Rediscovering the local: migrant claims and counter-claims of ownership
Location J
Date and Time 11th December, 2008 at 10:30


Brigitte Boenisch-Brednich (Victoria University)
Catherine Trundle (Victoria University of Wellignton )
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Short Abstract

In contrast to recent studies of migration that have concentrated on mobility and transnational networks, this panel explores how studies of migration might benefit from re-focusing on the appropriation of place and practices of localising.

Long Abstract

Recent studies of migration have focused on the emergence of transnational and mobile migrant identities. Labels such as hybrid, Creole and cosmopolitan abound. Yet, in rejecting all notions of 'the local', such approaches often ignore the complex interaction between immigrants and host societies that centre on ideals of 'the local'. Resistance to immigration frequently relies on symbols and resources declared to be immobile and localised: jobs, state resources such as welfare, 'local heritage' and land are often seen to be under threat from immigrants.

The recent focus on fluidity also obscures the responses that migrants make to such challenges, ones that often do not rely on notions of mobility and 'global citizenship', and instead articulate complex reconfigurations of the claims against them, expressing emplaced ownership and entitlement, and appropriating local or place-specific symbols. Far from seeking to re-essentialise 'the local', this panel aims to uncover how groups utilise diverse and specific ideas of 'the local' for particular ends.

The key question of this panel is: how do migrants and members of host societies lay claim to owning place, legally and symbolically? Immigrants' ownership and use of land can come into conflict with localised claims regarding 'common' ownership or use rights, or indigenous peoples' claims to ownership. How are certain places 'sacralised', imbued with history or physically occupied in such claims over ownership that include or exclude immigrant groups? How do migrants make claims to own distant 'home spaces' through places in the host society? How might migrants make simultaneous claims to local connectedness and global mobility?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.



Authors: Catherine Trundle (Victoria University of Wellignton )
Brigitte Boenisch-Brednich (Victoria University)

Short Abstract

This 20 minute presentation will introduce the theme of the panel.


This 20 minute presentation will introduce the theme of the panel.

Local Entitlements: Pacific Islands Migrant Youth in Australia

Authors: Kalissa Alexeyeff (University of Melbourne)
Steve Francis (University of Melbourne)

Short Abstract

This paper explores the localising strategies adopted by Pacific Island migrant youth in Australia. An analysis of these strategies demonstrates the ways in which the local is simultaneously grounded and mobile, parochial and cosmopolitan.


This paper explores the localising strategies adopted by Pacific Island migrant youth in Australia. As Pacific Island youth have limited access to economic resources, issues of belonging and ownership are often played out in public and prosaic places such as the shopping mall and the street. While this behaviour is often classified by the broader community as gang-like activity, from the perspective of the young people themselves these acts are viewed as ways of claiming entitlement to particular local spaces. These 'gangs' utilize multiple notions of 'the local' to effect these appropriations. They draw variously on ideologies about Pacific Islander ways of being and doing, the real and imagined 'local' of homeland, the contemporary mobility of the people of the Pacific region, and the insignia of global expressive forms. The various localities adopted and reworked by Pacific Island young people demonstrate the ways in which the local is simultaneously grounded and mobile, parochial and cosmopolitan.

Land and plants appropriation during migration. A case-study in Vanuatu

Authors: Sophie Caillon (CNRS)
Sabine Hess (University of Heidelberg)

Short Abstract

In an event of migration, this work seeks to analyse through an interdisciplinary approach how the separation from the original place affects land appropriation. We also analysed migrants’ identity through their plants’ history, those immutable objects connected to the ‘old place’ and ancestors.


In an event of migration, the question is how the separation from the original place affects land appropriation. We choose to focus on small scale contemporary migrations of people from the overpopulated island of Mota Lava who began to migrate from the 1980s to the feebly populated Vanua Lava (Banks islands, Vanuatu). Combining cultural geography and social anthropology, we have highlighted how the host community and migrants differ in their customary practices. Disputes occur frequently, because Mota Lavans have not participated in mortuary payments for the deceased ancestor, and have no knowledge which matriclan they belong to. They only use their family tree to assert their land rights, and justify their migration as rightfully re-establishing links that already existed. The actual migration would be the reciprocal of an old migration undertaken by an ancestor from Vanua Lava.

