This Research Bulletin has been published in MP Smith and A Favell (eds) (2006) The Human Face of Global Mobility New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 247-274.
Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.
London, of course, is the global city par excellence , seen by all observers as the most international city in Europe, possibly the world. One of the key claims sustained by the global city theories – particularly the GaWC project, and its tireless mining of data about service sector corporate city networks – has been to show how London outstrips any other city on the European continent in its connections, spreading out way beyond the immediate local shadow of European integration (Taylor and Hoyler 2000). There are also other well noted aspects of this routinely-cited global life of London. Its long history of immigration and asylum is second to none, something only deepened by the distinctively post-colonial multiculturalism that has developed in the post-war period (Favell 2001). Moreover, in the liberal 90s, it has developed an extraordinarily open labor market for foreigners, with a remarkable degree of mostly undocumented immigration. London is also often seen as the acme of the polarised city, characterised by dominantly service-based industries at both top and bottom ends, driven by global industrial shifts in production and capital (Sassen 2001).
London is certainly embedded in all kinds of global networks: whether transatlantic, far eastern, post-colonial, or whatever. But GaWC's emphasis on the city as a virtual ‘space of flows', and the almost exclusive focus on faceless data about corporate networks, masks other key sociological aspects of the city, related to place and geographical propinquity. For London is also a Eurocity, of central importance to the regional economic and social system of Europe. Though this is well apparent in macro-level economic figures about trade and mobility within Europe (Rodríguez-Pose 2002), it is much less well documented at the micro level: at the level of individuals, and their transactions in and through the city. While Britain has during the 1990s and after drifted further out to sea, London has seen its own quiet European invasion, anchoring it firmly in the continent.
During this period, Europeans have moved to London in immense numbers. Numbers have increased markedly during the 1990s (Dobson et al 2001). London has, in the last few years, become a prime destination of European free movement, of all nationalities, from across all of Europe. One obvious Europeanising story that will not be discussed here, has been the enormous growth in migration from Eastern Europe, especially from Poland and the Balkans. Among West Europeans, who have benefitted throughout from EU freedom of movement legislation, perhaps the most striking story has been the relocation there of a new generation of talented and entrepreneurial young French people. London has, in other words, become a mecca for the young of Europe everywhere, who have moved in droves to learn the global language, and be part of the swinging, libertarian de facto capital of Europe.
In part, this new migration only confirms London's global centrality: it is the gateway for all Europeans to the global English language business, media, and cultural worlds. But there is another side to being a regional hub of migration: it also embeds London profoundly in Europe and European social structures – despite the grating euroscepticism of the nation around it. Relatively stable social systems of temporary and permanent migration to and from the continent make London a Eurocity every bit as Europeanised on this dimension as Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Munich, Barcelona or Vienna. The rhetoric of British, or perhaps more precisely English politics, has become increasingly anachronistic and island bound, while the face of its service workforce and the look of its streets are increasingly European.
This paper offers a first look at this essentially unknown, hitherto invisible phenomena. It portrays, at the micro level, the essentially human roots of London's regional embeddedness, that both English politicians, and economic geographers overlook. I first give a brief overview of the phenomenon from the point of view of official and popular knowledge of the subject. I then present interviews-based material that tells the stories of five young women who have made London their home and pursued careers here. It goes through stages of their movement, settlement, and integration (or not) in the city, and what their personal experiences say about both the free movement of a new generation of young Europeans, and what they say about London as a European international city. The paper reports on research for a forthcoming book, Eurostars and Eurocities , which is a study of free moving urban professionals resident in three cities, London, Amsterdam and Brussels.1 I also draw indirectly on my participation in the Framework V funded research network, PIONEUR, which is currently completing a survey of 5000 European citizens resident in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.2
THE INVISIBLE NORMAN INVASION
What is remarkable is just how little London itself knows about the large numbers of Europeans in its midst. Everpresent, yet quantitatively invisible, they are a crucial part of the city's dynamo, yet unregistered by the media and city government officials alike.
