The JGM BitBlog: From Enclaves to Foam - The Changing Face of Migrant Communities in the Age of Networked Technologies

Journal of Global Mobility

Selen Kars-Unluoglu, University of the West of England, United Kingdom
Burcu Guneri Cangarli, Izmir University of Economics, Turkey
Oznur Yurt, Open University, United Kingdom
Mehmet Gencer, Izmir University of Economics, Turkey
Migration is often experienced as an unsettling process that involves the uprooting of oneself from home, family, and everything familiar to head to new, unknown territory. As migrants navigate new cultural norms, languages, and social structures, they often are seen to drift towards an “enclave” or a “bubble”, which offers ties to the familiar home community and a “collective home away from home”. However, in an age of accelerated information production and interaction opportunities in social media, the traditional image of migrants living in isolated, localised bubbles fails to represent their reality.
We sought to understand how migratory behavior and experiences are shaped by networked technologies. In addressing this question, we focused our empirical inquiry on the Turkish migrant community in the UK, which has grown significantly in the last decade.
Our findings point towards a new type of migrant, whose migration is not driven by career opportunities or improved living standards, but by a desire to separate themselves psychologically and discursively from the homeland. They migrate because they experience a dissonance between their personal values and the moral and civil order in their own country. The migration, for them, represents a search for harmony between their personal values and the principles respected and followed by others in society. They are “dissonant harmony-seekers”, in this respect.
Zooming into the everyday lifeworld of dissonant harmony-seekers, we highlight (perhaps unsurprisingly) the impact social media has on the migration experience. In the pre-migration stage, connections offered by platforms like Facebook allow people to build connections with the migrant community. Through this, migrants are able to migrate mentally long before the physical act of migration takes place. Once migration happens, surprisingly, the role of the centrality of the migrant community fades. The dissociation dominating the migration experience contributes towards an instrumental interaction with the wider migrant community, geared towards meeting individual needs. The Internet helps to meet these needs quickly and conveniently, making the interactions with the migrant community more superficial and fleeting. This is also partly because the Internet creates opportunities for continuous interaction with the homeland allowing them to meet some needs through social circles in the homeland whilst being physically “isolated” in the foreignland. 
We challenge the bubble metaphor in describing migrant life, and instead, we introduce the metaphor of foam to represent the fluidity and dynamism migrants experience. The foam allows us to account for multiple bubbles in the lives of migrants. These bubbles constantly and dynamically form and reform, around new needs and through new connections. But they also burst and coalesce, as some needs are met, and consequently, some connections lose their importance.
Our research offers a fresh way to rethink the dominant narratives of migration that highlights the diasporic behavior of a migrant who lives in and is psycho-emotionally attached to a bubble that offers a “clustering life”. It encourages us to reflect on migrants’ experiences of separation, interaction and integration, especially in a climate where the mobility and belonging of citizens are being renegotiated in response to governments’ decisions, political policies and activities.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:
Kars-Unluoglu, S., Guneri Cangarli, B., Yurt, O. and Gencer, M. (2023), "Migrants as “dissonant harmony-seekers” and migrant life in “foam”", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 125-144.