An Institutional Perspective on Return Migration: The Emotional Baggage of ‘Sending’ or ‘Returning Home’



A growing body of literature has looked at emotions as mediators and conveyors of institutions. While institutions can sometimes carry negative emotions and be a vehicle for stigmatisation, very little work has looked at the two sides of the coin: on the one hand, the enactors of those institutions, carrying out what can be conceptualised as ‘dirty work', and on the other side, the actors who are on the receiving ends of these institutions. Considering those two-sided dynamics, how can institutions be maintained despite triggering negative emotions? To answer this question, we conduct a cross-country qualitative study of Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) – in other words, programmes that aim at providing material support to migrants being sent back to their countries of origin. Our empirical design gives voice to both the agents who run those programmes and the migrants who experience them. By having both sides of the story, we explain the recursive process through which negative emotions are reinforced and reproduced via the interaction with institutions. Paradoxically, such process can also lead to positive emotions such as empathy and compassion, thus enabling the maintenance of hard-hearted institutions.