In order to understand how the migrant's identity is affected by a change of place, we studied their living space. If it is sometimes difficult to ask to migrants to speak directly of their migratory experience that can be painful and hidden, we analysed migrants' identity through their plants' history. Vegetatively propagated plants are the only immutable objects from this landscape marked by a humid and cyclonic climate, in which no object can resist to deterioration through time. Transported plants are the memory of their land of origin and ancestors, whereas the ones found or exchanged on the settlement site are the tangible proof of their "integration".

Making their Home in Australia: St Joseph's Anglo-Indian Rest Home

Author: Robyn Andrews (Massey University)

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the ways that one of Melbourne’s migrant groups, the Anglo-Indians, has, through the establishment of a rest home for their elderly, drawn on local opportunities to claim space of their own in Australia. Comparisons are made with Homes in Calcutta which are becoming AI bastions.


St Joseph's Anglo-Indian rest home in Melbourne, Australia, is home to a group of elderly Anglo-Indians. This community has rapidly increased its migration out of India since 1947, the year of Indian Independence from Britain. In 1995 the Melbourne Anglo-Indian Association, displaying considerable foresight and initiative, built a rest home to care for their increasing elderly population of Anglo-Indians. To do this they drew on local funding opportunities offered by the Hawke-led government. To this date it is the only Anglo-Indian Home out of India and represents for residents and others in the community, a pocket of 'Anglo-India'. I describe the ways in which the founders seek to simulate the lives these elderly Anglo-Indians would have had if they had remained in (an unchanged) India, as well as providing care in other ways. In addition I draw on research of three Anglo-Indian Homes in Kolkata (formally known as Calcutta), India. Aspects of the Calcutta Homes appear bordered and bastion like, I suggest, because of the increasingly Hindu setting in conjunction with the decline in the population of Anglo-Indians. In both situations I examine the claims to ownership of space legally and symbolically. I also make comment on notions of placement and displacement, appropriation, mobility and transnational networks (including the electronic).

'We're not expats; we are not migrants; we are Sauliaçoise': laying claim to belonging in rural France

Author: Michaela Benson (University of York)

Short Abstract

This paper explores the ways that British migrants living in rural France seek to distance themselves from negative associations by rejecting their transnational status and instead, emplacing themselves in the local.


This paper examines the ways in which British lifestyle migrants living in rural France variously lay claim to (albeit idealized) sense of belonging in the local. In their daily lives they actively reject stereotypes of expatriates, stressing the ways in which they are different, and are actively involved in, and in some cases, have revived, the local community. Simultaneously, they distance themselves from their transnational ties, often underplaying the extent to which these are a feature of their lives. But further to this, they highlight their cognizance of local history, architecture, and landscape, often stressing that this is knowledge that they have gained through their extensive interactions with the local French. And armed with this knowledge, they become fervent advocates for the preservation of local stories, architecture, and landscape, alongside many local actors.

This desire to preserve the local cannot simply be explained, as others have argued, as the preservation of incomers' ideals. Rather, their belief that they have transcended the boundary between incomer and local operates to distance migrants from negative associations with 'expatriates', while at the same time, drawing the similarities between the lives that they lead and those of their French neighbours. In this manner, these Britons justify their continued presence in rural France and reinforce their initial reasons for migrating, 'to become as much French as we can'.

Constructing House and Home: Residency, Locality, and Social Mobility in Santo Domingo's Barrios

Author: Taylor Erin (Canela Consulting)

Short Abstract

Santo Domingo’s central barrios are populated by poor rural migrants who are materially and symbolically excluded from city life. This paper explores the process of housing construction and the importance of the local for some of the city'ss poorest residents.