Most cities know something about their populations. The EU sponsored Urban Audit – an immense database over 250 of the largest cities in Western Europe – has done wonders in compiling data on foreign populations in these cities.3 However, the Dutch project manager, Lewis Dijkstra, shrugs his shoulders and laughs when asked about data on the European population of London. The city didn't know. Trying to investigate the question myself, I found out little more. Very helpful and informative demographic officers in the Mayor's Office in London passed me around their colleagues for an hour or so, in search of somebody who might have a clue. Regional development officials, ethnic minority specialists all came up blank.
The Mayors office certainly talks the talk of Eurocities in all its official documentation (Mayor of London 2002). Ken Livingstone is very pro-Europe, and London is portrayed in dynamic European and regional terms, which they rightfully do not see as negating any of its other many global aces, but which rather only enhance its strategic economic importance. Fraternising with colleagues from Stockholm, Paris or Madrid, of course, is another important way of emphasising the shaky political autonomy of the city from national politics. Yet the most flesh and blood proof of this integration into European networks, beyond the more virtual flows of capital, and the massive, ever-more European cross-border trade of London and Britain, is the free movement of European citizens able to live, study and work in Britain. This is an opportunity they are taking up in vast numbers. While the British press fume about a handful of bedraggled asylum seekers who manage to creep in through the Channel Tunnel, it casts a complete blind eye to the thousands of as-yet-unemployed young Europeans pouring into Britain, on the Eurostar and cheap network airlines, with the all their belongings in backpacks. The vast majority head for London.
Getting a handle on numbers is not easy. Official census statistics are not going to be much use, given that much of the migration is short term and often not registered. The incoming Passenger Survey might give some indicators, but these are projections based on tiny samples, and only ask people about their intentions of staying long term or not. The British Labour Force Survey is the most accurate source of official data, also given that it counts by region (London and South East). But the numbers given by both this and the national consulates in question are likely to be massively below real figures. Anecdotal evidence I have accumulated suggest that the clear majority of European residents in Britain never even thought of registering with their consulate, something that only becomes necessary if you need to obtain a new (European) passport without going home. Try running a random telephone survey as we have done with PIONEUR, and you find that practically none of this target population had a landline telephone. British police registration is remarkably porous and ineffective – unlike in other European countries, where it is a mandatory step before obtaining a social security number and being able to work. And as readers of The Daily Mail know very well, it is indeed remarkably easy to get registered with a GP and get access to British national health service (for what that is worth – see below), without any other official documentation other than an address. On this level, its all guesswork.
Faced with this official lacunae, the best thing to do is to talk to service providers (i.e., associations, organisations, magazines or websites for French expats in London) and employers. These are people who generally have a much more practical, hands on commercial knowledge of these mobile populations in question: typically because they want to sell something to them, or get something from them. The consulate figures cite around 40,000 French in London, but the number discussed on service provider websites is more in the order of 200,000 French in London and the South East. This leads on to the somewhat hyperbolic idea that London is now the fourth largest French city after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. Whatever the actual numbers, this migration amounts to a new Norman invasion, not yet spotted by the Dunkirk spirited readers of the tabloids. Not even the talking head of the UK independence movement, Robert Kilroy-Silk mentions it in his anti-immigrant round-up. Yet take a coffee on a train, or a sandwich in an Islington bar and you will see them. They are the young folks handing language school leaflets or wearing sandwich boards outside Tottenham Court Road tube station. Hang out in a City pub, or a café near the media offices off Oxford Street, and you will hear many French (as well as Spanish, Italian, Danish, and so on) accents. Working in pubs is no longer the exclusive province of Australians and New Zealanders on holiday visas. And young Americans have been squeezed out by visa and work permit restrictions which favour European free movers over the so-called special relationship with the USA.
One organisation dedicated to promoting French relocation to Britain is France Libre d'Entreprendre.4 Led by the vocal young French entrepreneurial exile, Olivier Cadic, it promotes the idea of Britain as a low tax business environment for ambitious French people fed up with social security payments and a 35 hour week. Many have offices clustered around the Eurostar train terminal in Ashford, Kent. With unemployment running at 12% in France in the early 1990s, versus 5% in Britain, the economic reasons for location became imperative for many. For a new generation of highly Europeanised, English speaking, globally ambitious French professionals, England became an obvious option. Although ignored in Britain, the phenomenon has received quite a bit of press in France. This is consummate rational European free movement entirely in concord with EU economic integration theory: mobility adjusts for economic differences between regions, and will lead to economic dynamism, growth and creative transactions, as well as soak up underutilised labour. The British economic ‘miracle' of the last few years is in part fueled by these European economic dynamics, building on Britain's strategic economic positioning and tax incentives (polite terms for ‘social dumping'), and able to bleed the brightest and the best from its European neighbours. This is one of the hidden secrets of the so-called ‘British model', trumpeted by chancellor Gordon Brown over the supposedly high tax ‘social' regimes of the continent.
