Accepted Paper:

Stories of suitcases and rucksacks: changing values of material objects in the narratives of Polish post-communist immigrants to the United Kingdom  
Aleksandra Galasinska (University of Wolverhampton)

Paper short abstract:

I discuss changes in values of material objects, as narrated by post-communist Polish immigrants to the UK. Using the concept of ‘meta-change’ of modern society, I argue that different ideological underpinnings in the narratives result in different experiences of goods.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I shall discuss the change in values ascribed to material objects, as experienced and narrated by immigrants, in the context of socio-political change in Europe. I shall focus on two groups of immigrants who came from Poland to the United Kingdom - those who came soon after the collapse of communism in 1989 and those who arrived after the European Union expansion in 2004.

Drawing upon Beck et al's concept of 'meta-change' of modern society (Beck & Lau, 2005; Beck, Bonss, Lau, 2003), I shall demonstrate that different ideological underpinnings in the narratives result in different experiences of material goods. The earlier migration was constructed according to the 'either/or' principle, as an extremely hard and critical moment in our informants' lives. Despite having the passport and the possibility of going back and forth (one of the major achievements in civil rights after the collapse of communism in 1989), the journey to the United Kingdom was constructed as a final step in leaving one space and moving into another. This, in turn, influenced the pattern of packing and people's attitudes to the material world associated with a process of migration. A detailed list of my interlocutors possessions became a necessary component of orientation (understood as part of an internal structure of canonical narratives in Labovian sense (Labov & Waletzky, 1967)).

In contrast, the later migration was constructed with the 'both/and' principle, as a temporary period in people's lives. The decision and journey were quite easy steps, the passage was blurred and their living space was extended rather than replaced. In consequence, narratives of packing changed as well, not only in their contents, but, what is more interesting, also in the linguistic form. This part of the narrative looks more like a recipient driven report (Polanyi, 1989) given in non-narrative mode of discourse (Georgakopoulou & Gautsos, 2000).

I shall argue that the change in the linguistic form of my interlocutors' accounts mirrored the change in values, understood here as Bourdieu's capital, ascribed to material objects by people who moved their domicile in the are of transition.

Panel W070
Transitions: movements in space and time