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Dalakoglou Dimitris 2010 Migrating-Remitting-building-dwelling House-Making as Proxy Presence in Postsocialist Albania. In JRAI

Dalakoglou Dimitris 2010 Migrating-Remitting-building-dwelling House-Making as Proxy Presence in Postsocialist Albania. In JRAI

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Published by Dimitri Dal
This article examines the material culture of migration, focusing on migrants’ house-making projectsin their countries of birth. In particular, it examines the houses built or refurbished by Albanians intheir home-country, which is no longer their place of permanent residence. This is a widespreadphenomenon in Albania, but it is also a frequently appearing practice amongst other internationalmigrants. Why do migrants living outside their home-countries build houses there even though theydo not plan to return? I seek to answer this question in the case of Albania by focusing empiricallyon the process of constructing these houses, rather than merely on the material entity of the houseas such. I propose that such ‘house-making’ by Albanian migrants is not only a simplehouse-building process; it also ensures a constant dwelling and dynamic ‘proxy’ presence for migrants in their community of origin. These ethnographic observations have further significance for the anthropological study of both houses and international migration
This article examines the material culture of migration, focusing on migrants’ house-making projectsin their countries of birth. In particular, it examines the houses built or refurbished by Albanians intheir home-country, which is no longer their place of permanent residence. This is a widespreadphenomenon in Albania, but it is also a frequently appearing practice amongst other internationalmigrants. Why do migrants living outside their home-countries build houses there even though theydo not plan to return? I seek to answer this question in the case of Albania by focusing empiricallyon the process of constructing these houses, rather than merely on the material entity of the houseas such. I propose that such ‘house-making’ by Albanian migrants is not only a simplehouse-building process; it also ensures a constant dwelling and dynamic ‘proxy’ presence for migrants in their community of origin. These ethnographic observations have further significance for the anthropological study of both houses and international migration

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Published by: Dimitri Dal on Aug 10, 2013
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Migrating-remitting-‘building’-dwelling: house-making as‘proxy’ presence inpostsocialist Albania
 jrai_1652 761..777
D
imitris
D
alakoglou
University of Sussex 
This article examines the material culture of migration, focusing on migrants’ house-making projectsin their countries of birth. In particular, it examines the houses built or refurbished by Albanians intheir home-country, which is no longer their place of permanent residence. This is a widespreadphenomenon in Albania, but it is also a frequently appearing practice amongst other internationalmigrants. Why do migrants living outside their home-countries build houses there even though theydo not plan to return? I seek to answer this question in the case of Albania by focusing empiricallyon the process of constructing these houses, rather than merely on the material entity of the houseas such. I propose that such ‘house-making’ by Albanian migrants is not only a simplehouse-building process; it also ensures a constant dwelling and dynamic ‘proxy’ presence for migrants in their community of origin. These ethnographic observations have further significance for the anthropological study of both houses and international migration.
What do you carry with you back home?
During my pilot research in Athens, in
2005
, I often met Albanian migrants livingpermanently in Greece who displayed the photo-albums of their new houses inAlbaniaalongside the photo-albums of their children. More strikingly, when I first met Maren-glen, a key informant of mine, in Athens, during our discussion about his house in hishome-country he showed me his land-line in the Albanian Telephone Directory, thencalled his ‘uninhabited’ house there and offered me the telephone so that I could hearthe constant ring-tone.DuringthesamepilotresearchaquestionIcommonlyaskedmyinformantsreferredto what they carried with them during their temporary return trips to Albania. Oneanswer I frequently received was: ‘things for me’ (
 gjera per mua, per veten
or
gjera per veten time
,or
pragmata gia mena
or
dika mou pragmata
1
).These things were items suchas clothes or cosmetics. However, such items were stored somewhere, usually in ahouse. So unsurprisingly another answer I often received was ‘things for the house’
2
(
 gjera per shtepine
or
pragmata gia to spiti
).At the time,I perceived these‘things for thehouse’ as being ordinary household and decorative items, or construction materials.However, during my main fieldwork in Albania (
2005
-
6
), it was apparent that most of these things were in fact available there, usually at the same or only slightly higherprices. Thus a set of questions was emerging: Why were these migrants carrying the
 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.)
16
 ,
761
-
 777 
© Royal Anthropological Institute
2010
 
