Migration Identity and Crisis

The interplay between migration, identity and crisis is a well-recognised field of research inquiries and approaches. In my anthropological talk, I propose two ethnographic explorations into the lives of Polish migrants in Norway and Iceland, which may shed some light on the wider interdependencies between the global forces, local worlds and emplaced practices. The first part of the talk concerns national identity strategies and internal-group relations among migrants living mobile lives between Poland and Norway. By taking a closer look at the role of “shame” and “embarrassment” in migrants’ lives, I attempt to show that national identity not only strongly intersects with social class, but also that it reveals the importance of more intimate and familiar cultural meanings, which for many Poles should rather be forgotten or at least concealed from the eyes of international public. Thus, I argue that there is a significant identity process of “othering” among Polish migrants, which seems to be grounded in a wider context of neoliberal capitalism and the imaginaries that it entails. In the second part of the talk, I move towards crisis-driven narratives and strategies of muddling through the aftermath of economic crisis in Iceland. Drawing on my recent fieldwork among Poles and Icelanders, I attempt to problematise the very phenomena of crisis by moving beyond the binary thinking of “migrants” and “host society” and exploring different imaginaries and crisis-driven experiences. However, instead of giving some explicit remarks, I will rather reflect upon my initial findings and raise few field-driven questions about flexibility, paradoxes of crisis as well as the relationship between memory and crisis, and its impact on daily lives.

Marek Pawlak is a social anthropologist working at the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (Poland). As a researcher, he also closely collaborates with the Centre for Migration Studies (CeBAM) as well as Jagiellonian Centre for Migration Studies (JCSM). In his research, he focuses on transnational migration, regimes of mobility, crises and migration, identity politics and multisited ethnography. Currently, he is working on a book on “embarrassed identities”, which explores imaginaries, ideologies and power relations among Polish migrants across Europe.