Based on several years of ethnographic fieldwork, French London provides rare insights into the everyday lived experience of a diverse group of French citizens who have chosen to make London home. From sixth-form students to an octogenarian divorcee, hospitality to hospital staff, and second-generation onward migrants to returnees, the individual trajectories described are disparate but connected by a ‘common-unity’ of practice. Despite most not self-identifying with a ‘community’ identity, this heterogenous migrant group are shown to share many homemaking characteristics and to enact their belonging in common ways. Whether through the contents of their kitchens, their reasons for migrating to London or their evolving attitudes to education and healthcare, participants are seen to embody a distinct form of London-Frenchness. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of ‘symbolic violence’ and ‘habitus’, inventively deconstructed into its component parts of habitat, habituation and habits, the book reveals how structural forces in France and early encounters with ‘otherness’ underpin mobility, and how long-term settlement is performed as a pre-reflexive process. It deploys an original blended ethnographic lens to understand the intersection between the on-land and online in contemporary mobility, providing a rich description of migrants’ material and digital habitats. With ‘Brexit’ on the horizon and participants subsequently revisited in a post-referendum Epilogue, the monograph demonstrates the appeal of London prior to 2016 and the disruption to the migrants’ identity and belonging since. It offers an unprecedented window onto the intimate lifeworlds of an under-researched diaspora at a crucial point in Britain’s history.
The Introduction sets the scene for the book thematically, historically, empirically and methodologically. It draws attention to the ambivalent and processual nature of French mobility to London and to the geographic and demographic heterogeneity of the community. It provides a brief overview of past and present French contributions to life in the British capital and argues that this cultural legacy affords the diaspora a select status which conceals its inherent complexity. The Introduction establishes that this ‘messy middle ground’ forms the focus of the book. Using a series of language- and residence-based maps, it supports the contention that the London-French community extends beyond the South Kensington elite. Research participants are shown to be from myriad areas of France and beyond, to inhabit a range of neighbourhoods in London and to hold a diverse range of professions. The Introduction argues that they are in a perpetual state of paradox, simultaneously rejecting France/French ‘mentalities’ and London-French community belonging yet reasserting their Frenchness through shared homemaking practices. Due to this twofold reproduction of premigration practices and embracing of local habits, the migrants’ integration into/of the local culture and consequent habitus transformation are deemed only ever partial. The Introduction also considers matters of reflexivity, methods and ethics. It establishes the rationale behind the blended ethnographic approach, the insider–outsider positioning of the author and the mixed methods deployed. Finally, it provides a structural and thematic overview of the book as a whole, summarising the key aspects of each chapter.
A multimodal reading of archived London-French blogs
Chapter 6 fully embraces the ‘ethnosemiotic’ analytical approach and takes a small corpus of London-French migrant blogs as its empirical basis. Developments in the migrants’ selfhood, belonging and positioning are explored using archived snapshots captured between 2009 and 2014. Through a granular multimodal lens, which re-adopts the habitat-habituation-habit triad, the chapter posits that rather than signifying a ‘cleft habitus’, visual, textual and/or typographical transformations common to the blogs reflect a collective London-French habitus that gestures towards hybridity. It acknowledges the materiality of the digital and the relational nature of London-French online/on-land experience, together with the predominance of women, who repurpose their blogs in a technomaterialist, xenofeminist turn. Despite challenges posed by the web-archival methodology, the chapter confirms the persistence of premigration habits identified on-land, alongside habituation to postmigration practices, including the culinary and cultural. As visual ‘geo-narratives’, the green and blue spaces depicted emerge as central to diasporic well-being and legitimate the normative selection of London as a long-term place of residence over Paris, as well as substantiating on-land research findings. The chapter argues that home and belonging in the postmigration space are presented in playful, optimistic terms, which projects an image of migration as a positive, if romanticised, move. The bloggers’ translanguaging practices are seen both to reproduce and transcend territorialisation, while coded ingroup iconography sheds light on migrant embedding and interpersonal relationships with pre- and postmigration communities. The affective atmosphere of the London-French blogosphere is, the chapter concludes, increasingly hybrid and as such mirrors participants’ on-land experience.