I also talked with service sector employees, notably Pret ( Prêt-à-Manger ), a hugely successful London-based sandwich chain. This company actually has a recruitment policy tailored around these new EU free movement dynamics. They have capitalized on this talented and highly available workforce, by actually targeting young Europeans as they arrive, and relying on social networks to pass back the word of opportunity to friends still at home. Pret's recruitment office is in fact found on platform two at Victoria Station, the historical gateway to Europe. Their personnel manager, herself a young Spanish women who had been in London for 10 years or so, confirmed the scale of this commitment and the smartness with which the company has benefitted from it. In fact, the recruitment office received 44,000 enquiries in the first quarter of 2003, with 251 offers of jobs made. 90% of the employees in shops are foreign, of which over a half are West European, with French the third largest group behind Italians and Spanish. All of the young West Europeans arrive ready and able to work, with no visa restrictions. Many are university educated, but willing to take simple service sector work to be in London. Pret thus creams off some of the best educated middle class youth from continental Europe – who are high in economic, human, social capital – but willing to work for a pittance in return for congenial hours, a sympathetic corporate ambiance, and above all a great social life. Pret open encourages socialising and networking between employees, organises parties, publishes a magazine for them, and promises a structured career development plan without longer term ties. Again, this is rational European integration theory at work – which impacts the London economy in very direct ways.
Although impossible to get a complete overview view of the working French population in such a huge and diverse city, I thus centered my inquiries on both the younger service sector population, and on London's IT, media and finance sectors which draw on some of Europe's most talented individuals. The sample of five here are from a larger sample of 20 in-depth interviews I did with interviews and couples in London. This was supplemented with numerous secondary interviews with residents, employers, service providers, personnel consultants and city officials, ethnography of gentrifying neighbourhoods, and collection of all available secondary data. The interviews selected here comprise four young French women, and a fifth French carte de séjour (permanent residence) holder from Algeria, who was socialised exclusively in the French school system and spent her university years in Paris. Their themes and observations embody both the generalisable reality of European mobility as experienced by growing numbers of young, essentially middle class movers, living in London, as well as their own personalized cases and perspectives. The long and winding interviews focused on their life history, migration choices, professional life, reflections on the city, social networks, and where appropriate more practical details about housing, children, welfare, political participation and so on. The core of my work is thus dedicated to bringing alive the phenomenological worlds of these individuals and families. They are not technically representative, except in the loosest sense of being a personalised portrait of an unknown London. But also each micro life does represent an embodiment of the broader macro trends theorised about by economic geographers and sociologists of mobility. It is, in short, a way of putting a human face on generalisations that often miss the human story behind the theories, as well as grounding empirically some of the actual mechanisms that individually aggregate into broader social trends.
LIFE IN THE FOURTH BIGGEST FRENCH CITY
Those missing from the official stats are archetypally young, recent graduates eager to improve their English, but who also see London as a privileged gateway to the wider world and bigger, better careers. The bottom line for such mobile young French, shared equally by the Italians and Spanish I met in all three cities, was that they moved because of work frustration at home. These vocal, frustrated, mostly provincial French, did indeed ‘get on their bikes' as euro-economists would hope. Nicole5, a 28 year old web site builder from the north of France, on a modest income, summarizes this attitude:
This perspective is echoed by Valerie, a former broker in her early 30s, who at the time of the interview is unemployed and interviewing again for work in the City after a few months vacation travel (translated from French):
I asked her if people expressed themselves here, because that is what others always say the English don't do openly.
Valerie here offers some clues, perhaps, to the success of British capitalism, the interpersonal foundations of the ‘soft capitalism' in London and British firms abroad, written about by authors such as Nigel Thrift (1994) and Jon Beaverstock (2002), and in terms of regional studies and urban economies in the US by Michael Storper (1997) and Richard Florida (2002).
