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Transforming Migration: Transnational Transfer of Multicultural Habitus

Final Report Summary - TRANSFORMIG (Transforming Migration: Transnational Transfer of Multicultural Habitus.)

The ERC Project TRANSFORmIG (2013-2018, with PI Magdalena Nowicka, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) focused on how migrants acquire competences to successfully operate within a new society and culture and asked if these newly acquired skills and attitudes transfer between individuals and geographical locations. The point of departure was the large outgoing migration from Poland to the UK and Germany, and the documented existence of transnational ties of these migrants. Moreover, the UK and Germany are characterized by a level and kind of multi-cultural complexity that is unknown to immigrants from Poland, which is recognized as one of the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world. The “Polish case” is thus ideal to study the impacts migration has on the respective societies.
The unequal distribution of diversity across Europe posed a crucial question for the TRANSFORmIG project: what role does a particular setting of diversity play in fostering cosmopolitan attitudes towards ethnic and cultural difference? TRANSFORmIG conducted a qualitative longitudinal study and collected in-depth narrations with 120 migrants in four cities (London, Birmingham, Berlin and Munich) in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to give answers to this question. The team collected material on dynamics of migrants’ social networks, on social distance of migrants to other minority groups, migrants’ perceptions of people and places in which they live, career trajectories, plans for future and daily practices in urban cities. The collected material enabled to study dynamics of inter-ethnic interactions between new and old migrants and social mobility of migrants. The analyses showed how migrants adapt to new environment by acquiring competences to navigate complex relations of class and ethnicity. We added to theory of migration and interethnic relations by demonstrating how migrants perceive of people and place through the prism of their socialisation in times of expansion of neoliberalism in Poland and austerity politics in the places where they now reside. The data enabled in-depth analyses of categories of human differentiation. Such critical diversity research helps us to conceptually reverse the perspective and capture processes which are under the surface and invisible. Thanks to its comparative design, the project gained understanding of how local contexts impact migrants’ perceptions of diversity. In this sense, it relativized the importance of culture of origin of migrants for the way they assimilate in a new place.
Innovatively, the project followed social networks of migrants back to their place of origin to interview migrants’ friends and relative and learn from them how migration impacts their lives as well. We focused on individuals rather than places (social structure, economy) in the place of origin of migrants to understand how transnationally spanning social networks influence views, opinions and dispositions of people when they encounter new cultures directly (visiting migrants) and indirectly. We thus added to the literature on social remittances by showing the mechanisms of remitting. We could for example demonstrate how racism circulates in European space between migrants and non-migrants, and how migrants’ experience with other ethnic and religious groups impacts the way non-migrants in place of migrants’ origin think of these groups.
TRANSFORmIG applied a range of innovative research instruments such as qualitative longitudinal social network analysis, visual and participatory instruments or online focus group discussions to capture processes which otherwise remain hidden. The experiences and competences gained by the team will serve other scholars in the field of migration research and other social science disciplines.