Gathering stories from migrants and the women left behind: A methods perspective

As part of the Lunchtime Seminar Series, the African Centre for Migration & Society invites you to a seminar titled Gathering family histories from migrants and the women left behind: A methods perspective by Grascious Ncube (Department of Development Studies, University of the Witwatersrand).

Within the growing scholarship on transnational migration, the methodological approaches and time perspective employed in these studies have received some criticism. One of the major critiques is that research tends to focus more on the transmigrants (those who move) and neglects those who remain behind. In addition, studies have failed to trace processes of intergenerational flows in migrant families over multiple generations, thus failing to incorporate family migration trajectories from a historical perspective. Indeed, relatively few migration studies are anchored on tracing the historical interactions and dynamics of migrant families and some criticisms have been levelled against the methodological approaches used by these studies. For example, these have been criticised for proffering situational realities based on individuals’ narratives whose standpoints are fluid and shaped by the continual changes in their context. This issue questions the adequacy, authenticity and epistemological validity of the reality presented in these family history accounts.

In this presentation, Grascious addresses some of these criticisms through the use of multi-sited ethnography to incorporate the realities of those who migrate as well as those who stay behind. She gathered family histories from left behind family members in Tsholotsho in the Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe – the majority of these are women – and migrant members from Tsholotsho residing in Johannesburg, South Africa, to assess the contemporary changes and historical continuities within families in the context of sustained cross-border migration. Grascious will reflect on the methodological implications derived from gathering these family histories from both sides of the transnational continuum. She will discuss the different ways of conceptualising families, from the perspectives of the women left behind and from the migrants’ perspectives. In doing so, she argues that reconstructing family history in the context of transmigration requires not just an account of one history but of many histories emanating from intersections of different families all conglomerated to form one family through the eyes of the history teller.  Family history perspectives on migration challenge the patrilineal configuration of families. Methodological challenges associated with family histories in the context of migration need to address the spatial dimension of those who have moved and those left behind.


Gracsious Maviza (nee Ncube) is a registered PhD Fellow in the Department of Development Studies, Wits Univeristy. Her research focus is on assessing the contemporary changes and historical continuities within families in the context of sustained cross-border migration in the Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe. She is also a Research Fellow with the Institute of Development Studies of The National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. She has a number of publications in the fields of migration, livelihoods, gender, food security and local economic development in peer reviewed journals. She holds an MA in Development Studies majoring in Local and Regional Development from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS) in The Hague, The Netherlands and a BSc honours in Sociology from the University of Zimbabwe.

Date: Tuesday 25 September 2018

Time: 12.30 -13.30

Venue: ACMS Seminar Room 2163, South East Wing, Second Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, University of the Witwatersrand East Campus