Total Pageviews

Friday, 1 March 2019

Articulating identity options: Eastern and Southern European migrants in Britain

On 27 February 2019, in the seventh of the Diaspora seminar series, Laura Morosanu (University of Sussex) spoke on Articulating identity options: Eastern and Southern European migrants in Britain. The seminar was chaired by Jonathan Scheele (St Antony’s College, Oxford), with Manolis Pratsinakis (DPIR, Oxford) as discussant.

Morosanu’s paper was based on qualitative research carried out in the framework of a wider Horizon 2020 funded project on youth mobility in Europe (YMOBILITY), drawing on preliminary analysis of 77 interviews with younger migrants (in the 18-35 age bracket at point of migration); the interviews focused on a range of topics, including their perceptions of identity and where they felt they belonged. The presentation compared interviewees from Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Italy, resident in London, Oxford and Brighton.

She drew on literature originally from the USA (Waters), where ethnicity choices among “white” ethnics (of European background) were, in contrast to non-white minorities, often symbolic and seen as optional, and frequently a source of pride. She also referred to literature on “everyday” cosmopolitanism. The advance of globalisation and increasing cross-border mobility had contributed to a growing interest in cosmopolitan identities, and the concept of “rooted” cosmopolitanism, which sees these as compatible with ethnic choices. The research aimed to address the saliency of national and ethnic identities of European migrants in the UK and highlight other identities in their narratives, as well as the factors shaping their identity options. From the data gathered, the following elements could be drawn:

· Romanians: compared to the other migrants interviewed, Romanians were much less likely to express warm feelings towards their home country, preferring to distance themselves as much as possible, contrary to common assumptions that first-generation migrants are typically positive about their national identity; recognising they “couldn’t escape” their ethnicity, they sometimes liked to see themselves as “citizens of the world”. Cosmopolitanism seemed to be a more rewarding option in this context. They also used recourse to education as a means of managing what they saw as a stigmatised identity.

· Slovakians: they often confronted the relative invisibility of Slovakia, being conflated with larger migrant groups – “just another Pole”. Slovakia was an unknown country in the UK, leaving space to construct an identity choice. They tended to adopt a cosmopolitan identity combined with a “soft” Slovak identity; a degree of stigmatisation of Eastern Europeans in general could be overcome through opting for a regional identity as “Central Europeans”, seen as more prestigious.

· Spaniards: they were much less sensitive regarding national identity, with almost half of them seeing it as unimportant; making it relevant was only an option, leading to a “soft” approach to Spanish identity. In contrast to the nationalistic approach to identity of others, many preferred to combine it with a cosmopolitan identity. In general, they favoured recourse to multiple identities, combining Spanish with other attachments, including a Mediterranean identity.

· Italians: they experienced Italianness as a very visible identity – “everybody knows something about Italy”. Generally high public appreciation in the UK of Italian culture and food led to pride in their Italian identity. At the same time, theirs was a “soft” engagement with national identity, alongside expression of a cosmopolitan identity, transcending the “small world” of what they typically saw as conservative home town identity.

· Brexit: some follow-up interviews took place in the aftermath of the referendum, which had led to the emergence of worries about being negatively perceived as “migrants”, drawing migrants together in opposition to non-migrants in some cases, while creating divisions in reaction to migrant stigmatisation in others.

Morosanu’s conclusions were that different ethnic identity choices reflected different British perceptions of the various groups. Two types of cosmopolitan identity were apparent: the one relative to stigmatisation (the Romanian case) and the other to overcome parochial attachments (the Southern European case). Cosmopolitanism was mostly compatible with “soft” national identities.

Pratsinakis wondered how far stigmatisation of migrants in the UK was linked to increased migration, British perceptions of cultural differences, or simply to “class” or status. How far was convergence across ethnic groups related to status and skill level? Indeed, did high status or skills encourage migrants to opt for cosmopolitan identities? As regards Brexit, he suggested that its impact might be greater for Southern Europeans, affecting their sense of entitlement as EU citizens, while those from Eastern Europe still saw this as a fragile construct. Scheele questioned how far migrant identity options might be linked to negative domestic perceptions of national identity.

During the Q & A session, a range of issues were raised:

· How far the UK experience could be generalised elsewhere in the EU (e.g. Germany);

· The representativity of the interview sample, given its limited geographical scope;

· The significance of lack of knowledge of the country of origin in generating perceptions of different migrant groups in the UK;

· The need to enlarge the space for rooted cosmopolitanism, including in relation to multiple countries;

· How far the identity options revealed were a temporary phenomenon, akin to those experienced historically by other waves of migrants.

Jonathan Scheele (Senior Member; Blog Editor)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.