Santo Domingo's central barrios are populated by poor rural migrants who are materially and symbolically excluded from city life. Their socio-economic mobility is limited by a range of factors, including lack of land titles and an urban moral geography that represents the barrios as a threat to the city's social order. Given these constraints, control of land and the construction of housing over time are key methods by which barrio residents endeavour to carve out a legitimate place in the city. This struggle to control and craft the 'local' has gained importance for the poor as their position has been further undermined by the insertion of the Dominican economy into the global order. Building a house allows residents to create their own social worlds that are seen as antithetical to the impersonal middle class, while engaging in consumption to express their right to a stake in progress and modernity. It is a conservative rather than a radical mode entailing social reproduction rather than revolution. Nonetheless, the construction and elaboration of housing arrangements over time stands as testimony to the creativity and determination of the poor when faced with shrinking options in a beleaguered economy. This paper explores the process of housing construction and the importance of the local for some of Santo Domingo's poorest residents.

Ambiguous Foreigners:Neighbours share more than geographical space

Author: Jacqueline Waldren (Oxford University)

Short Abstract

I would like to focus on the appropriation of places and practices of localising by foreign residents in Deia, Mallorca and suggest that nostalgic constructions of ‘communities’ do not consider adequately the diverse interests


Resident foreigners own the majority and the largest properties in Deia, a village of 700-1000 inhabitants on the northwest coast of Mallorca and draw on their 'superior' wealth, knowledge and cosmopolitan experience to manipulate or orchestrate what they deem as 'village' landscape and activities, often in contrast to those experienced by Mallorquins. Foreigners have appropriated local and space-specific symbols as their own ( landscape, climate, architecture, celebrations, food, cafes, etc) and 'share' these with other foreign visitors. The diverse and expanding foreign population claims to represent 'local people and a particular place' and it is these images that are projected in conversations, and in the British, German and other European press.

In anthropology landscape has been used to refer to the meaning imputed by local people to their cultural and physical surroundings - how a particular landscape looks and feels to its inhabitants. It is important to clarify from the beginning that the landscape in Deia means different things to the diverse population of this cosmopolitan village. To some it is not just land but families, work, social and religious associations, time, space and location carried in the mind and mediated in experience. For others it is leisure, beauty,myth, and social encounters with like minded people. Deia is formed and reformed overtime. The landscape is redolent with past actions, history, ancestors and myth which are used in defining social groups all of whom inhabit their various creations of 'the village'

'Indian hot or Kiwi hot?': Appropriating the local in constructions of Kiwi Indian identities

Author: Amanda Gilbertson (University of Melbourne)

Short Abstract

Drawing on interviews and focus groups with New Zealand-born Gujaratis, this paper explores participants’ narratives of selectively appropriating aspects of the local cultures and identities of both India and New Zealand in order to position themselves as ‘appropriate’ local New Zealand ‘others’.


Multicultural discourses currently prevalent in New Zealand encourage ethnic 'others' to maintain distinctive, highly idealised and depoliticised 'ethnic cultures'. Unable to fade into a majority backcloth, it is only as sanctioned or acceptable 'others' that members of minority ethnic groupings are able to claim status as 'Kiwis'. Drawing on interviews and focus groups with New Zealand-born Gujarati Indians, this paper explores the ways in which participants described themselves as selectively appropriating aspects of the local cultures and identities of both India and New Zealand in order to position themselves as 'appropriate' local New Zealand 'others'. After briefly discussing the particular constructions of 'culture' that this process entails, I examine the ways participants' descriptions of being Indian in New Zealand differed from their descriptions of being Indian in India. The disjuncture between the two was particularly evident in participants' discussions of visiting family in India and of recent immigrants from India. This is followed by examination of the ways in which participants talked about negotiating their dual identities as both Indians and New Zealanders. These narratives suggest that participants' claims to New Zealandness are fundamentally intertwined with their claims to Indianness, and that the construction of a Kiwi Indian identity involves not just the appropriation certain aspects of 'New Zealand culture', but also the subordination of certain Indian cultural elements (such as caste and 'traditional' gender roles) to others (such as food, festivals, dress and language).

Provincial Pakeha women's practices in 'their place' - creating belonging

Author: Penny Robinson (Penny'sWorth)

Short Abstract

This presentation explores how a small group of women migrants settlers of British and Northern European ancestry engage with space and place in provincial New Zealand, creating their own practices of belonging, integrating aspects of the past into the present.


