How do return migrants’ experiences of legality abroad influence their attitudes and practices toward the law in their country of origin? Theoretically, I advance an argument that return migrants’ legal consciousness could be considered a form of social remittance. However, in response to valid criticisms of the concept, I innovate upon it in three ways. First, I give the social remittances a narrower focus by empirically examining the values, attitudes and practices of legality, both positive and negative. Secondly, to ensure that the social remittances could indeed be traced to migration-related transfers, I base my analysis on in-depth interviews with return migrants and family members of Ukrainian migrants regarding their personal experiences of legality abroad and ‘at home’. I thereby reveal the nuances and subtle differences in the collective ‘Ukrainian’ legal consciousness beyond the ‘national mainstream’: where return migrants’ fatalism about law’s potential for upholding justice coexists with a sense of agency about capacity to achieve change outside the formal state law. Thirdly, I posit that legal consciousness not only reflects how certain socio-legal practices flow across borders, but also the ways in which the migrants themselves (and their families) innovate upon and interpret such ‘remittances’ in different ways. The results elaborate upon Levitt’s and Lamba-Nieves’ (2010) observations that social remittances work in both directions and are thus shaped not only by people’s experiences prior to migration and in their respective host countries, but are also adapted to the conditions they encounter upon their return.
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Europe, legality, legal consciousness, social remittances, Ukraine