What does expatriate mean? Who gets described as an expatriate rather than a migrant? And why do such distinctions matter? Following the expatriate explores these questions by tracing the postcolonial genealogy of the category expatriate from mid-twentieth-century decolonisation to current debates about migration, and examining the current stakes of debates about expatriates. As the book shows, the question of who is an expatriate was as hotly debated in 1961 as it is today. Back then, as now, it was entangled in the racialised, classed and gendered politics of migration and mobility. Combining ethnographic and historical research, the book discusses uses of the expatriate across academic literature, corporate management and international development practice, personal memory projects, and urban diaspora spaces in The Hague and Nairobi. It tells situated stories about the category’s making and remaking, its contestation and the lived experience of those labelled expatriate. By attending to racialised, gendered and classed struggles over who is an expatriate, the book shows that migration categories are at the heart of how intersecting material and symbolic social inequalities are enacted today. Any project for social justice thus needs to dissect and dismantle categories like the expatriate, and the book offers innovative analytical and methodological strategies to advance this project.
Privileged family migration, differential inclusion and shifting geographies of belonging
This chapter discusses the case of a family that emigrated from Germany in the 1990s and has lived in various countries since. It interrogates their migration trajectory and explores how their migration has been productive of social mobility in ways that are more often associated with less privileged migration. It further explores family members’ shifting modalities of belonging and narrations of identity, to shed light on experiences of contingent inclusion and contested belonging at the more privileged end of the migratory spectrum. In doing so, the chapter shows that we cannot equate exclusion with subjugation, and vice versa; instead, forms of partial in/exclusion, contingent status, and liminal belonging can result from privilege and enable its reproduction. The chapter further shows that migratory privilege needs to be analysed as an intersecting, relational and contextual construct, with significant in-group fissures and tensions. Finally, the chapter urges us to more systematically explore structurally related but disparate migrations within the same analytical framework, to advance our understanding of how inequality is produced, reproduced and sometimes contested in and through migration.
The introduction establishes the key aims and arguments of the book and provides an outline of the different chapters. It introduces the three key sites to which the book follows the expatriate to tell situated stories of the category’s history and politics, its making and remaking, contestation and lived experience: international human resource management literature, the Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague, and Nairobi, Kenya. In following the expatriate, the book traces the category’s postcolonial history and presence from mid-twentieth-century political decolonisation to today’s politics of migration. The book shows the expatriate to be a malleable and mobile category, of shifting meaning and changing membership. It is also a contested category, as passionately embraced by some as it is rejected by others. Finally, it can be a surprising category, doing unexpected work, effective in ways that are not determined. Yet, throughout its meanderings and disputes, the expatriate proves consistently central to struggles over inequality, power and social justice.
Chapter 1 situates this study of the category expatriate within migration research on expatriates and privileged migration, before outlining recent scholarship on the coloniality of migration and mobility, and introducing interdisciplinary perspectives on social categories. The chapter thus introduces debates that this book centrally speaks to, and which have helped in thinking about the ‘categorical’ ordering of movement and belonging as a site where power is negotiated. The chapter then outlines the research strategy of following the expatriate and introduces the three sites visited for this research.
Chapter 2 discusses the use and contestation of the category expatriate in the archive of Kenyan independence. Specifically, it looks at the transformation of the colonial civil service into a national Kenyan civil service and the associated transformation of colonial civil servants into either ‘local’ or ‘expatriate’ officers. The chapter traces how the term expatriate was used to reproduce white privilege and British influence in the post-colonial period. As such, the expatriate was key to British international development aid, understood to be a tool for retaining global influence in a bipolar world, and indirectly helped entrench inequality in the Kenyan civil service and Kenyan society. Yet, if the category expatriate was used to translate colonial into postcolonial racism, it did so without relying explicitly on ‘race’, as racism was increasingly enunciated through a lexicon of culture and through economistic ‘logic’ and ‘common sense’.
Chapter 3 traces the emergence of the expatriate in 1960s and 1970s anglophone international human resource management (IHRM) literature, a burgeoning academic field that accompanied the US ascendancy of its day. IHRM scholarship recognised the seminal challenge of decolonisation and, the chapter argues, academics self-consciously carved out their role and relevance in the post-war US imperial project. They did so by positioning the expatriate as a vital yet troublesome figure of multinational business that needed to be carefully selected, thoroughly trained, cautiously positioned, appropriately compensated and successfully repatriated – all of which required the support of scholarship. This also involved translating discourses of white supremacy and the immature native into management knowledge to sanctify the asymmetrical power relations that characterised multinational business. This history is rendered invisible by more recent IHRM literature that largely ignores the imperial roots of its research object and of its own role as knowledge producer.
