Keynote abstract

Michaela Benson, Goldsmiths, University of London

Practising ‘the good life’: thinking through the negotiation of privilege in lifestyle migration

One of the core tenets of lifestyle migration is that the people undertaking these forms of migration can be considered as relatively affluent, with migration made possible by the position of privilege occupied by the migrants in relation to local populations within destinations (Benson and O’Reilly 2009; Croucher 2009; O’Reilly and Benson 2009). In this rendering, relative affluence and privilege is mobilised to bring about migration and inextricably linked to the quest for a better way of life. As I argue in this paper, the historical production of privilege and its influence on the migrants’ lives needs to be understood as a structural and systemic condition under which they operate (see also Benson 2013). Through the comparison of two cases of lifestyle migration – the British in rural France and North Americans in Panama – this presentation considers how privilege is shaped by dynamic historical conditions and experienced by lifestyle migrants in and through migration. The comparison of the two fieldsites demonstrates how different historical, social and material contexts shape the awareness and experience of privilege. Drawing on a framework inspired by Bourdieu’s account of the interconnections between social space, habitus and field, I present a theoretical model for understanding privilege as negotiated in practice. What becomes clear is that the differences in the constitution of privilege and the embodiment of its effects, result in a more accentuated awareness of privilege in the case of the North Americans, made robust through everyday experience, an awareness that is unmatched in the case of the British residents of southwest France. By theorising the relationship between privilege and habitus, this chapter makes a bold contribution to the study of lifestyle migration, and further understandings of how privilege operates as an objective structure in these migrants’ lives, while also recognising how this intersects with practice.