The Epilogue re-addresses questions raised in the initial ethnography but from a post-EU-referendum perspective. Returning to the original sites of research and (re)engaging with existing and new participants, it asks whether their sense of belonging, identity and future mobility projects have been affected by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. It continues to draw on Bourdieusian theory, particularly hysteresis and symbolic violence concepts, to ascertain if and how participants’ migrancy habitus has been disrupted by ‘Brexit’. With an emphasis on the affective experience of the EU-membership referendum and emulating the structure of the book, the Epilogue covers three timeframes. It first ‘looks back’, examining memories of June 2016 and participants’ initial reaction to the referendum. It then ‘looks in’, seeking insights into their emotional response at the time of writing in 2019. It finally ‘looks beyond’ to explore their longer-term plans. From sentiments of loss, sorrow and anger typical of grieving to a sense of dis-embedding, or ‘inverse hysteresis’, caused by the sudden change to their status, the migrants describe intense feelings of helplessness, outsiderness and un-belonging. The chapter argues that, consistent with the symbolic violence paradigm, participants are keen to dismiss post-2016 xenophobic aggressions as unimportant or partly self-inflicted. A recurrent process of denial is consequently ascertained, resulting in apathy and resignation in the face of Brexit’s disquieting impact and the ironically named ‘Settlement Scheme’. Ultimately, however, the migrants convey a profound sense of sadness that the land which had once wooed them was now rejecting them.
The underlying push of symbolic violence in France
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.
Chapter 3 turns to the habituation component of the habitus triad. Conceptualised as an internalised embodiment of the external field, habituation is concerned with the subjective, pre-reflexive dimension of habitus. The chapter considers the effect of habituation on participants’ initial mobility and its continued influence over their emplacement and identity post-migration. Gradual habituation to the local field emerges as a powerful factor in settlement and one that undermines the rationalised reasoning typically drawn on in migration narratives. Moreover, early encounters with the Other through travel, heritage or media in the premigration field are deemed to plant the mobility seed and foster an unconscious ‘migrancy habitus’. Another key element of habituation developed is the unthinking sense of postmigration security as an embedding factor. Here, the relationship between security and freedom is foregrounded, as is hierarchised comparison between Paris and London ‘securiscapes’. Through the prism of security, the chapter demonstrates the circular interplay between feeling safe and feeling ‘at home’, both of which are conducive to a habituated sense of belonging and long-term settlement. The chapter also explores the transformative creep of habituation to the diasporic field and its potentially disruptive impact, demonstrating how participants’ internal subjectivities are gradually, imperceptibly and potentially disconcertingly modified by their external surroundings. Finally, it establishes humour as the ultimate hurdle to habituated integration. It argues that spontaneous, culturally inflected humour strengthens ties between London-French migrants but excludes them from full belonging to the ‘host’ culture, due to a lack of affinity with pre-reflexive, shared comedic codes.
Blended understandings of symbolic forces in London-French education on-land and on-line
Chapter 5 tends towards a blended ethnographic approach and returns to the theme of education, through the theoretical prism of symbolic violence. The first half of the chapter is dedicated to on-land participants’ attitudes to education in France and London, and the second half compares online representations of three London-based schools frequented by participants or their children: the Lycée Français; Newham Sixth-form College and Whitgift School. The chapter argues that the French and UK education systems serve as microcosms for the respective societies’ approaches to migration, nationalism and citizenship. Universalist Republican values are at the core of the French school system, where the assimilationist citizenship model is reproduced through an exclusionary, didactic, positivist educational epistemology. Conversely, London’s multiculturalist social model is transferred to its classrooms through the adoption of a constructivist, student-centred pedagogy. The chapter contends that despite the French model’s egalitarian tenets, it remains a highly competitive system, with an emphasis on achieving success through reprimand rather than encouragement. This causes many French Londoners to turn towards the English model for their own progeny. The multimodal online analysis supports the on-land findings, with an under-representation of ethnic minorities and a lack of creative opportunities evinced on the Lycée website, set against the celebration of individual achievement, inclusivity and creative capital on the NewVIc and Whitgift landing pages. Migrants’ favouring of the UK system – for primary education at least – thus replicates the rationale behind their initial migration to London, with perceived openness, meritocracy and opportunity being potent incentives.
