PhD Project: Anna Gawlewicz

Mobility and Encounters with Difference: The Impact of Migrant Experience on the Transmission of Values and Attitudes

Researcher: Anna Gawlewicz

1 November 2010 – 31 October 2014

After the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, European societies witnessed unprecedented rise in mobility, particularly along the East-West axis. A significant number of migrants from the ‘A8′ countries (i.e. the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) migrated to Western European states such as the UK, France and Germany. Arguably, these large-scale migrations open up multiple opportunities for people to encounter ‘the unfamiliar’ or ‘the different’. As such, they are likely to impact socially, culturally and emotionally on the lives of migrants and their significant others. In this context, the ability of individual migrants to make sense of and live with difference becomes a key issue for contemporary Europe.

In response, this PhD project investigated the consequences of migrant encounters with difference in terms of ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, gender, age and disability. It explored how migration from Poland (a postcommunist country relatively homogeneous in terms of ethnicity, nationality and religion) to the UK (a diverse postcolonial state) shaped people’s values and attitudes towards difference.  It also looked at how understandings of difference circulated between migrants and their significant others in a sending society.

Migration and understandings of difference

Polish migrants in this study admitted that their values and attitudes evolved through encounters with difference in the UK context. While some values and attitudes were developed in the UK, other were revised or changed. Importantly, migrants expressed a range of personal stances from strong negative prejudice, through admitting greater familiarity or understanding of difference, to acceptance, solidarity and engagement.

Transnational circulation of ideas about difference

The project established that newly developed, revised or changed values and attitudes were often communicated to family members and/or friends in Poland. Significant others responded to these values and attitudes in various ways (e.g. by absorbing ideas about difference, negotiating or opposing them). Such ‘exchanges’ between migrants and their relatives or friends in a home country show that ideas about difference circulate between people and places, and proliferate across Europe.

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