building materials all the way from Greece? Furthermore:Why were the majority of my migrant informants building new houses or refurbishing dwellings in Albania whilethey were explicitly stating that they had no plans to return to their home-country?Transnational migrants frequently have, or aspire to have built or obtain, a house intheir home-countries even though they are not residing there. Although the case of Albanians has its own ethnographic particularities (e.g. the majority of Albanianmigrants are living mainly in neighbouring Greece and are hence relatively near to theplaces of their origin), the phenomenon of houses built by migrants in the country of their origin is very widespread. It is reported ethnographically in various places, fromEgypt (Schielke
2009
) and Turkey (Berg
2007
; Caglar
2002
) to Greece (Herzfeld
1991
:
41
), Jamaica (Horst
2004
; Miller
2008
), and Albania (Dalakoglou
2009
a
), to mentionbut a few.Nevertheless, not only migrants’ houses, but the house more generally, as we per-ceive it today,is a relatively recent subject for British social anthropology.As Humphrey (
1988
) suggested, in the late
1980
s the discipline was not paying particular attention tobuilt domestic materialities and house architecture. Carsten and Hugh-Jones elabo-rated the point about anthropological neglect further in proposing that ‘[n]otions of process, cycle and development are commonplace in the analysis of households anddomestic groups but, in contrast to the people involved, the buildings are often por-trayed as relatively fixed and permanent’ (
1995
:
37
). Arguably, since then many thingshave changed and today we can talk about a social anthropology of the house in its ownright. A number of house ethnographies, signified by the new readings of the Lévi-Straussian house-based societies of the
1950
s and
1960
s (Lévi-Strauss
1987
; e.g. Carsten& Hugh-Jones
1995
) and an approach to Bourdieu’s (
1990
[
1972
]) celebrated case of theKabyle house, have focused very explicitly on domestic architectural forms. For someindicative examples one might look to Blier’s work (
1987
) on Batammaliba vernaculararchitecture in Togo and Benin, or later examples such as Buchli’s work (
1999
) onSoviet modernist domestic architecture in Moscow. None the less, it is right to claimthat migrants’ houses and especially migrants’ houses as dynamic material forms stillconstitute an under-researched subject, especially in comparison to the ethnographicemphasis on their owners. Bendix and Löfgren have illustrated this gap explicitly by critiquing studies of human mobility from the
1990
s:
In the ambition to capture old and new and often transnational mobilities, there was a strikingabsence of how the materialities of movement and multi-sited dwelling shaped people’s sensual andmaterial experience ... Mobility in such studies was seen as a frictionless, more mental than physicalprocess ... A second home calls for a constant handling of material infrastructure and mundaneroutines, it can be a life of constant doing and fixing, planning, synchronizing and worrying, butit is often the mental and emotional dimensions that preoccupy owners and authors alike (
2007
:
7
-
8
).
The current article follows this recent trend that explores not only transnationalism,but also the research potentialities of the relationship between migration and materialculture (see, e.g., Basu & Coleman
2008
) and particularly domestic-related materialculture (Caglar
2002
; Löfgren & Bendix 
2007
; Miller
2008
; Petridou
2001
; Walsh
2006
).Thefocushereisonthebuildingassuchandespeciallyontheongoingmaterialprocessof building – or, as Albanian migrants themselves explicitly make the distinction, my focus is on the ‘
making 
’ of these houses.
D
imitris
D
alakoglou
762
 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.)
16
 ,
761
-
 777 
© Royal Anthropological Institute
2010
 
Making houses
My informants regularly use the verb‘make’(
bëj 
or
ϕτι χνω 
ftiahno
or
κ νω 
kano
)rather than ‘build’ (
ndërtoj 
or
χτ ζω 
 
htizo
) when referring to the construction orrefurbishment and extension of their houses. For example, one of my informantssuggested:
Yes, indeed for me I make the house, I won’t sell my house! But I am not going to return ever toAlbania,I was‘made[succeeded economically] in Greece; I do not go back to Albania to live.Albanianeeds fifty years to go forward, but it is not nice to have a bad house, is it?
One could also mention a statement by an Albanian informant quoted in the book 
Testimonies of Albanian migrants
: ‘Indeed I am always here [Greece], I do not go upthere [Albania] any more, if I will go, I will go for ten or fifteen days, twenty days, butI still want to make my own house’ (Nitsiakos
2003
:
255
, translations mine).‘Making’ a house is not the same as ‘building’ a house. This distinction, in the firstinstance, must be perceived through the prism of migration: the International Orga-nization for Migration (Chindea, Majkowska-Tomkin & Pastor
2007
:
15
; de Zwager,Gedeshi, Germenji & Nikas
2005
:
16
) has estimated that as many as
49
per cent of maleAlbanian migrants in Greece are active in building and construction. In this context,the notion of ‘buildinga house emerges as a professional activity: people build housesfor others. The notion of ‘making’ a house, in contrast, implies a different process. Asthis article will go on to demonstrate,migrants are making their own houses inAlbaniamaterially but they are also coming to terms with a fluid transitional and transnationaldaily existence.The aim of this article is to approach the house as not only a fixed spatial andmaterial entity that comprises a proxy presence for otherwise absent migrants,but alsoas spatially and materially unfixed, dynamic, and mobile, akin to the everyday lives of migrants. Nevertheless, I do not simply suggest that Albanian migrants’ houses arematerial metaphors of a dynamic, migratory lifestyle or only the material traces of people’s physical absence from the place of their origin; my focus is on the productionand reconfiguration of social relationships through house-making material-spatialprocesses and vice versa.
Remitting and caring
Fatos, an informant of mine in
2006
, used to call Albania ‘a country under construc-tion’, owing to the multitude of ongoing public and private building projects that onecould see, and still can see, throughout the country. First, there is infrastructural work being carried out, mainly roads (Dalakoglou
2009
a
;
2010
); and second there are new houses (Dalakoglou
2009
b
). Around
135
,
000
urban dwellings, almost one third of thedwelling units in the cities, start being built after
1990
in Albania (World Bank 
2006
:
47
).
3
Another element which completes the picture of ‘a country under constructionisthat the majority of the house-making projects in Albania comprise semi-completedand perpetually ongoing projects.
4
Moreover, plenty of these newly constructed or refurbished houses are in fact unin-habited for most of the year.In the case of Gjirokastër in southAlbania,the place whereI located my 
2005
-
6
ethnography, the last census, from
2001
(INSTAT
2004
:
12
),reported a total of 
34
,
268
dwellings in the prefecture, while
7
,
528
of them were referredto as ‘uninhabited’ (
banesave të pabanuara
).
5
This number of ‘uninhabited’ houses,
M
igrating-remitting-‘building’-dwelling
763
 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.)
16
 ,
761
-
 777 
© Royal Anthropological Institute
2010

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