Accepted paper:

'Europe' and European identity in the narratives of Britons in rural France


Michaela Benson (University of York)

Paper short abstract:

British migrants to the Lot employ various notions of European identity and 'Europe' in their narratives. This paper examines how their diverse understandings of what 'Europe' means, and what European identity entails, affect their actual and imagined experiences following migration.

Paper long abstract:

British migration to rural France has a long history, founded within counterurbanization and tourism. However, with the construction of the European space there has been an explosion in the number of Britons moving to France. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork carried out among British migrants in the Lot d├ępartement of France to show how the migrants variously operationalize the notion of a European identity within their decisions to migrate and within their everyday experiences. For some migrants, the confusion of physical and spatial distance in a Europe, where territorial boundaries are so easily and quickly crossed, has led to a perceived compression of cultural differences. As a result, conceptualizations of Europe, and European identity revolve around claims of cultural homogeneity within Europe. Neglecting the differences between the French and the British, these migrants experience discontinuities between their lived experiences and their expectations of life in the rural France. However, even recognizing the presence of heterogeneity within Europe is accompanied by a sense of discomfort. For those migrants aware of the many cultural differences between Britain and France, there is the fear that migration undermines the diversity of Europe. This is the result of both the migration of policy and people. While the migrants they strive to perpetuate this heterogeneity, embracing aspects of the French life and culture, they realize that cultures are fluid; their mere presence within the French rural space contributes to the transformations that they perceive around them. Contrasting these two positions, this paper demonstrates the ways in which various notions of what Europe means, and what it means to be European impact on the actual and imagined experiences of British migrants in rural France.

panel W074
Neither here nor there: locating and identifying Europe