Martina Cvajner


Female migrants account for almost half of the global migration flows. Until very recently, their migration has always been treated as contingent upon the migration of men. Contemporary research, however, has shown the importance of women pioneers, in contemporary flows as well as in past ones. Which mechanisms sustain female-led flows? 

My research concentrates on one of the most recent women flows, from Eastern Europe, and in particular from the territories of the former Soviet Union, to the market for household services in Western Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Using ethnographic methods, I have been following a group of female domestic workers for more than a decade, observing the changes in their migration trajectories. 

Moreover, does territorial mobility influence changes in sexual behavior? Does migration imply the construction of participation in specific forms of sexual stratification? How ethnic and linguistic differences enact or constrain participation in specific sexual markets/networks? In recent years, I have been exploring these issues with a mixed method approach. 

Research directions

Sociability and friendship

Can sociability patterns influence and shape the migration trajectories and the integration process? How central is friendship in the lives of the migrants? During migration, do migrant establish mostly co-ethnic relationships or is it easier to become exogamous? The research wants to understand whether sociability – beside labor market participation – can be a driving force that enhances integration. 

Consumption patterns

Migrants are generally seen as homo aeconomicus, obsessed by monetary acquisition, rather than consumers themselves. In my research, I show that consumption is a vital dimension of the settlement process. The research is carried out engaging diverse commercial realities pertaining diverse ethnic groups. Mapping such realities and such a behavior over time, the research aims at showing how consumption behavior changes over time and how such a change can be read as an integration marker. 

Associations and cultural life in emigration

Migrants get together – mostly in an ethnically patterned manner – when they migrate to a new locality. Such behavior strengthens groups dynamics, as well as constituting the building blocks of the associations that migrants form in emigration. I am interested to analyze such associations as potential ethnic magnets that can both attract and repel participation. Mapping such realities on the territory constitutes the Litmus test for the social integration of the diverse ethnic groups. 

Migration and Sexual Stratification 

Migrants can potentially date a whole array of partners in emigration. What is the impact of such relationships, or lack thereof, in shaping the migration career of the migrants?? 

Sexual behavior

Dating and mating is an important dimension of social life nearly completely neglected in migration studies. Does migration imply a process of sexual assimilation or, on the contrary, it fosters the birth of specific – often ethnically defined – erotic subcultures? My interest is to see how emigration creates (or fails to) the conditions for a change in sexual practices, relationships or norms. 

Internal collaborations

International Migration Laboratory, Università di Trento.


Best PhD Thesis, Trento, 2008.

External collaborations

SMMS, Sociology Department, Trento.

Selected publications

  • Pioneering Migration. Eastern European Women Migrants and the Struggle for a New Self, manuscript under contract, Chicago University Press.  
  • Boldly Go Where No Woman has Gone Before. Women Migrant Pioneers and the Quest for a New Self, in Routledge Companion to Urban Ethnography, ed. Elijah Anderson, 2017, in press.
  • What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Migration Regimes? The Diverse Theoretical Roots of an Increasingly Popular Concept, in The Impossible Order: Europe, Power, and the Search for a New Migration Regime, ed. Frank Wolff, 2017, in press. 
  • Guest Editor of Migration and Sexuality. Mapping the issues, special issue of “Migration Letters”, under contract. 
  • Il prisma del desiderio. La stratificazione sessuale in emigrazione, “Etnografia e ricerca qualitativa” 9 (3), 513-536, 2016. 
  • Hyper-femininity as decency: Beauty, Womanhood and Respect in Emigration, “Ethnography”, v. 12, (2011), p. 356 - 374. 
  • The Presentation of Self in Emigration: East-West Female Migration, Urban Interaction and Recognition, “Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science”, v. 642:1, (2012), p. 186-199.
  • Migrant friendships, Migrant Loves: Taking the sociability of second generations seriously, “Journal of Modern Italian Studies”, v. 16:4, (2011), p. 465-477.
  • Theorizing Irregular Migration: The Control of Spatial Mobility in Differentiated Societies, with Giuseppe Sciortino, “European Journal of Social Theory”, v. 13, n. 3 (2010), p. 389-404. 
  • A Tale of Networks and Policies. Varieties of Irregular Migration Careers and their evolutionary paths, with Giuseppe Sciortino, “Population, Space and Place”, 16 (3) (2010), p. 210-225.


Further information can be found at the following webpage: Sociologia e Ricerca Sociale - Scenari migratori e mutamento sociale