Articulating identity options: Eastern and Southern European migrants in Britain

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Articulating identity options: Eastern and Southern European migrants in Britain

Wednesday, 27 February 2019 - 5:00pm
Seminar Room, European Studies Centre, 70 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HR
Laura Morosanu (University of Sussex)
Jonathan Scheele (St Antony’s College, Oxford)
Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, Oxford); Foteini Kalantzi (St Antony’s College, Oxford); Manolis Pratsinakis (DPIR, University of Oxford)
Manolis Pratsinakis (DPIR, University of Oxford)

SEESOX Seminar Series

Identification processes amongst migrants and their descendants have long constituted an important topic of research. In particular, scholars have debated the extent of choice, ethnic minorities have in expressing various identities, and the role of categorisation and racialisation therein (Waters 1990; Song 2003). This paper adds new insight to this literature by examining the meaning and salience of ethnic identity for ‘white’ European migrants in Britain. Drawing on over 70 in-depth interviews, it compares East and South Europeans from four countries (Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Spain) who tend to see, embrace or downplay ethnic identity in markedly different ways. Ethnic identity turned out to be relatively unproblematic for South Europeans, who could ‘choose’ to emphasise their Italianness or Spanishness, regarding it as a source of pride and comfort, when they did. This was less so for East Europeans, more likely to articulate ethnicity’s importance in negative ways, underlining its ‘given’ aspect, hard to conceal or escape. These tendencies seemed reinforced when participants downplayed the salience of ethnic identity in favour of cosmopolitan or European ones, which were mobilised to assert openness or, alternatively, overcome a stigmatised ethnicity. I relate the different ways in which East and South European migrants articulated their identities to the British context of reception, and the positive or negative discourses surrounding specific ethnicities and migrant groups. I also discuss how the EU Referendum potentially reshuffled these hierarchies and representations. The findings extend research on ‘ethnic options’ with insights from the experience of ‘white’ migrants who find themselves differently perceived in British society.

Laura Morosanu's main research interests are in the areas of migration and ethnicity, with a focus on migrants’ social relationships and socialisation practices. Her doctoral thesis, Migrant Social Networks and the Contingent Role of Ethnicity, examined the social networks of Romanian migrants in London and the extent to which they are shaped by ethnicity. Instead of presuming or denying the salience of ethnicity, the study turned it into a question of empirical investigation, asking when and how, if at all, ethnicity matters in the networks of Romanians working in high- and low-skilled occupations alongside non-ethnic dimensions of their experience. The findings contribute to the migration scholarship by challenging assumptions about the centrality of ethnicity in migrants’ lives, and offering a more balanced account of ethnic and non-ethnic aspects of migrants’ everyday interactions. In addition, she was involved in an ESRC research project on East European migrant workers in the UK (led by Dr Jon Fox, University of Bristol), which explored how 'race' informs and is reinvented in the experience of East Europeans in Britain. Furthermore, she has been working for several years in education research, focusing on the areas of student support, international students, and students' experience of assessment and feedback.

During 2015-2018, Laura was co-investigator of the Sussex team working on the project 'Youth mobility: Maximising opportunities for individuals, labour markets and regions in EU' (YMOBILITY), led by Russell King (Geography) at Sussex, and coordinated by Sapienza University, Rome.

Laura is now a member of the Sussex team working on the project Transnational Figurations of Displacement: Connectivity and Mobility as Solutions to Protracted Refugee Situations (TRAFIG), led by Nuno Ferreira (Law), and coordinated by BICC, Bonn.