies in the middle of the city!

I continue to observe my surroundings. I see a young couple sitting on the grass, each looking at their iPhone. Are you here together, I wonder? Three young women are grilling; one of them is reading something on her tablet. Perhaps she will pause for a moment and enjoy the meal. Off to the side, I see an older Vietnamese couple deep in conversation. A lady is walking her dog. Instead of a phone, she carries a bag to scoop her dog’s poop.

By Izabela Czerniejewska

Interview in the local newspaper

Our colleague, Agata Kochaniewicz, gave an interview in the local newspaper about her fieldwork among Polish women in Kristiansund. She explains that mobility motives have a significant impact on migrants’ everyday life in Norway and that the value of work as well as the notion of work-life balance is different in Poland and Norway. Agata also points out that many Polish women are eager to learn Norwegian, however the language course offer is often limited.


Mobile Lives: Musings about ethnographic research on migration

As we prepare to launch a three-year study on female migration from Poland to Norway and its effects on the migrating women and on those they left behind, we want to reflect on the research approaches we plan to deploy in the field. Trained in cultural and social anthropology decades apart, we were nevertheless taught the same precepts of good anthropological research: that ethnography is the hallmark of anthropological studies, that good ethnographic research involves direct and sustained social contact with those one wants to study, that intensive interviewing and close engagement with study participants, “deep hanging out,” and robust participant observation are a must. But in the globalized and ever more mobile world, fieldwork projects are not what they used to be. The field has changed and so have the rules of engagement. Migration research by definition involves the study of mobile populations. Today’s migrants, especially Polish migrants traversing different countries in the European Union, are not the emigrants of yesteryear who crossed international borders or the Atlantic Ocean and settled in a new place permanently. Contemporary Polish migration is much more liquid; migrants often settle into motion; transnational lives become the norm. Take Ewa, for example; she and her husband and two small children live in Warsaw but Ewa’s business is registered in Norway. She travels to Oslo, Trondheim, and Bergen—where large Polish communities have emerged—once or twice a week to provide interpretation in the courts or in hospitals. She pays taxes in Norway and will earn her pension there when the time comes, but in order for her artist husband to have a meaningful career they made Warsaw their home. It took a lot of planning to secure an interview with Ewa and although she spent three hours with one of our research team members, this was a one-time shot we had to talk to her. The likelihood of hanging out with her and conducting a prolonged participant observation are just not feasible. There is even less chance to follow her to Oslo or Trondheim on her business trips. We might be able to grab a cup of coffee with Ewa if she is in Oslo when our team conducts research with Polish women who make their home there, but we cannot count on this. Lucyna’s husband lives and works in Bergen, but she has recently moved to Poland to take a job as a radio journalist. In order to understand the dynamics of this transnational couple, we need to conduct field research both in Bergen and in Szczecin. Marta is very active on a Facebook page for Poles living in Norway. This morning she posted a question regarding access to prenatal care and child subsidies. Marta is three months pregnant and plans to deliver her baby in Poland, but raise her in Norway. We haven’t met Marta yet, but monitoring Facebook pages and blogs seems a necessity if we want to understand the experiences of Polish women in Norway, in transnational families, and the effects of their mobility on their family members who remain in Poland. So have you guessed what methodological approach we are using to understand the intricacies of Polish female migration between Poland and Norway? Yes, you are right: multi-sited ethnography where the sites include real geographical places in both countries as well as virtual spaces. We believe that multi-sited ethnography–a data collection method that allows researchers to follow a topic or social problem through different field sites and analytically explore transnational processes, groups of people in motion, and ideas that extend over multiple locations–will allow us to reveal the full scope of the migration experiences of Polish women and its impact on their life trajectories, transnational families, integration into the Norwegian society, and familial and social networks they left behind. The birth of multi-sited ethnography coincided with the economic and political transformations of the globalized world. Such processes as decolonization, the end of ‘organized capitalism,’ and the introduction of its neoliberal form greatly impacted both anthropological theories and fieldwork methodology. The previously existing concept of ethnographically ‘being there’ has been reconfigured, critically reflected upon, and scrutinized across the discipline. In contrast to traditional ethnography, multi-sited ethnography follows a research topic across numerous spaces for shorter periods of time. The differences between traditional and multi-sited ethnography can be understood visually as following a topic across one space (vertically) or multiple spaces (horizontally). The introduction of this ‘new’ perspective has not escaped criticism. One of the most important questions raised relates to the basic understanding of ‘the field’, its scientific recognition, and anthropological exploration: How many fields constitute ‘multi-sitedness?’ Is it possible to maintain an in-depth engagement while doing fieldwork in multiple sites? How much time does one need to spend in the field in order to achieve a sense of anthropological intimacy and familiarity? Some anthropologists worry that this approach may lead to a lack of ethnographic ‘depth’ and ‘thickness.’ As many anthropologists argue, to achieve a sense of empirical ‘depth’ takes time and is hard to achieve within a multi-sited approach. Another criticism concerns the ‘abdication of ethnographic responsibility,’ which means that the complex relationships between the researcher and the researched in the field are neglected or assumed to be of secondary importance. These critiques argue that the idea of just ‘following people’ puts the researcher in ‘danger’ of losing the key ethnographic sense of reflexivity, positionality, complicity, and collaboration in their fieldwork. These criticisms have their merits and cannot be easily discarded. Some accuse migration scholars for using multi-sited ethnography interchangeably with qualitative research involving interviews and surveys or simply multiplying the number of field sites. A ‘true’ multi-sited ethnography merges the micro (local) and macro (global) levels into one complex unit of analysis and follows the emerging new research contexts, phenomena, and ideas in the field. Such approach is nothing new in anthropological fieldwork and the idea of being open to serendipity and unpredictability in the field has been well known for generations. However, as Ester Gallo indicates: “multi-sited ethnography implies not only the capacity of being ready to put into question theoretical assumptions and research expectations that precede fieldwork; it also requires the researcher to put into question previous sites of ethnographic inquiry in light of new ones.” We are convinced that exploring sites that are linked to each other is a way to rejuvenate comparative migration studies based on ethnographic research. Do we think it is easy? No, not at all. We anticipate the occasional wrench being thrown into our plans. Stay tuned, we will report on our adventures in the field often.

