The Stuff of Love Migration


When couples move across the world, there are often some difficult decisions about what to bring with them and what to leave behind. In my research on love migration, I am asking couples to talk about an object which has some meaning for them. The objects chosen range from photographs to hand-made paintings; from glass vases to a lump of rock. It has been interesting to see that the sorts of things which people choose are often not their most expensive possessions, but things which embody an important memory, capture the essence of their partner, or which they use in their everyday life together. As they packed their cases and moved abroad, the love migrants kept all sorts of momentos close at hand. These are some initial thoughts about the kinds of objects which have been selected.

Moments and Events

Some objects which the love migrants have chosen represent an important moment or event in the life of the couple. Some examples are a painting given as a wedding present, a knick-knack from the place they met, or in the case of one couple, the doorway where they had their first kiss. In the couples’ narratives, the object itself is less important than the memory associated with it.


Where They Went Public

The Melbourne tram, below, which attaches to a straw is significant because it was given on the night the couple met. While it is inexpensive, they have kept it, and brought it with them to a different continent. They like it because it reminds them of the start of their relationship. It is dear to them also because it is ‘frivolous’, fun and a bit silly, which they both agreed, are words which could be used to describe Andi’s personality, who gave it to Sarah.

A Melbourne tram straw attachment

A Melbourne Tram Straw Attachment

 Emotional Work

Doing things together is an important part of the on-going emotional work in relationships. These next objects represent that which the couples do to maintain and nurture their relationship. One couple do crosswords both when they are together and when they are apart, comparing the answers later.

Making Connections with Belgian Crossword Puzzles

Making Connections with Belgian Crossword Puzzles

Another couple chose an Ottolenghi cookery book. Dan enjoys cooking and often makes things from this particular book for his girlfriend, Sophie. It is her favourite recipe book, and they have particular recipes which they love. As they showed it to me they spoke enthusiastically about lamb with artichokes, and many other recipes. Many of the ingredients for the recipes are international, and they enjoy being able to find them all in the local shops, as the area they live in is multicultural and diverse. Sophie often calls Dan to find out what is for dinner, and she commented that while she can cook, she doesn’t get as much joy out of it as Dan does. She appreciates his efforts to make things which she wouldn’t, and he relishes being able to provide delicious food, which his girlfriend loves. This book of recipes is indicative of the ways which they care for each other, and of the things which they share.

Ottolenghi's recipes bringing love migrants together

Ottolenghi’s recipes bringing love migrants together

These objects are part of practices of loving and caring which the couples use in their daily lives, and the physical qualities of them are not important.

Physical Properties

However, some of the objects were chosen precisely because the physical properties of the object are as important as what the object may represent. This is most noticeable with some of the textile objects which are given as a physical stand-in for the body of the absent partner.

Teddy Bear

A Teddy Bear Given to Cuddle at Night

A Sheep called Potato

A Sheep called Potato

The soft toys were explicitly talked about as body substitutes, which were intended to hugged and slept with when the couple were not together.


He gave her his towel when she lost hers


A T-shirt given in a lost bet

The T-shirt and towel are also objects which encase the body, carry the smells of the other. They both became ‘stand-ins’ for the absent partner, rather than the soft toys which were bought and given with this purpose.

Transcending categories

Clearly, there are overlaps in the categories which these objects could fit into, for example the portrait below was given as a gift from one partner to the other on their 15th anniversary, which is clearly an important moment.

An anniversary gift

An anniversary gift

The painting was made from a photograph taken on a holiday for a previous anniversary celebration, which is another important moment or event. However, the practice of gift giving in this particular relationship is very important. One of the partners feels that choosing a gift is part of showing the other that they have listened and remembered things, and is a way of demonstrating closeness and that they ‘know’ their partner. So while this one particular object could be located within the first category, it could also fall into the second when seen within the wider practices of this relationship.

Some couples I have spoken to commented that they are not really the kind of people who have a lot of stuff, which is unsurprising as love migrants are often highly mobile. And yet, all of them were able to find something which they held dear, sometimes surprising themselves that they really had kept and travelled with these objects for so long.