This presentation discusses how a small group of women migrant settlers of British and Northern European ancestry engaged with space and place in provincial New Zealand, creating their own practices of belonging, integrating aspects of the past into the present.

Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand often consider the impact of translocation upon the recent transnational migrant, or the impact of British colonization upon the indigenous population. During the past forty years, efforts to redress the imbalance between the indigenous Maori and migrant Pakeha have been made. This has included discussions about the impact of colonization upon the indigenous person, what it means to be Maori and what it means to be Pakeha in the Aotearoa New Zealand context. As the profile of the discussion increased nationally, a tension developed around the migrant Pakeha 'right' to belong.

This paper focuses on how a number of Wanganui-domiciled Pakeha were responding to the challenges facing them as descendants of Pakeha settlers. In telling their life stories, engaging in everyday life, in public, private and semi-public places, and deliberately photographing their own lives, the participants revealed their practices of engagement with 'place and space' and showed how they were developing their own 'belonging'. They did so legally and symbolically, imbuing place with aspects of their collective and individual histories through memory, emplacement, and physical engagement.

Negotiating the "local" in Dhërmi/Drimades of Southern Albania

Author: Natasa Gregoric Bon (Research Centre SASA, Slovenia)

Short Abstract

The paper illustrates a very complex nature of categorizations such as “local” and “foreigner” in Dhërmi/Drimades of Southern Albania and explores how these categorizations are used by people who present claims of owning places or belonging to them.


The fall of communism and ensuing economic and sociocultural changes in 1990 led to massive migrations of people living throughout Albania. Similar depopulation can be observed in Dhërmi/Drimades, the village in Southern Albania where migrations were accelerated also by the growing minority and landtenure issues. In contrast to the Albanian government the Greek foreign policy considers the people of Dhërmi/Drimades to be of Greek ethnic origin. With massive migrations of local youth to Greece the village is now mainly populated by the elderly. Besides them the village is also inhabited by families of seasonal workers coming from other parts of Albania. Many of them moved to Dhërmi/Drimades after 1990, while some already lived here in the period of communism. In the past few years following the processes of the decollectivisation of property many local people, who live in emigration in Greece, started to return regularly to their natal village, where they have built weekend houses or/and their tourist facilities on the village's coastal plains. Parallel to these migrations the landtenure issues are becoming more important as the basis for the construction of social and spatial boundaries. The paper illustrates a very complex nature of categorizations such as "local" and "foreigner" and explores how they are used by people who present claims of owning places or belonging to them. The paper will question in which social contexts such categorizations and claims become salient and contested and in which they are silenced and covered within the everyday practices.

Negotiating religious expression and secular belonging: a case of Bosnian migrant experiences in Australia

Author: Lejla Voloder (Monash University)

Short Abstract

This paper discusses how Bosnian migrant experiences of belonging in Australia involve questioning the place of religion in Australian society. I argue that by negotiating their religious expression between ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces, Bosnian migrants lay claim to their belonging in Australia.


Migrants inevitably adjust and adapt to places of settlement. They become involved in, and interact with various social institutions, networks, and discourses of the society in which they reside. It is through these processes of engaging in various realms of society, that they attempt to identify and create 'spaces' for themselves, to become members of society and to 'belong'.

Bosnian migrant attempts to establish belonging in Australia has involved engaging with discussions around questions of the place of religion in Australian society. In these discussions, Bosnian migrants debate public displays of religion, that is, the visibility of religion in 'public' spaces and through them relay their understanding of what is, or should be, 'appropriate' religious expression in Australia.

Drawing on data collected from fieldwork conducted with Bosnians in Australia, in this paper, I discuss the ways my participants drew on issues of the visibility of religious symbols as part of their process of negotiating with the host society, and creating spaces of belonging for themselves. Participants' judgements on the appropriate places for religious expression were based on their understanding of Australian society. The dominant discourses which framed expectations and enactments of belonging were of Australia as a secular society, and Australia as a Christian nation. By negotiating their religious expression between 'public' and 'private' spaces, Bosnians migrants lay claim to their connectedness with and belonging in Australia.