Test Cover Image of:  Soviet Signoras

Soviet Signoras

Personal and Collective Transformations in Eastern European Migration

Across the Western world, the air is filled with talk of immigration. The changes brought by immigration have triggered a renewed fervor for isolationism able to shutter political traditions and party systems. So often absent from these conversations on migration are however the actual stories and experiences of the migrants themselves. In fact, migration does not simply transport people. It also changes them deeply. Enter Martina Cvajner’s Soviet Signoras, a far-reaching ethnographic study of two decades in the lives of women who migrated to northern Italy from several former Soviet republics.

Cvajner details the personal and collective changes brought about by the experience of migration for these women: from the first hours arriving in a new country with no friends, relatives, or existing support networks, to later remaking themselves for their new environment. In response to their traumatic displacement, the women of Soviet Signoras—nearly all of whom found work in their new Western homes as elder care givers—refashioned themselves in highly sexualized, materialistic, and intentionally conspicuous ways. Cvajner’s focus on overt sexuality and materialism is far from sensationalist, though. By zeroing in on these elements of personal identity, she reveals previously unexplored sides of the social psychology of migration, coloring our contemporary discussion with complex shades of humanity.

Author Information

Martina Cvajner is assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of Trento.


“Émile Durkheim meets Federico Fellini in an eye-opening, eye-level account of women who met the exigencies of post-Soviet-era poverty by emigrating to northern Italy in search of a new livelihood. Soviet Signoras is a gripping ethnographic portrait of bravery, insecurity, and personal transformation, replete with pathbreaking insights into the experiences of migrants confronting new cultural ways while endeavoring to keep faith with families left behind out of necessity. This book is bound to become an enduring part of the growing body of literature of migration studies.”
— Elijah Anderson, author of The Cosmopolitan Canopy

“Cvajner has written an exquisite microsociology of the immigrant experience. Deeply sensitive to the inner lives of her post-Soviet subjects, she deftly portrays the interactional pressures they face and the opportunities they make the best of, tracing how they made new selves and became new women, sometimes in shockingly provocative ways. An extraordinary sociological study.”
— Jeffrey Alexander, author of What Makes a Social Crisis?

Audience: Professional and scholarly;