See more Love Migration Objects here

Step on it: The Technicalities of Transcribing

Typing Pool

Transcribing interviews can be a mammoth task for Phd students. Estimates floating around on the internet have it that transcribing one hour of interview takes between 2 and 4 hours. Getting the job done professionally can be prohibitively expensive, so it becomes an unavoidable task. Transcribing 60 2-3 hour-long interviews seems like the kind of work that could keep a team of people occupied for a couple of weeks.  It takes so long, that I felt there must surely be an easier way. Apparently there isn’t, but having the right tools for the job helps. This post is about finding those tools and setting them up.

My Preferred Tools

I had done some transcription using Scrivener, but when I had a look at the transcription options in Nvivo, it seemed like the better option. Nvivo has the key things which make transcribing easier; time stamps are added automatically; the transcript is indexed to the sound file making it easy to find the bit of audio you want; and you can slow the audio down.  Also, as I am using Nvivo for storing files and organising my fieldwork, I wanted to continue using the same programme; everything in one place is my preferred organisational method.

As I had found using the keyboard to control the audio file while typing a bit cumbersome, I decided to use a foot pedal. This involves getting the foot pedal to work with the pre-programmed keyboard commands which are set in Nvivo, and usually requires a bit of software to do it. For PC users there is a software called Pedable, and Mac users can use EasyScribe, however it’s not cheap and it means that you have to transcribe outside of Nvivo. The rest of this post is a guest post by Justin Clarke who set up the Infintiy USB-2 foot pedal with Nvivo using USB Overdrive.

How to set up the Infintiy USB-2 foot pedal for Nvivo for Mac with USB Overdrive software

There seem to be a lot of people who are interested in using a USB foot pedal with NVivo on the Mac, but when Yvonne and I looked into it, there didn’t seem to be any simple or straightforward guides on how to achieve this. Hopefully this fills that gap:

Getting Started

Firstly, we are using an Infinity IN-USB-2 USB footpedal that we purchased from Amazon. We chose this model as it seemed to have good reviews from the majority of people using it, although most people seem to be using it with EasyScribe instead of what we want to do with it – use it with NVivo. We’re using NVivo for the Mac, version 10.2.0.

As opposed to software like EasyScribe, which comes with software support for a number of USB foot pedals, NVivo doesn’t. Therefore we needed some software that would translate the presses of the various “buttons” of the foot pedal (the Infinity pedal has 3 different “buttons” that we can program – a bigger central button, and two smaller buttons on either side) into keyboard shortcuts that NVivo can understand. The software that we found that will do this on the Mac is USB Overdrive, a $20 shareware program.  We’re using USB Overdrive 3.1.

Getting the Infinity Foot pedal Setup with USB Overdrive

After installing USB Overdrive, you’ll be prompted to reboot. After your Mac reboots you should have the USB Overdrive helper application popup, which will allow you to configure your foot pedal. This helper application can later be run from the System Preferences panel installed by USB Overdrive.

Screen Shot 1

If you click on the “Status” button at the top of the interface, you can see that USB Overdrive has recognised the Infinity foot pedal as a VEC USB foot pedal with 3 readable inputs:

Screen Shot 2

At this point it took us some time to figure out how to configure the various inputs on the pedal, however we configured as follows.

Configuring the Pedal ‘Buttons’

1) With the foot pedal plugged into the Mac, we selected “Any Other, Any Application” from the drop down menu, as the Infinity foot pedal doesn’t appear to be classed as a mouse, gaming device or keyboard by USB Overdrive.

2) With this profile enabled, we pressed each button on the foot pedal. As these weren’t previously recognised by USB Overdrive it added 3 new buttons – called Button 1, Button 2 and Button 3.