by Elżbieta M. Goździak and Marek Pawlak

Weekend in Oslo: a quick reconnaissance before starting field research in the summer 2016

Nobody in her right mind travels to Norway in the dead of winter. However, in order to prepare for field research in the summer, I decided to make a short reconnaissance trip to Oslo to make a few personal contacts and learn how to orientate myself in the city. I stayed with a Polish family of a friend I knew for years.

I flew to Torp Sandefjord Airport, located some 150 kilometers from Oslo. Flying to Torp from Poznań in Western Poland is dirt-cheap. Torp is a small airport, one of those hangar-airports with a few small shops and offices, located in the middle of nowhere. The plane was half empty and the small group of passengers quickly disappeared: some were welcomed by families and whisked off home in private cars, some moved towards minivans with labels Polski Bus, and only a few passengers wandered around asking for transport.

I took the shuttle bus. The bus schedule is coordinated with a train schedule. However, one has to jump off the bus and board the train within a minute. Luckily, there were very few passengers that were making the connection and we all got on board seamlessly to begin a two-hour journey to Oslo. It was Saturday afternoon and the number of passengers increased at very station; by the time we reached Olso Central Station many people were standing. Passengers were quiet, some worked-played on their mobiles, some listened to music on headphones, a few were smartly dressed.

The ticket costs 266 Norwegian Krone (28 Euro) for adults and is free for children. This was actually more than my plane ticket. The ticket collector came through to check our tickets at every station. She was polite, everybody around had a ticket. I bought my ticket on internet as it was suggested by my hosts.

On Sunday there were crowds of Norwegians near the central station returning from a skiing sport event, wearing skiing outfits or national colors and emblems. They were quite loud but differently than football fans in Poznań, who often sing very loud and shout when passing the streets after the football game. In Oslo fans were smiling and talking loud but made much less noise.

Even though there are some 40,000 Poles registered in Oslo, I didn’t hear much Polish spoken in the streets where I walked on Sunday and Monday. I spotted only one couple speaking Polish near the opera. There were young, dressed like most people, did not stand out from the others. I did not see any signs of Polish inhabitants on the streets.