Education is the crucial vector for young migration of this kind. The impact of the EU's student mobility program Erasmus (now Socrates) has been enormous. Nicole first got a taste for going abroad (to Wales, Aberystwyth) through Erasmus (King and Ruiz-Gelices 2003). After this, the question was where? Nicole summarises it succinctly as: "the opportunities were in London". So, despite not knowing anyone, having no connections, and having thought first of other places like Amsterdam and Canada, she moved to London. Reasoning like the model rational migrant here, London ceteris paribus was the best destination.
As is well known, the British education system is also now servicing Europe with vocational and academic degrees, MAs, MBAs and so on. Europeans pay the same fees as British students, and find university admissions officers sympathetic to their sometimes difficult to compare home country qualifications. In London they often find themselves outnumbering their British counterparts. Valerie completed a degree a couple of years back in IT and Finance at Westminster University:
Some of these same young Europeans go on to people PhD programmes that might otherwise wither away due to the impossibility of recruiting British students. Ironically, now, many faculty departments find their best applicants from among Europeans applying to Britain's famously open university system: a rare model of free movement practice in Europe's often stiflingly immobile academic world.
Of course, London calling also offers many other quintessential urban attractions. Its cultural life is almost universally seen as youth oriented, avant guard, and liberating. It offers Europe's most appealing and challenging rite of passage ("beyond les 400 coups ", as Valerie puts it), notably as a refuge from dull provinces, or overly protective family environments. It also offers the ‘outsider' freedom of not belonging yet feeling at home, and as a place of comfortable anonymity. These classic contours of the modern city, à la Simmel, are evoked by both Nicole and Valerie:
London work life also makes socializing easy. Nicole had no problem doing as provincial newcomers to London have always done, and used social contacts inside and out of work to structure their new life in the city.
Nicole's social life improved after she no longer had a French boyfriend, and joined in the usual work social life that is common in many companies. London, also, is apparently welcoming as an identity. When I ask her if she considers herself a Londoner now, Valerie tells me of an email that has been going round the office: ‘The 100 things that make you a Londoner'. Most of these refer to becoming used to the extortionate price of cinema tickets, sushi, or rent, the terrible weather, the lack of clothes clubbers in winter wear, or paying council taxes, etc. I asked her, was there anything on the list that prevented foreigners from being Londoners?
Whether ‘true' Londoners born within the sound of Bow Bells would look at it in these terms is, of course, another question.
The prototypical migrant reasoning illustrated by Nicole and Valerie works both generally – in terms of the extraordinary openness of the London labor market – and specifically in terms of sectors for which London is the true European capital: particularly in finance, IT and media. Others who came later for professional reasons, can also trace their choices in equally rational terms. Laure, a high earning media manager in her early 40s, who had been in London since joining CNN during its halcyon days in the early 1990s (well before the big rush of French migrants later), stressed her mixed feelings about her own very rational choices. Commenting on her experiences as a student at Sciences Po, Paris:
The irony of her chosen Americanised path is not lost on Laure, who married an English man, but yearns for France. Her engaging, corporate articulacy is peppered with socialistic, anti-materialist side remarks and self-questioning. Again, she has a provincial background, very typical of many of the new generation of free movers. These are not the global elites of social theory fame (i.e., Bauman 1998; Castells 2000; Sklair 2001), but rather a new middle class of mobile ‘spiralists', echoing the famous article by Watson (1964), on the socially and spatially mobile new middle classes from English northern towns in the 1950s and 60s (see also Fielding 1995). The bottom line is they would not have moved were it not for the new open EU free movement opportunities; and they would not have moved if the opportunities were global rather than regional. Freedom of movement in Europe has extended privileges once thought to be exclusively ‘elite', to a much larger, more provincial, European population. They thus combine ambitious social mobility, with international movement born of frustration with the ‘classic' French system of going to Paris to make it: where, as Bourdieu has shown repeatedly in his work, well entrenched upper class cultural capital always succeeds best (Bourdieu 1997). They are trying to use Europe as an alternative route and trajectory to the classic one through the national capital, a route that builds on the energy of feeling an ‘outsider'. Another key aspect of their ease of mobility within the European space, is that the distances involved have not really disrupted their extended family life in any significant way. Mobility of children is becoming more common, and more acceptable, for European middle class parents. With cheap airlines, and improving international rail networks, European regional integration is becoming a reality in this sense, with London a key hub.