Windows onto intimate London habitats and homemaking across cultures
Chapter 2 is the first of three dedicated to Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, deconstructed into a triad of habitat, habituation and habits. In this chapter, the migrants’ material habitat is the focus, and food emerges as a key element. Transporting French victuals to London homes allows the migrants to resist habitus transformation and assert a distinctive French identity, linked to the superior quality and perceived authenticity of French produce. It shows how the commonality of their personal artefacts and attitudes belie individuated strategies of transnational belonging and instead serve to construct a sense of community identity, albeit unwittingly. Through its emphasis on the participants’ material lifeworlds, the chapter challenges the well-established notion of ‘transnationalism’, particularly its foregrounding of abstract nationhood, and argues in favour of a more pinpointed, localised construct that acknowledges the intimate subject–object dynamics at play. The chapter contends that it is this attempt to recreate a sense of proximity to the familial primary habitat that participants have left behind which informs their choice of localised, consumable materialities. The final habitat dimension examined is the role of audiovisual media and their operationalisation as a textural, diasporic homemaking mechanism. Drawing on Schafer’s idea of the ‘soundscape’ and Appadurai’s intersecting ‘mediascapes’, ‘technoscapes’ and ‘ethnoscapes’, the chapter posits that the sounds and images of France permeating participants’ homes bridge time–space borders, allowing re-engagement with the cultural here-and-now of the homeland and a reconnection with primary-habitat memories. Complicated and ambiguous processes of emplacement, identity formation and belonging are thus substantiated.
Chapter 4 focuses on the final component of the habitus triad: habits. The central premise of the chapter is that examining habits provides insights into individuated and community belonging, migratory emplacement, transnational cultural capital flows and attachment to and/or detachment from France. It sheds light on the broader ideological implications of everyday habits, particularly eating, drinking and healthcare, revealing hidden hegemonies and gendered/sexualised discrimination. Evolving dining habits and an embodiment of cosmopolitanism are demonstrated through participants’ openness to London’s multicultural cuisines. Similarly, their frequenting of English restaurants functions as a strategic emplacement method and an agentive means of performing belonging. A circular intercultural exchange is also discussed, with migratory flows leading to the adoption of British culinary habits in France just as London-French residents’ palates and cooking practices adapt to ‘host’ tastes – within limits. For, in accordance with the limitations of habitus transformation, their home-dining rituals remain fundamentally embedded in French culture, which again implicitly interconnects the migrants through a shared praxial repertoire, while disconnecting them from (perceived) postmigration customs. Drinking habits also set the migrants apart. They apprehend local drinking practices as excessive and vulgar, particularly regarding women. This gendered disparagement and culturally distinctive restraint marginalises them within the diasporic social space, while re-enacting local histories. The final section is dedicated to participants’ therapeutic habits, which are revealed to be increasingly demedicalised in London, where they enjoy the more human, less technical approach to healthcare and are critical of the chronic patriarchal hegemonies and endemic overmedicalisation experienced in France.
The Conclusion reflects on the book as a whole and considers how major changes to the London diasporic space, instigated by the post-2016 political landscape, renders it a work of contemporary history as much as ethnography. It underscores the distinctiveness of the migrant group examined and the book’s theoretical contribution to the field of migration studies. The Conclusion reminds readers how participants’ narratives exposed powerful, if latent, ideological and affective forces, and how their aspirations were projected onto the diasporic space so that the homeland, particularly Paris, emerged as comparatively hostile, unsafe, judgemental and segregated, whereas London was apprehended as open, secure, liberated and (super)diverse. This normative evaluation process, it contends, produced a sense of embeddedness and diasporic belonging in pre-EU-referendum London. The chapter also discusses the meanings garnered from the book’s blended ethnographic methodology arguing that online diasporic spaces function as microcosms for the wider London-French experience and that cultural and linguistic situatedness ultimately constrains hybridisation. It recommends several future areas of enquiry, including those related to Brexit, to London-French sub-communities and/or to new digital methodologies, again drawing on archived web material. To finish, it returns to the words of the migrants’ themselves and provides a range of responses to the ‘London-in-a-nutshell’ interview question, which sums up the overall appeal of London as a migratory destination at the dawn of the twenty-first century.