The tourist information in the old train station offers free city maps. Do Poles come there? Previous research shows that Poles are usually joining their friends or family, relying on migration networks. My Polish friends living in Oslo know the tourist information thought they don’t need it. They buy tickets for cultural events and search for information on internet.

The old trains station has been turned into elegant restaurant hall. When eating in one of the places we are waited on by two waitresses. One, with a nametag Anette, starts to speak Polish to us when she hears that we are conversing in Polish. But why isn’t her name Aneta? Polish parents abroad often give foreign names but she probably came as adult to Norway. Is Anette easier to pronounce for Norwegians? What one needs to do to get and keep a job in gastronomy in Oslo? How difficult is it? Are restaurants, pubs and cafes one of the employment sectors popular among female Poles, as I observed in London?

A woman working in a nearby cafe looks very Polish to me, is she Polish? A Norwegian colleague mentioned that new migrants, among them Poles are more invisible because they look so similar. Does it mean they don’t want to stand out? Prefer to be “invisible”?

The Polish host family offered to help me with contacting other Poles before and during my next research visit to Oslo. They mentioned no interest in Polish Catholic community or Polish weekend school yet they know many Poles on various grounds.

The plane back to Poznań was completely booked; it was ten days before Easter. A majority of my fellow-travelers were men in their 30s and 40s. There were also a few women, some with children. A woman and two girls about 6 and 8 year old speak Polish and Norwegian interchangeably. Is it typical? What do Poles in Norway do to teach their children Polish? The family I visited spoke Polish at home incorporating some words, for example names of sandwich spreads in Norwegian. Both parents are Polish and children are preschool age. How is it in mixed families or with older children?

Lots of questions to explore during next research stays in Norway.

Izabella Main

Project meeting in Poznań

On 7th-8th March 2016, the Project Team held a prolific meeting in Poznań, where we discussed the aims of research collaboration and methodologies. Many issues that have been raised – i.e., ethics, fieldwork approaches and facilities, data collecting and sharing – enhanced the project’s initial research assumptions.

Among the participants were Marie Louise Seeberg (NOVA – Norwegian Social Research), Marta Bivand Erdal (PRIO – Peace Research Institute Oslo), Izabella Main (CeBaM / Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań), Izabela Czerniejewska (CeBaM), Elżbieta Goździak (CeBaM / Georgetown University), Agata Kochaniewicz (CeBaM / Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań), and Marek Pawlak (CeBaM / Jagiellonian University in Cracow).


Project’s objectives

In 2015 we launched a research project entitled “Mobile Lives, Immobile Realms: Female Mobility Between Poland and Norway”. Poland’s accession to the European Union in May 2004 has led to the largest emigration flows in the country’s postwar history. Post-accession Polish migration–characterized by heterogeneous migration flows (unskilled and semi-skilled migrants, students and recent college graduates seeking short-time employment, young professionals wishing to start a new career or set up their own business, and intergenerational families), high levels of mobility (transnational and circular migration), and variegated settlement patterns–have had a significant impact on how migration is theorized, researched, and understood. Novel thinking about Polish migration notwithstanding, there is a dearth of anthropological research on migration of Polish women, particularly in relation to decision-making processes about permanent or temporary settlement, circular migration or return to Poland. Little is known about how employment and educational experiences of Polish women, their partners, and children affect the families’ migration trajectories. With few exceptions, much of what has been written about contemporary Polish migration focused on Poles in the United Kingdom and Ireland. There is a need to understand migration experiences of Polish women and their families in new destination countries.

The main objectives of the project are to:

  1. Enhance theoretical and empirical understanding of Polish female migrants’ integration in the labor markets and educational systems in Norway;
  2. Investigate the impact of transnationality and liquid migration on migrants’ socio-economic integration in Norway and socio-economic conditions of sending communities in Poland.
  3. Identify and analyze strategies used by Polish migrant women to secure employment and educational opportunities for themselves and their children.
  4. Facilitate research collaboration between Polish and Norwegian migration scholars, including seasoned and junior researchers.