Migration and Home As Absence, Feeling and (Re)Construction: A Conceptual Overview

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: 422
Oral Presentation
Paolo BOCCAGNI , University of Trento, Trento, Italy
My paper aims to take critically stock of the literature on migration and home(s). International migration is a promising topic for inquiring “where home is”, and why this matters. The constructions of home and of its absence – as a place, a relational configuration or a way of feeling – are central to the migrant life experience. Extended physical detachment from what used to be home, and the search for new domestic arrangements, are both constitutive of it. Unsurprisingly, the notion of home resonates widely, and with mixed emotional tones, in migrants’ biographic accounts. However, the ways in which home is re-constructed, (re)placed or projected into the future are extremely diverse and case-specific. While some literature has increasingly highlighted the immaterial bases of migrants’ feeling-at-home, most studies point to their persisting need to emplace home in distinctive geographical locations and material (domestic) arrangements.

Generally speaking, the housing solutions encountered by migrants abroad may be little conducive to a sense of domesticity. The critical point, though, is how their sense of home is reconstructed and turned into real social practices over time – and how this “homing” interacts with their relational conditions and socio-economic achievements abroad. Myriad case studies, but few comparative analyses are available on these issues. The same holds for the persisting significance of the homeland as an elicitor of home feelings, particularly for first-generation migrants. In fact, the study of migrants’ pathways of home physical and symbolic reconstruction could be fruitfully intersected with recent revisits of the shifting forms, functions and boundaries of the home. Against this background, my paper aims to advance an interdisciplinary debate marked, so far, by extended but scattered and unsystematized empirical bases. Once theoretically unpacked, the notions of home, home-feeling and home-making have still much to say on migrants’ life conditions and prospects.