Neither here nor there: choice and constraint in migrant worker acculturation.
This source preferred by Barbara Wilczek
Authors: Wilczek, B.
The current wave of migration into the UK is not just the latest in a long line but, to many, appears different in character from those previously. Arguably, Central and Eastern European migration can be distinguished by its unprecedented overall scale, speed and sectoral coverage as much as by its temporal quality and the social diversity of those drawn to the UK (Pollard et al. 2008). Indeed, these traits confirm a certain freedom of movement and choice for CEE migrants that are denied to their non-CEE counterparts and predecessors. This phenomenon has led to unpredictable changes in UK migration patterns (Sumption and Somerville 2010) and has changed the current state of many British workplaces which have become increasingly diversified and competitive places. However, in the context of the workplace, much of the existing research has covered traditional concerns of employment such as work exploitation and discrimination, and has predominantly used survey techniques (e.g. Fitzgerald 2007; Sriskandarajah et al. 2007). This thesis complements extant work by offering a subjective account of migrants’ work lives in a specific workplace. Its aim is to present the realities of daily life as experienced by migrants in the British workplace, particularly in relation to decisions over the level of integration with others of significance. The contribution of this research at a conceptual level lies in its use of an approach that goes beyond traditional models of migrant acculturation. By taking discourse as a medium of identity construction and expression (Bowskill et al. 2007), the research presents a more nuanced and dynamic account of migrant workers’ “fitting in” and/or distancing strategies. Data for this study has been collected during a three month period of participant observation in a local food manufacturing plant, followed by a series of 20 interviews with Polish migrant workers. This combination enabled the generation of an insider’s perspective and taps into migrants’ stories about their workplace experiences. Drawing on this data the research illuminates touchstones by which migrants anchor their sense of being settled or rooted. It covers their relationship with their home country as mediated by Polish migrant co-workers, sensitivity towards other national groups and economic well-being, tempered by a sense of organisational and interpersonal justice. As such the study illustrates that the dilemma over whether to settle down, put down roots and integrate into the workplace is no longer in the foreground when migrants think about their situation but has taken a back seat. Because migrants are no longer rooted in one place only, they are both here and there in terms of country allegiance and sense of identity but these positions are not seen as incompatible. Their choices are often deferred or rescheduled indefinitely during which experiences of the workplace infuse attitudes towards settlement and vice versa. In fact, there is a strong sense of postponing settlement decisions until they secure a better purchase in the job market, either here or back home, or their personal circumstances related to love, marriage or family change.