The PGRG offers warm congratulations to Juliette Masson (University College London), who has won the 2021 Joanna Stillwell Prize for the best UK undergraduate dissertation in Population Geography. Very well done indeed for an excellent dissertation, entitled ‘The Socio-cultural Integration of British Immigrants within Rural Communities of Poitou-Charentes, France’. Please see a little bit more about Juliette and her summary of her dissertation below.
My name is Juliette and I recently graduated from UCL with a Bachelor in Geography. I joined my course with the intention of studying earth systems but was fascinated by my few human geography modules. I redirected my focus towards international development and the geographies of immigration. I began to look at my own experiences as a member of a transnational family, and as of course a migrant. I grew a deep interest in the issues of migrant incorporation, integration, and acculturation.
I decided upon researching the socio-cultural integration of British immigrants in rural France. The migrants are ‘privileged’ in terms of social class, nationality, and ‘race’. They are oftentimes referred to as expatriates despite being retired, thereby avoiding the negative narratives relating to the ‘immigrant’. Because it is seen as unproblematic, this segment of migration has long been neglected in public, political and academic debates. When starting my research, I was thus met with people questioning the relevance of the topic, egging me to choose a more “pertinent” or “apparent” migrant group. I contend however that the relevance of the topic lies in the fact that the migrant group is overlooked. By discussing such migrant populations, we can start deconstructing the skewed representations of immigrants as being necessarily non-white, non-western, illegal, and poorly skilled. We can go against the systemic profiling of immigrants and what they are supposed to look like, where they are supposed to come from or where they are supposed to migrate to.
As a recent graduate I am hoping to intern in the human rights and development sector with a focus on refugee incorporation and integration before pursuing a master’s degree in 2022.
The Socio-cultural Integration of British Immigrants within Rural Communities of Poitou-Charentes, France.
The purpose of my dissertation is to outline the ways in which, and the extent to which British immigrants integrate socio-culturally within rural communities of Poitou-Charentes. The study is based on a qualitative approach, drawing from 19 interviews undertaken with British nationals who purchased property between 10 and 20 years ago and hold permanent residency in Poitou-Charentes. The region, located in the west of France, experienced a boom of British immigrants in the early 2000s, often depicted in the French press as the newest “British invasion”. Even though France’s integration policy is assimilationist, the findings show that the British migrants do not seek nor attempt to become fully acculturated. Instead, they ‘pick and choose’ between original and French ways. It is not about supressing heritage culture to adopt a new one, nor about the retention of both cultures, but rather about the creation of unique bicultural identities drawing from aspects of both. The study breaks from previous research and literature by revealing that language proficiency is not a prerequisite for socio-cultural integration. So long that efforts are made to engage and interact with the local population and that contact with British “expat bubbles” is avoided, the migrants are easily accepted, welcomed, and encouraged to integrate. That is revealing of the migrants’ significant ‘privilege’ in relation to other immigrants who are largely expected to supress heritage culture to assimilate. Britons face less obstructions to their socio-cultural integration due to the proximity of the two countries’ cultures, as well as the persistence of Western and implicitly white solidarities. The wide and loose use of the label “expatriate” by the migrants themselves certainly works to accentuate the existing dichotomy between the “other” immigrants and the relatively privileged white Western migrants. However, although the British successfully avoid the negative representations and narratives relating to the “immigrant”, a distinction is still made between “us – the locals” and “them – the foreigners”. This is reinforced by the unfortunate reputation that the British hold for staying among themselves in “expat bubbles” and building transnational ties at the expense of interaction with the local community. I find that the main obstacle to the migrants’ efficient socio-cultural integration is the development of transnational ties through the creation of extensive social networks with fellow compatriots at the locality. Those networks however were greatly impacted and disjointed by Brexit, which revealed fault lines amongst the British population. On the one hand, Brexit triggered a wave of return migration, mainly due to financial costs, insurance problems and difficulties in rights of abode. On the other hand, it motivated other British individuals to further commit to their residency in France, become more integrated and create a sense of home that was no longer split and multilocal.