Looking back
The underlying push of symbolic violence in France
in French London
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This initial chapter takes Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence as its theoretical starting point and considers French migrants’ uneasy relationship with the homeland. Based on respondents’ retrospective accounts of a lack of equality and opportunity in the French social space, together with their premigration imaginings and aspirations, it considers the powerful role of affective, social and ideological forces in cross-Channel mobility. The chapter is sub-divided into three sections which investigate microaggressions as articulations of symbolic violence in the fields of education, employment and the wider French social space. The chapter argues that France’s purportedly egalitarian education system functions for some as a means of perpetuating inequalities and reproducing restricted habitus trajectories. For them, migration is an escape route. London is perceived as a meritocratic place where qualifications and social capital do not dictate professional pathways and progression. The chapter demonstrates how French migrants of colour are able to free themselves from workplace discrimination, climb the employment ladder, and simultaneously embody Frenchness and Blackness in ways unimaginable in France. It also explores the intersectional dimensions of the migrant experience, examining how everyday sexism, together with normalised misogynistic and homophobic microaggressions in France serve as tacit migration drivers. The chapter argues that although these non-economic, non-lifestyle premigration factors are often neglected, it is through such negative experiences in the originary field that London comes to be apprehended as an optimistic, open-minded, cosmopolitan alternative, where difference can be celebrated and the self reinvented.

French London

A blended ethnography of a migrant city

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