3) At this point, we deleted all the other configurations out of the configurable controls window on the left, leaving us with the following:

Screen Shot 3

4) We then configured each of the buttons to be one of the NVivo keyboard shortcuts we wanted. Button 1 is configured as a press of the F7 function key (skip backwards in NVivo), by selecting “Press Key” from the menu of actions, and selecting F7 from the list of untypeable keys in the dropdown menu at the bottom.

Screen Shot 4

5) Equally we setup Button 2 as Command-Shift-I (add a new transcription line) and Button 3 as F8 (play/pause transcription audio in NVivo). NVivo has a complete list of keyboard shortcuts that you could use here  – you could change any or all of these to fit what you’d rather have your various foot pedal buttons do.

6) Lastly, we created a specific configuration for the foot pedal using the drop down menu at the top, selecting “New Duplicate Settings”, setting this to use the foot pedal with the configuration we’d setup.  In our case we didn’t limit this configuration to specifically working with NVivo only, however that is an option you could try if needed (for example to avoid accidentally starting/pausing iTunes content).

Screen Shot 5

7) Once this was done, we made sure that only the new configuration was enabled (and all other configurations were disabled), and voila – it works!

Screen Shot 6

Hopefully this helps all of you who might be trying to use NVivo for the Mac for your transcriptions.

Finding Love Migrants in Brussels

Place de la Monnaie

When I arrived in Brussels in January, I was cold, and I didn’t know anyone. But I needed to find people who might take part in my research about how migration affects love relationships and vice versa. There was no immediately obvious place to target as lots of people are in love relationships which made it quite overwhelming at first. The upside is that everyone in Brussels was potentially a participant, so I could pretty much publicise the project anywhere. I’ve used a variety of ways to find people to take part in the project. Here is what has worked, and what hasn’t.

The website

This has undoubtedly been an essential part of the process. It is not so much a way for people to find about the project, but it provides a place where, once they have heard about it, they can find out more. It’s quite confidence boosting when you’re trying to sell your Phd research to be able to say ‘have a look at the website later’, it shows competence, organisation, and that this is a serious project. It provides a way for people to contact you, so they can go and have a think and get back to you. The title of my project helps here, because it is memorable, and Google takes you straight there. Many of the people who have done interviews said it made them want to be part of it, because they could see others like them doing it when they looked at the website, and wanted to be part of that community.

Twitter and Facebook

Neither of these two social media networks has been particularly productive for finding people to take part. I was tweeting to accounts which people living in Brussels might follow, but I don’t think I found any participants through Twitter. This is similar for Facebook, although I can’t say I have particularly spent a lot of time on the Facebook page. These two social media platforms still raise the profile of the project though, and perhaps I’ll dedicate more time to them for the next phase of the project.

Email mail out

The first few days I was here were spent in front of my laptop sending out emails to the organisers of the cultural groups and institutions which exist in Brussels for people who live here. I was trying to get people to include something about the project in their newsletter and I had a good amount of success. In each email I included a short blurb which could be copied into a newsletter, or forwarded in an email. This led to several interviews. I was also invited to do an interview on a local radio station on the back of this newsletter, which led to three more participant interviews. This also got the website a lot of hits.


I was surprised to find that these worked. They were quickly-made flyers, put together in Word and printed out at home. I left them in various places and assumed that I had just contributed to wasting paper and creating litter. In fact, only a couple of days after distributing them, I was contacted by people who wanted to take part. The flyers had a very brief, to-the-point description of the project, helped in part by the title, and stated clearly that I was looking for couples to interview. They directed people to the website, which I am sure helped to build confidence and convince people to take part.  On reflection I would have used this method earlier had I thought such a low-tech thing would work, but now I  know that it does, I will be using more flyers, of a slightly better quality, in Barcelona.


In the planning stage of the project I had designed an online survey to get people to answer some questions and then leave their email if they wanted to do an interview. My conclusions about this are that mostly people who do surveys are not the same kind of people who do interviews. The responses were often only half done, and more people didn’t leave their email than did. Also, when I was publicising the project, it made it more complicated – do I want them to do a survey or an interview? – so I focused on the interviews and put the survey to one side. I am utterly glad that I made this choice.