Chapter 4 traces the transformation of Royal Dutch Shell’s expatriate at the turn of the twenty-first century. In the mid-1990s, in the context of a broader corporate restructure and in response to gendered challenges to its management model, Shell enacted a neoliberal reform of its system of expatriation and introduced a diversity agenda. It transformed its expatriates from loyal ‘Shell families’ that migrated within the ‘Shell world’ into individualised and flexible mobile workers circulating within a global labour market. This reform, however, did not change the patriarchal constitution of the Shell expatriate, or decolonise this managerial institution. Meanwhile, a group of ‘Shell wives’ founded the Shell Ladies’ Project to collect their own memories and position themselves as expatriates in their own right. The Shell Ladies’ Project and its subsequent development into an independent archive of expatriate social history mirrors organisational and societal trends in the gradual transmutation of women’s identity, from the company-rooted ‘Shell wife’ into the ‘global expat’ at the heart of globalisation. Chapter 4 thus traces, through the transforming Shell expatriate, the fashioning of neoliberal forms of elite migration and its ideological ideal-type: the transnational professional, commanding a global consciousness and skill set, moving self-directed and flexibly, at home in the world.
Among the various readings of the expatriate today, a key one is ‘the international’, a term often used synonymously with expatriate. Chapter 5 traces the production of this ‘international’ expatriate in the context of Nairobi’s ‘international community’ as assembled and narrated by the expat network InterNations. The chapter discusses how an individual in Nairobi becomes international performatively, through the consumption of casual cross-border mobility, which in the context of uneven border regimes involves the reinterpretation of privilege as achievement. The chapter then examines the uneven social relations and unevenly valued labour that socially reproduces the InterNations community, and discusses how the international community is produced through the everyday racialised, gendered and classed arrangement of bodies in and into Nairobi’s expat hangouts. The expatriate’s international emerges as an imaginary that idealises flux and mobility across a space that remains intensely bordered and ordered along ascribed gendered, classed and racialised schemata. Although the category is diversified in line with broader shifts in local and global power, the normative ideal at the heart of the international expat remains whiteness, imaginatively spatialised as ‘Western’.
Chapter 6 examines the definition of the expatriate as a temporary migrant through the work of the Expatriate Archive Centre (EAC) in The Hague. The chapter explores how the category is constituted and negotiated in the archival space, and what readings of migration, the city and the nation the temporary expatriate helps produce. The EAC defines the expatriate as anyone who lives abroad temporarily. However, the expatriate at work in the archival space does not abide by the category’s designation as the temporary migrant. Temporality emerges as key to the politics of the expatriate, but the temporary expatriate introduces both archival dilemmas and progressive potential. On the one hand, it achieves the discursive occlusion of past and present structural inequalities that centrally shape the migrations documented by the archive. On the other hand, it facilitates the collection and public availability of documents that aid our understanding of the workings of power and privilege, and release migration from its association with marginality which renders it a fertile proxy ground for racist politics.
Chapter 7 discusses recent debates in international human resource management (IHRM) literature on alternatives to the ‘traditional expatriate’, particularly ‘self-initiated expatriates’, ‘inpatriates’ and ‘migrants’. The chapter interrogates these new categories of IHRM literature and notes a ‘selective flexibility’ that stretches the category expatriate in ways that reproduce the inequalities that already underwrote the ‘traditional expatriate’. Still, power and inequality are frequently evaded in seemingly technical debates about the proper boundaries of analytical categories. The chapter then traces how migration studies turned to study expatriates as high-powered corporate migrants within a framework of (highly) skilled migration. This expatriate, the chapter argues, stands in marked contrast to the usual migrant in migration studies. The chapter finds that much research on migration collectively, if inadvertently, helps to reproduce popular imaginations of migrants as the global racialised poor, and thus actively participates in postcolonial governance through migration. From this vantage point, methodological nationalism can be understood as a racialised technology of governance with an imperial genealogy. Finally, the chapter examines the relationship of IHRM and migration studies, their mutual disregard and shared silences. The chapter argues that colonial aphasia not only shapes their quite closely aligned ‘typical’ expatriates and migrants, but underwrites their very academic disconnection and division of labour – i.e. colonial aphasia is at work in the very constitution of the two fields as separate fields.