Accepted Paper:

Social mobility and personhood among Caribbean migrants  


Karen Fog Olwig (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This analysis of life stories related by three Caribbean migrants argues that an important attraction of migration is the broader spectrum of social contexts it makes available for individuals to gain recognition and thus sustain their visions of themselves as successful social actors.

Paper long abstract:

Migration is usually associated with the desire to achieve positive changes by traveling to another place. Based on the assumption that migrants move in order to settle and start a new life in the receiving society, migration researchers have focused on the social and economic changes experienced by migrants in the migration destination, as measured by "objective" national indicators such as occupation, income, housing and education. In recent years, it has been suggested that many migrants, disappointed with their ability to achieve these objectives, reject becoming part of the receiving society in favor of maintaining and further developing transnational ties to their country of origin. On the basis of interviews with members of a Caribbean migrant family, this paper argues that the improvement migrants seek may differ from notions of social mobility in the migration destination. When examined from the vantage point of individuals' life trajectories, migration is associated with improvement largely because it opens up for a broader spectrum of social contexts wherein individuals may gain social recognition and thus sustain their visions of themselves as successful social actors. This suggests, therefore, that the maintainance of transnational ties may not so much be a question of disappointment with not attaining "objective" goals of improvement, as defined by the receiving society, but is rather an expression of the migrants' desire to achieve personhood within the framework of their lived experiences from their early years in their place of origin to their later lives in the migration destination.

Panel W028
Being human, being migrant: dealing with memory, dreams and hopes in everyday life