How mobile is home? Researching migrants’ living conditions in Europe and beyond

Published 29 April 2019 / By Ilka Vari-Lavoisier

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Home seems to be the natural basis of everyday life - but what kind of homes do those on the move, such as international migrants, inhabit?

To contribute to the general debate on individuals’ ability to appropriate space and make it personal, meaningful and secure, the HOMInG project investigates migrants’ experience of home.

This research, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 678456), is led by sociologist Paolo Boccagni, at the University of Trento, Italy.

Under Professor Boccagni’s supervision, the HOMInG team unpacks the concept of “home” through a systematic analysis of the ways of constructing and emplacing home under the influence of extended mobility and societal diversity. Home is to be understood, here, both as a bounded place – hence a matter of living conditions, affected by structural inequalities -- and as a meaningful relationship with place – through which individuals seek to achieve a sense of security, familiarity, and control. How at home, if at all, individuals feel in a given place is a key indicator of their attitudes in relation to their context of settlement and their long-term attachment to it. How at home individuals feel, if at all, is equally critical to the lived experience of non-migrants (i.e. ‘natives’ and long-term residents), which is also considered by the HOMInG team.

To explain the respective influence of individual characteristics, group-level variables, and contextual factors, the HOMInG project adopts a comparative lens. It looks at migrants coming from three different regions of the Global South (namely Peru and Ecuador, Eritrea and Somalia, India and Pakistan) in five different countries of settlement: the UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. To do so, the HOMInG project uses a multi-sited and multi-method research design, combining qualitative and quantitative data.



On the qualitative side, HOMInG relies on extensive ethnographic data collection. Sara Bonfanti, Aurora Massa and Alejandro Miranda, joined the project in 2017 as postdoctoral researchers. Over the last two years, they have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork across Europe, in the different countries of destination selected for this project. They have already collected more than 150 interviews and life-stories, as well as ethnographic fieldnotes, audio and visual materials. Throughout their fieldwork, they published online posts: check out our website for videos, reports and interviews from the field. See also their working paper on positionalities in researching home and migration here.

In 2018, two additional postdoctoral researchers joined the team to collect data not only with migrants’ in Europe but also from their countries of origin. Milena Belloni has recently done fieldwork in the Netherlands and Eritrea, with a focus on the living and housing conditions of migrants, their families back home and returnees (see her latest post here). After researching migrants in Spain and the UK, Luis-Eduardo Perez recently returned from Ecuador and Peru, where he has collected life histories and engaged in collaborative research with his informants (read more here).

This first phase of data collection resulted in a stimulating set of findings. The qualitative fieldwork notably brought to the fore the complexity of contemporary mobility patterns. Migrants’ arrival in Europe is not the end of their journey: upon arrival, newcomers often inhabit multiple dwellings in their recently adopted home – but there is still a limited understanding of this post-migration mobility. To further inform this line of research, the HOMInG team is now developing a large-scale survey, to be implemented across places of settlement in Europe.

Prof. Boccagni is assisted by Ilka Vari-Lavoisier for the survey design and the coordination of the quantitative component of the HOMInG project. The questionnaire developed by HOMInG’s team over the last few months seeks to test the hypotheses that emerged from two years of qualitative fieldwork. It has been turned into an interactive app and the HOMInG team is getting ready to pilot this questionnaire, by conducting pre-tests in a few European cities.

The survey itself will start this summer, with the objective to interview 1,500 individuals across Europe. The first phase of data collection will be conducted in July 2019, in selected boroughs of London. The survey will then be replicated in Milan, in October 2019, and in Madrid, in December 2019. The HOMInG team seeks collaborators interested in participating in its quantitative survey. See the call for applications for further details and get in touch in case you are interested in joining a transnational team working on migration!

Further to this, the HOMInG team is engaged in various dissemination activities, ranging from the publication of working papers to the organisation of meetings bringing together researchers and practitioners. Further to this, the data collected by the HOMInG team will be made available to academic researchers and stakeholders, with the hope to advance both scholarly and policy debates on the living conditions of mobile citizens in Europe and beyond.


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