Conceptualising home, work and migration in urban contexts
This book begins from the concept of home as a spatial, embodied, imagined and symbolic site and process that is experienced at multiple scales, including within a dwelling, in relation to neighbourhoods, cities and nations and across transnational space (Blunt and Dowling 2006). While there are large and diverse areas of scholarship on transnational migration, migrant livelihoods and cosmopolitan encounters in the city, as well as an expanding body of research relating to home, a relatively small number of studies have examined the inter-relationships between these broad themes (Blunt and Sheringham 2018, Blunt and Bomrerjee 2013). East London has a long history as a site of migration, settlement and cultural diversity, and has been widely studied in geography, history, sociology and literature (Eade et al. 2002, Hamnett and Butler 2011, Kershen 2005, Sinclair 2011; 2009). In contrast to the large body of work on migration to East London among a diverse range of populations, Vietnamese communities in London have received little scholarly attention (Barber 2015). In focusing on Vietnamese migrants in London, this volume does not assume that ‘the Vietnamese’ constitute a homogenous community’. Instead, this book situates Vietnamese migrants within the increasing ‘super-diversity’ that characterises East London and the city as a whole (Vertovec 2007). It focuses on experiences of home, work and mobility between East London and Vietnam, examining the material, embodied and emotional connections between home and work, as well as translocal relationships between Vietnam and East London.
A growing number of scholars argue that migration studies should attend to relationships between mobility and dwelling rather than reinforcing artificial boundaries between migration and settlement, or the local and the transnational (Blunt and Bomrerjee 2013, Datta 2011, Pratt 2004). This book builds upon the recognition that migrants’ everyday lives are local and emplaced as well as transnational, acknowledging that the city may be a more significant site of home than the nation (Blunt and Bomrerjee 2013: 224). In addition to emphasising relationships between movement and dwelling in the everyday lives of transnational migrants, the book builds upon understandings of home not only as a dwelling or spatial location, but also as a set of experiences and emotions that are continually recreated thr ough the practices of those who inhabit it (Blunt and Dowling 2006, Pilkey et al. 2015). However, in addition to emphasising the
Home, work and migration in urban contexts 9 ways in which home is made and re-made by individuals, I also recognise the ways in which home is shaped by wider power relations (Blunt and Dowling 2006. Brickell 2014; 2012). The book extends scholarship that reveals the ways in which external forces enter the intimate space of the home, but also emphasises the home as a site from which agency and resistance are mobilised (Brickell 2014). It becomes clear throughout the book that migrants’ access to housing and wider senses of home are intertwined with, and often contingent upon, their immigration status.
This chapter is divided into four sections, each examining one of the broad conceptual frameworks that are dr awn upon throughout the book. It begins with an analysis of inter-disciplinary perspectives on home, including the recognition of relationships between home and homeland, home and work and the emergence of critical geographies of home (Blunt 2005, Blunt and Dowling 2006, Brickell and Datta 2011, Hamlett and Hoskins 2011). The second section engages with some of the key conceptual debates within migration and transnational studies, exploring how this literature has theorised transnational homes and practices of home-making among diasporic communities (Al-Ali and Koser 2002, Burrell 2008, Conradson and Latham 2005, Salih 2002, Tolia-Kelly 2004, Walsh 2006). The thud part of the chapter positions this book in relation to a range of theoretical approaches surrounding the city, with a particular focus on the processes though which London and other global cities have been shaped by migration. I argue that frameworks emphasising migrants’ experiences of inhabiting, navigating and belonging in the city are particularly relevant to this book, drawing upon ideas of urban learning, navigation and encounter in contexts of superdiversity (McFarlane 2011a, Knowles 2014, Vertovec 2007). Finally, the chapter introduces the methodological approaches that underpin the book, arguing that a combined emphasis on participants’ narratives, ethnographic and visual methods is needed to frilly explore participants’ migration trajectories and practices alongside memories of past homes and imagined future homes.