Personal Contact

Coffee mornings turned out to be great ways of meeting people, not just to take part but to spend time with generally. There are coffee mornings for all sorts of groups, and I’ve been to lots including ones for ‘expats’, ones for women in Brussels, ones for Phd researchers in Brussels. The morning socials were more useful than the boozy, evening ones. I found going on my own attracted all the wrong kinds of attention, and people weren’t particularly interested in hearing about a Phd project.

I also met several friends on French course I did which, as luck would have it, had several people in who fitted the Love Migrant profile who took part. While personal contact is one way of finding participants, I didn’t find that meeting people personally meant they were more likely to take part. In fact there was a high number of people who said they would and then never did. It is, I think, best to let people know about what you’re doing and then let them contact you, which they will if they can and want to take part.


Once someone has done an interview, they can personally recommend you and the project to others. This is known as snowballing, when one person leads you to another and the number of participants keeps getting slowly larger. It has been the most effective way of finding people, followed closely by the newsletter. This is unsurprising as both of these methods come with the backing of a person or an institution which the potential participant already knows and trusts.

This mixture of approaches to finding participants seems to be working, so I intend to keep using it for the next phase in Barcelona, albeit with a few changes; I’m going to start the email mail before I arrive in Barcelona to try to get some interviews started as soon as I arrive; and I’ll be out with flyers earlier this time. Overall it seems that the more traditional methods have found me more participants than social media. I’m not starting from zero this time though, as I have some contacts there and one interview scheduled already. I am also hoping that I won’t be cold.



One of the most motivating aspects of doing the fieldwork for this project is that there is loads of public interest, despite it being Phd research which can be quite dry and off-putting. The comments which I get about this being interesting and worthwhile research from the people I meet continually validates my reasons for doing the research in the first place; namely that while economics, politics, and transport links are factors in people’s decisions to move (or not), those factors are almost always weighed up in conjunction with the outcomes they will have on personal relationships. Transport links take you somewhere and who or what is at the other end of the line is key to deciding whether those links qualify as good or not to you.

The project appeals to a wide array of people and one reason for that is there are a multitude of different understandings of love. There are numerous kinds of relationships which involve love – parents and children, friendship, siblings – they are just a few examples of relationships which can involve love and loving (and annoyance, and jealousy, and tedium etc.). No matter how I define love in the academic context, and there is a rather convoluted definition in the official outline of the project which tries to pin it down to the sort of thing we might call ‘couple’ love (though that is too short a definition for academics).

This was brought home to me the other day when I was talking to an Italian man who moved to Brussels because his wife was coming here to work. When I suggested that he was a love migrant, he was surprised, and, pointing to his wedding ring, told me that ‘this’ (meaning his marriage) was not the same as love. He felt that once married, obligation and duty become more salient and that his case was not romantic enough for the way he understood the Love Migration Project (though I beg to differ).

I was talking to another man who had found a job in Europe and his wife and young children had come with him to live here. This fits in to research which often terms this ‘trailing spouse’, where one partner (often the wife) follows the other. But what he said was that he had looked for this job in the first place because his wife was unhappy in the US. As he saw it, he left his old job and moved continents so that she and his children could also do that. In other words love could be seen as a ‘push’ factor in his migration.

One woman I spoke to explained in great detail how she had followed her partner to several different countries, as he had to move around so much for his job. She has been doing this for over twenty years. The couple have lived together at some points in their relationship, and at other times they have lived separately in the the same country, and in different countries. Despite upping and leaving several times to be near(er) to her partner, she did not see herself as a love migrant because she found work in the places she moved to.

The ways which people identify (or not) with the project are endlessly fascinating and hearing how people understand what I’m doing is hugely valuable. As these people’s stories indicate that there is more to it than categorising migrants in terms of ‘trailing spouse’ or ‘labour migrant’ and shows how important personal life is in people’s decisions to migrate.

