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Transnational Families, Farms and Firms: Migrant Entrepreneurs in Kosovo and Serbia Since the 1960s

Project lead:

Funding institution:

Funded by the Leibniz Association (Leibniz-Gemeinschaft), in the framework of its Collaborative Excellence Program


July 2022–June 2025

Project description:

Few places in Europe are shaped so consistently by migration like the former Yugoslavia. Zooming in on Serbia and Kosovo, our project explores socio-economic effects of emigration and return migration on local communities within their broader socio-political context. Focusing on entrepreneurial activities, we suggest an intersectional approach, relating migrant agency to social status, state policies, family and kinship, gender, and value orientations. Our approach is multidisciplinary, non-normative, context-sensitive, and actor-centered: which economic strategies do (did) migrants, and their families, develop by exploiting the multi-faceted resources gained by migration? How do they respond to government initiatives to influence their (investment) behavior, how do they relate to expert discourses? By that, we explain persistent homeland oriented migrant engagement in Serbia and Kosovo and its impact on their societies. To explore this questions we take a comparative and longue durée perspective, which allows us to analyze the impact of political ruptures on migrant behavior.

Our project makes four essential contributions to the migration-development literature:

•                    It de-constructs visions of “development” underpinning state efforts to channel migrant investment by exploring their ideological framings.

•                    It provides a comparison in time, tracing transformations in migrant behavior since the 1960s, highlighting the effects of war on migrant entrepreneurialism.

•                    It cuts across the rural-urban divide comparing areas with different family models and distinctive migration patterns.

•                    It traces bottom-up the effects of entrepreneurial activities of (return) migrants.

Our joint research is based on three interrelated core components:

•                    The IAMO team will investigate how migrants’ remittances and return shapes livelihood strategies in rural communities, and IAMO will conduct a survey in Kosovo and Serbia.

•                    The IOS team explores so-called gastarbeiter factories in the socialist period and their fate afterwards, and deconstructs expert discourses on the migration-development nexus.

•                    The team at the European University Viadrina focuses on entrepreneurial activities of trans- and return migrants in urban environments and compares cases from Serbia and Kosovo. Consideration should also be given to the extent to which companies produce for the Kosovar market or cross-border or even exclusively for the EU market - as with call centers, for example, where employees are often employed who have lived for some time in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. How important are state and EU boundaries in for the success of investments? To what extent do borders become resources and what are the advantages of cross-border entrepreneurship?


We will utilize a broad range of sources, including our own ethnographical and household survey data, census data, archival documents, newspapers, as well as policy and legal documents. The variety of data used for research reflects our multi-disciplinary approach, which brings together social history, agrarian economics, political science, and social anthropology. Such a project design allows to achieve multi-layered and multi-perspective analyses.

Attribution to the fields of inquiry: