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Lifestyle migration and the ongoing quest for a better way of life
Author: Michaela Benson

This is a study of how lifestyle choices intersect with migration, and how this relationship frames and shapes post-migration lives. It presents a conceptual framework for understanding post-migration lives that incorporates culturally specific imaginings, lived experiences, individual life histories, and personal circumstances. Through an ethnographic lens incorporating in-depth interviews, participant observation, life and migration histories, this monograph reveals the complex process by which migrants negotiate and make meaningful their lives following migration. By promoting their own ideologies and lifestyle choices relative to those of others, British migrants in rural France reinforce their position as members of the British middle class, but also take authorship of their lives in a way not possible before migration. This is evident in the pursuit of a better life that initially motivated migration and continues to characterise post-migration lives. As the book argues, this ongoing quest is both reflective of wider ideologies about living, particularly the desire for authentic living, and subtle processes of social distinction. In these respects, the book provides an empirical example of the relationship between the pursuit of authenticity and middle-class identification practices.

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Michaela Benson

This chapter notes that, as many actors in the contemporary world, the migrants remain in a constant state of movement and change; they perform a variety of identities on a daily basis, their tastes change and adapt, and they build new relationships while maintaining old ones. The ethnography presented in this book demonstrates the complexity of the lives they lead following migration. While they had understood their move to France as heralding a new way of life, the examination of post-migration lives presented here demonstrates that, instead, the migrants had taken just one small step in realizing their imaginings. The British migrants of today are the latest in a long line of Britons who have fallen for the charms of rural France.

in The British in rural France
Michaela Benson

This chapter provides the context for migration. On the one hand, it introduces the respondents in the Lot, highlighting their common origins as members of the British middle class and the various contexts that brought about their migration. On the other hand, it sets the scene for the remainder of the book, explaining migration, both as presented by the migrants and in the terms of the ethnographic analyst. It traces how the migrants recounted the decision to migrate, highlighting the potential for self-realization. It also critically assesses the explanations presented in the now seminal texts on British migration to rural France and builds upon them to draw attention to the cultural determinants that drive this form of migration.

in The British in rural France
Michaela Benson

This chapter explores how the migrants' imaginings of community life and local belonging shape and influence their social relationships within their new surroundings. In particular, it examines the migrants' efforts to become part of the local community and demonstrates that success in this area of their lives is by no means predictable. Becoming part of the local community, being socially integrated, is predicated unequally upon diverse factors that include linguistic capability, common interests, possibilities for social interaction and the reception of the local community. Their relationships with local French actors served as measures of the migrants' success at developing a distinctly local subjectivity, an effort that was inherent to their claims to a distinctive way of life.

in The British in rural France
Michaela Benson

Building on the theme of imagination, this chapter further explores tensions between how the migrants had imagined their post-migration lives and their lived experiences. It questions the applicability of the concept of liminality, arguing instead that ambivalence is a more useful analytical concept for understanding the lives of the respondents. Through the examination of various sources of ambivalence in the migrants' lives — their status as intra-European migrants and their social relationships — the chapter demonstrates that migration is just one of a number of creative ways in which these people strived to resolve their feelings of ambivalence and take greater control over their lives.

in The British in rural France
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Michaela Benson

This chapter concludes the discussion of imagination laid out in Part 1, examining further the interface between imagination and experience and presenting an explanation for the way in which the migrants understand their post-migration lives. This lays the foundations for the migrants' identity-making practices. Through an examination of the varying ways in which the respondents relate to the landscape, the chapter reflects on the process of getting to know the landscape through experience, stressing that while imagination plays a central role in their expectations for post-migration lives and shapes their experiences, it can also be challenged and subtly transformed through experience. Against this background, the chapter argues that Bourdieu's concept of practice is useful for understanding the migrants' everyday lives in the Lot, allowing a role for their embodied experiences and individual biographies as well as the cultural logic that lay at the root of migration.

in The British in rural France
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Michaela Benson

This chapter explores how the migrants understood their homes and what the migrants' home-making practices revealed about their identities and their lifestyle ambitions. It moves on from the wider discussion of property selection that has characterized previous research on the British in rural France, to reveal the role of individual biographies, histories and desires in shaping the home. In particular, it opens the door on three different households, putting the material culture of these homes on public display. The various examples presented in the chapter demonstrate that while the home could be the site of new identities and ways of living, it could also be used as continuation of their lives before migration, allowing the migrants to retreat into the comfort and familiarity of their home in what remain unfamiliar social and physical environments.

in The British in rural France
Michaela Benson

This chapter discusses the mechanisms by which the migrants distinguished themselves from others — their compatriots in Spain and the Dordogne and tourists — through these processes laying claim to particular identities and ways of living. Through the recourse to stereotypes, the migrants revealed more about themselves than these others, drawing boundaries of inclusion and exclusion around an imagined community of others like them — the British of the Lot — who held in common the desire for a way of life that was uniquely available in the Lot. Furthermore, their discussions of these others focused attention on their unique understandings of a better way of life, highlighting once more the process of self-realization that lay at the core of their pursuit of this goal.

in The British in rural France
Michaela Benson

This chapter explores the relationship between social distinction, migrant subjectivities and the quest for a better way of life. Authenticity acts as a lens through which to examine this relationship. On the one hand, it becomes clear that the migrants' ideologies about life in the Lot are characterized by their desire for a more authentic way of living; migration had offered them self-realization precisely because of the promise that this would be available in the Lot. However, migration is not as transformative as originally imagined, with the result that the quest for authentic living continues until long after migration. As the ethnography presented in this chapter demonstrates, there is also a self-referential element to these judgements, as the migrants reflect on the ways that their practices have changed over time. Importantly, it emerges that processes of social distinction and the quest for a better way of life are mutually reinforcing.

in The British in rural France
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Distinction, ambivalence, authenticity
Michaela Benson

This chapter draws together the various themes discussed in the book, exploring the intersections between distinction, ambivalence and authenticity. On the one hand, the analysis argues that particular ideologies for living in the Lot underwrite migration and the search for a better way of life. On the other hand, it becomes clear that lifestyle migration has at its core a focus on processes of self-realization. In this respect, it becomes clear that a persistent tension in the migrants' lives originates in the opposing roles played by individual agency and the structural determinants in shaping their migration and experiences of life in the Lot. The conclusion analyses the persistence of the quest for a better way of life. The migrants' ideologies for living are regularly put to the test and authenticated as they engaged in processes of social distinction.

in The British in rural France