Googled to the Face

Business cards make a difference

When I started this project, there wasn’t a website and I didn’t have any business cards. I must admit that I had thought that business cards were a bit of a pretentious waste of time. This is partly because my experience of business cards is that they just sit at the bottom of your bag, or in your pocket gathering dust and you can’t remember why you would want to contact that particular person ever again. I can’t remember a time when I’ve used a business card to contact someone, and when I have needed to find out more about a person or place for most of my adult life I’ve been able to use Google.

As I began my fieldwork, I found myself at various ‘expat’ events with a view to finding participants and to publicise the project. In this sort of networking event you need to be able to tell people what you’re doing in less than a minute, because if you don’t grab their attention, the waiter circulating with the tepid cava certainly will. It was at one of these events that I realised the words ‘phd research’ cannot compete with a tray of free plonk, and quickly re-vamped the project with a more catchy name. Thus the Love Migration Project was born.

What I then realised is that once attention is being paid, there is the possibility that someone might want to know more. Queue Google. I hadn’t anticipated that people would be Googling me to my face, though, but once I realised that this is exactly what was happening, and that they were not impressed with what they were finding, I knew I had better get my web presence sorted out.

This blog, still very much in an embryonic form, is one result of that networking encounter, one which I hopefully will serve as a public face for the project as well as a place for people to do an online survey. After that networking affair, I also got some business cards sorted out, which is probably quite useful, but as yet I am still in the process of working out at what point to hand one over.

Ethical Responsibilities

After rather a lot of filling in of forms, my research got ethical approval a couple of weeks ago. This sort of approval is necessary to stop the kind of terrible research which used to take place with complete and utter disregard for the participants (usually known as subjects to minimise the fact that they were human), so the forms need to be waded through for good reason. What I was struck by was how much of the approval is about how the information, data, material will be collected and how little consideration is given to what might be done with it.

Most university ethics departments insist on some sort of anonimisation of interview transcripts, which is intended to protect the respondents. This usually involves taking out names and any other key information which could mean that the person could be identified by a reader, so if I use a synonym instead of a participant’s real name and then mention that they prefer the view from their bedroom at Buckingham Palace to that at Sandringham, I haven’t really done my bit. But making something anonymous is more complicated than just replacing key words. The amount and type of information which needs to be changed depends on the particular research and the participants. This means that making information anonymous can only ever go so far. In the case of my research if someone tells me their highly unique life story, it might be difficult to present that in its entirety without others who knew then being able to work out that its their story.

Their are other problems with this sort of ethical practice. Some participants don’t want their stories to be anonymous; they want their name on their work, so to speak. If they give what is often called informed consent to have their words attributed to their name, perhaps researchers should not be too worried. After all, research which is political in nature or deals with stories of resistance, for instance, might attract people who want their stories to be told so they can contribute to wider debates. And that must surely be their right. But what happens if their situation changes and revealing their identity is no longer the most apt thing to do? Should researchers insist on anonymity to protect participants from their future selves, perhaps? This is not an easy question to answer as one way seems to deny people the right to decide for themselves, and puts the researcher in the position of ‘the one who knows better’, and the other way does leave open the possibility for participants to regret their actions and cause potential embarrassment or worse.

So, much effort is made to try to help people understand what is involved in taking part in research. But it seems to me we might take this a little further. There is little to say how researchers might analyse the information, and few if any restrictions. Once ‘gathered’, this ‘data’ seems to be, in the eyes of the ethics department, the sole possession of the researcher. For many, this is unproblematic, but for those researchers who take the view that interviews are co-constructed, that is, the participants have a key role in creating the ‘data’, should they not be allowed to have a say about how it is later discussed, or analysed?

Perhaps, then, the involvement of participants should not stop when the interview does. Academic research might adopt some of the forms of interactive discussion which journalism has undergone, where articles are open for comments. Many researchers have done this by writing about their research in public spaces, such as blogs. Others have taken the step of asking participants to comment on drafts of chapters. While there may be no space for this on an ethical approval form, knowing that ‘they’ will read what ‘we’ write is perhaps the right ethical direction.