‘Londres accueil’: mediations of identity and place amongst the French highly skilled in London

Book chapter

Mulholland, J. and Ryan, L. 2014. ‘Londres accueil’: mediations of identity and place amongst the French highly skilled in London. in: Meier, L. (ed.) Migrant Professionals in the City: Local Encounters, Identities and Inequalities London Routledge. pp. 157-174
Chapter title‘Londres accueil’: mediations of identity and place amongst the French highly skilled in London
AuthorsMulholland, J. and Ryan, L.

We never managed a real social life in London. The truth is, when I’m out of work I don’t even want to speak English. I’m tired of speaking English. It’s not my natural language and I find it hard to switch from English to French…I don’t really like meeting people in English so the only friends we met in London are French, so we live a French life in London…Everything’s French. We don’t live as English in England, we live as French... (Frédéric)
Frédéric’s (a married banker in his mid-30s) striking testimony raises important questions about the relationship between identity, performance, place and mobility in the lives of the highly skilled migrant. In this chapter we explore the intersections of mobility, place and social identity in the lives of the French highly skilled in London. Specifically, we examine the ways in which national identifications, affiliations and orientations may be imagined, evaluated, navigated and performed in and through the lives that such migrants lead in one of the world’s premier global cities. Through this focus we contribute to an understanding of the interactions of mobility, place and identity in a number of key respects.
Firstly, drawing on the work of Kazepov (2005) and Cinar and Bender (2007), we show how global cities may be imagined in their particularities, rather than their commonalities, and often through a process of juxtaposing the qualities of specific cities (in this case London and Paris). In this way we challenge a rendering of global cities as increasingly homogenous (Sennett 2005), and assert the importance of understanding the particularities of place (Kennedy 2008).
Secondly, we examine our participants’ imaginings of London as a definitively cosmopolitan place, and cosmopolitan as an outcome of largely complementary forces perceived to be operating at the global, national and local level. In so doing, we contribute to our understanding of how cosmopolitanism in the global city may be attributed to the outcome of the interface between global and national forces, making some global cities more cosmopolitan than others.
Thirdly, we add to understandings of the dynamics of urban imagining by exploring the ways in which particular urban imaginaries may encode normative, ethical, renditions of how migrant constituencies should engage with both the people and the place of the cosmopolitan global city. Specifically, we show how preferred renditions of migrant Frenchness (as a modality of national identity characterized by a cosmopolitan engagement with, and emplacement in, the location of settlement) are constructed through practices of distinction from the preservational enclavism of other French migrants (the ‘French Bubble’) in London. We employ a Bourdieusian framework to understand how migrant social identities may be formed through processes of imagining, and judging, the ‘failed’ parochial identity orientations and performances of other fragments of the migrants’ own group.
Finally, through an exploration of the interconnected fields of residential location and educational choices, we explore the nature of our participants’ usages of place to (re)construct preferred modalities of migrant Frenchness, but in so doing demonstrate the ongoing importance to our participants of practices associated with the mediation of still important nationally-framed social identities, even in a context of attested cosmopolitanism. Despite an aspiration to develop engaged and emplaced subjectivities, we show how the lived experiences of highly skilled migrants may continue to be marked by the importance of transferring ‘home points’ to the country of settlement in the interests of ‘finding comfort’ through co-national forms of belonging (Butcher 2009). In this respect, our findings are suggestive of the ongoing importance of heimat, even to the cosmopolitanally-minded highly skilled, where heimat is characterized as ‘the local homeland of people’s daily activities’ (Morawska 2003, 179).

Page range157-174
Book titleMigrant Professionals in the City: Local Encounters, Identities and Inequalities
EditorsMeier, L.
Place of publicationLondon
SeriesRoutledge Advances in Sociology
Publication dates
Print01 Aug 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited13 May 2015
Output statusPublished
Copyright Statement

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Web address (URL)https://www.routledge.com/products/9780415713030
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