|Title||The French in London on-land and on-line: an ethnosemiotic analysis|
This thesis challenges traditional international migration studies which focus on macro-level drivers or the end-point of the migration trajectory, and instead investigates the subtle forces within the “third-space” (Ingram & Abrahams, 2016:140, citing Bhabha, 1994), which here encompasses both the physical and virtual transnational environments inhabited by the French community in London. By combining innovative digital methods with ethnographically oriented data collection techniques, such as immersion, in-depth interviews and focus groups, the thesis reveals the inherently “messy” sociocultural complexities of being an EU migrant in London at the beginning of the 21st century.
Taking Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (1972 ; 1994; 1996; 2005) as its principal theoretical underpinning and drawing on his ethnographic and sociological works, the study scrutinises the narratives of a diverse group of French Londoners between 2010 and 2015. The overarching research question posed is how, holistically, participants experience France-London mobility, and spans three main areas: 1) France, or the originary social field; 2) the London home/habitus; and 3) the on-line French “diasberspace”. Beginning with the first of these, the thesis seeks to ascertain, through Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic violence (1993; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), which social forces lie hidden beneath the veneer of reasoned migration decision-making and serve as tacit, yet potent, mobility drivers.
Secondly, based on the hypothesis that habitus overlaps with the definition of “home” in English, the thesis asks how home is (re)constructed by the London-French research participants within the diasporic field. By sub-dividing the conception into its component parts of habitat (spatial mapping and material culture), habits (quotidian practices) and habituation (unsuspecting attitudinal change), questions pertaining to how, where and the extent to which participants identify with London as “home”, or conversely remain embedded in the “homeland”, are addressed. In addition, the thesis investigates the reasons behind the privileged position occupied by the French community in the London social space. It therefore draws connections between past and present forms and functionalities of symbolic/cultural capital (Bourdieu, (1979a, 1980b), together with linguistic capital/habitus (Bourdieu, 1982 ), examining the differing symbolic value of embodied and articulated language in France and London.
Finally, recognising that migration today involves less acute separation from the homeland than in previous generations due to the virtual proximity afforded by the Internet, this third part of the thesis assesses how home, belonging, identity, positioning and symbolic violence are depicted in the on-line “diasberspace”. In order to provide a stable analytical platform conducive to iterative consultation, the author has curated a Special Collection of community Web resources in the UK Web Archive, laying the foundations for a theory of selective thematic Web archiving. An innovative “ethnosemiotic” paradigm, combining Bourdieu’s ethnographic principles and the multimodal social semiotic approach advocated by Gunther Kress (2010), is thus given practical application. Furthermore, the ensuing fine-grained reading of the London-French digital objects serves as a convincing on-line/on-land triangulation mechanism for the doctoral research project as a whole, and contributes to the rich, multi-layered analysis of London’s contemporary French population.