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Lifestyle migration in East Asia Newsletter No1 Feb2014

 

More Survey Results: enjoying life and escaping the UK

S1140038We have updated the Survey Results page with some more findings and here is a taster, below.

Of the reasons given for moving to Malaysia or Thailand, ones most frequently cited include:

  • the lifestyle and standard of living (“simple life away from the rat race”)
  • the food
  • the culture
  • geographical features (“stunning natural environment”)
  • the weather
  • the friendliness of the people (“people are more friendly and open than in the UK”)
  • for work or partner’s work
  • having family or friendship connections in the country
  • an air of challenge or adventure (“the challenge of something new”)

Some respondents contrasted their experiences of Malaysia or Thailand with where they had previously lived, mostly in reference to the UK. Some of these reasons concerned cheaper costs than when they had lived elsewhere. For example, one respondent stated that they would “have opportunities to travel in this part of the world more cheaply than we could from the UK”. Other reasons related to weather differences, for example, one respondent gave the “miserable weather in the UK” as a reason. In interviews and on the expat forums the discussions often centre around why migrants no longer wanted to live in theUK. One respondent told us he considers the UK to be over-taxed and over-controlled. Another said ‘people are just so depressed there’.

(Thanks to Rowena Viney, Loughborough University, for analysing the survey data)

Lifestyle Migration and Liminality

Scholars are increasingly drawing attention to the difficulties that lifestyle migrants experience in their pursuit of happiness. It seem they are not always the affluent, powerful, privileged post-colonials that is assumed. Of course, that is why Michaela Benson and I define lifestyle migration as the movement of the relatively affluent. If we had understood lifestyle migration to consistently be characterized by absolute wealth, we would have spoken simply of affluent people, and not bothered with the adjective ‘relative’. As time goes by and the global financial crisis takes shape in the reconfiguring of social structures and social positioning, the liminal status of some migrants becomes apparent. The incredible manipulations and machinations that go into managing migration to ensure the state includes the sought-after and excludes the less desirable has some interesting and perhaps unexpected side-effects.

Karen O’Reilly will be talking about some of these issues at a talk at Compas, Oxford, on 27th February 2014.

Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference, London 2013

RGS_logoKate Botterill and I gave a paper at the Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference. Here is the abstract:

As an introduction to the session on Lifestyle Migration and the state this paper considers how lifestyle migration, as Caroline Oliver (2012) suggests ‘occupies a place at the least regulated end of the continuum’ in relation to the governance of migration’. Using analysis of empirical fieldwork with Western lifestyle migrants living in Thailand and Malaysia, the paper discusses the patchwork governance of lifestyle migration in these states. We argue that national policies and programmes to promote lifestyle migration in East Asia are delegitimized by variable regulatory practice across different scales (local, national and transnational) and in particular places. As such, there are differentiated outcomes of lifestyle migration for Westerners in these states with varied perceptions and experiences of intra-state and trans-state practices. Moreover, the impacts of global financial crises has led to further unpredictable outcomes for lifestyle migrants, with exchange rate differentials causing a material decline in income, particularly among those of pensionable age with frozen (home-) state pensions. The paper concludes by supporting Oliver’s (2012) position and re-asserting a call for further discussion on the desirability and practice of lifestyle migration governance at different scales.

It was great to see almost an entire day in the programme given over to the study of elite/expatriate/lifestyle migrant flows. I started thinking about the longer-term impacts of lifestyle migration and the lessons we can learn from such migrants about wider issues such as how to age well, how to protect quality of life, and how to ameliorate the effects of migration. We have never talked enough about the global power structures that enable lifestyle migration flows. But then again there remains an assumption that these are all affluent people. Matthew Hayes caused us to rethink those assumptions, with his work with poorer Americans moving to Ecuador. 

 

Women’s Organisations and Memory Work

I have been thinking again about Women’s Organizations in Malaysia (and Thailand) and the work they do, and the ways in which they deal with nationality. Reading some of the literature on feminist women’s organizations, there is apparently some debate about whether or not an organization can consider itself part of the feminist women’s movement. Some people argue that any group that organizes itself to support women is part of the feminist movement. You may wish to read this article by Patricia Martin, published in Gender and Society: http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~tcraig/Yancey-Martin.pdf

Many women’s organizations act in support of women’s rights around the world, and therefore a sense of equality and inclusion is a central ethos, irrespective of race, nationality class,  etc. So, debates about who to include (what nationalities, migrants or locals, etc) can challenge the ethos of a women’s organization.

Memory Work

I have also been reading about a method called ‘Memory Work’. It is a great way to work in groups to raise consciousness about a specific issue (such as race, ethnicity, nationality). Women in Malaysia might like to use it in their organizations. Let me know if you do!

First you decide on a topic of which you each have some experience, however small or apparently trivial (race in Malaysia, for example). Then individually you write a short story in the third person describing an experience you had related to that topic. You don’t analyse or interpret the experience, or try to make any sense of it at this stage. But do include small details and lots of description.

Next, you share the stories with each other in a group. Together you:

1)Look for similarities and differences in the stories, and for themes that emerge.

2)Discuss the shared cultural ideas, assumptions, ways of doing things, ways of seeing things as individuals and as groups of people, that the stories reveal.

3)Discuss what things have not been said, what are the silences

4) Discuss how things could be done differently (I added this last one).

I am no expert on the subject of memory work; I have to thank my colleague Dr Line Nyhagen Predelli for telling me a little about it. You can read more here:

Niamh Stephenson (2005). Living history, undoing linearity: Memory-work as a research method in the social sciences’. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 8 (1): 33-45.

 

 

 

Who counts as an International?

Following on from my last post, expatriate women confront issues of nationality, communication and inclusion, on a daily basis.

When I did my fieldwork in Malaysia, one of the women’s associations was having discussions about who can and who should not be a member of their International organization. It can be really difficult to determine who to include and who to exclude in such a community. If it was initially established to support ‘expatriate’ women, then how does one determine who is an expatriate? If the word ‘international’ is central to the group’s ethos, how do you decide who is International? Is it defined in opposition to local? Do you really want to exclude locals? And what if a local is married to a migrant?

In our project we use the term ‘lifestyle migrant’ to refer to people who have moved abroad for better quality of life, recognizing that some groups are able to privilege this over other (economic, political security) considerations. But lifestyle migrants can be corporate expats, nomads, travelers, self-employed workers, retirees, unemployed, and any nationality. Members of international and expatriate associations are increasingly mixed in terms of nationality and so are some individuals!