All my respondents recognise certain aspects of Parisian life as better. They can cogently enumerate the comparative benefits of Paris, particularly in terms of ‘quality of life' (a key term for all my Eurostars). But, this has its downsides. As Laure puts it:
This viewpoint is echoed by Nour, a successful cable television news journalist, particularly in professional terms. Above all, there is the American suspicion of French colleagues and friends:
Nour is 34, and was born in Algeria, but comes from a more international background: a family of diplomats. London for her did represent simply the next nodal point in a global career that went from a childhood in London, to Sciences Po in Paris, to journalist school in New York, to Washington DC, to cable news in London ("It was the best jumping board at the time", she says). Pointedly, she is the only one of these five respondents not benefitting from European free movement, and points out with frustration the consequences of Britain's non-participation in the Schengen agreement: she cannot work here without a work permit. Her ability to move and work rests on a different kind of ‘mobility capital' than the four other French respondents: a more recognisably ‘elite' globalised social background (of the kind wrongly assumed by most scholars to be typical of all international professional migrants). Being a high flyer, the company has taken care of her permit problems, but she is convinced she has to work that bit harder for it.
This situation translates into a tougher work life, which she compares with the kind of conditions she might have enjoyed in France:
The working hours and stress she complains about, are a reminder of the downsides of London compared to continental Europe: something you get in return for a more challenging career environment. It has also taken its toll on Laure, and is beginning to be felt by the others, such as Valerie.
Valerie is apparently committed to the city. She says this, but she has also recently interviewed for jobs in Monaco and Switzerland, and is ready to go anywhere with the right boyfriend at the drop of a hat. Being a Londoner perhaps does not run as deep as these respondents at first claim.
The experiences of movers begins quite rapidly to diverge with the counterfactual life (and career) as it would have been back home, as they match their expectations with carving out a new life in a new city. The settlement process tends to reveal other aspects of the experience of migration, in particular, the nationally specific limitations of the apparently ‘global city' they have chosen.
Valerie and Nicole recount in detail the peculiar life of the new Londoners, huddling together in the cheapest hostels in Bayswater and Chelsea, a part of the town long established as a first port of call for expats in the city.
Like accomodation anywhere in London, it is not cheap. Valerie was paying 110 pounds a week, which included dinners that had to be taken at the hostel:
Their positive memories perhaps belie how tough it might have been for some of their camarades .
What is extraordinary about all this, are the compromises in lifestyle they accept, in return for a slice of the London action. These accumulate over time relative to a specific peer group back home who, a few years on, now have high paying jobs, own houses, and live established ‘bourgeois' lives. Laure refers to these as the "golden youth [ jeunesse dorée ]" of continental Europe, the middle class children from countries with higher average standards of living than Britain, more close-knit conventional family life, and a sense of over-protection as they grow up. Those who opt to leave, opt out of a settled and more guaranteed social trajectory that would otherwise them affluent and settled in married life – most likely in their home region – much earlier. Nathalie, like Valerie, is from the south of France, in her sixth year in London, and works in an administrative job for a major retail company.
This standard middle class trajectory back home compares to the many late 20 or 30 something French, Spanish, Italian and Greek graduates, still living after several years in provisional, shared accommodation, before establishing residential independence in the ferociously expensive London rental market.
A sense of wistful no-going back realism pervades Valerie's reflections on this:
Her feelings are confirmed by Nathalie. She only managed to leave the hostel, when she moved in with her Dutch boyfriend, a commercially-based research scientist, who had bought a house near Paddington. Although she misses the fun of the hostel, she also recognises that by age 33, this kind of serially instable lifestyle had parents and friends back home worried.
The London French are fully aware of what they are doing, and such interpersonal comparativism pervades their talk, embodying a sharp cross-national Europeanism – shared by all Eurostars – who are acutely aware of qualitative differences between cities and national contexts. In a sense, they are the real comparative experts, whose experiences and more insightful, even-handed, observations, transcend the usual parade of clichés that pervade public discussion about the characteristics and merits of each European country.
One area on which they have much to say is the relative merit of the British National Health Service, universally assessed as one of the worst medical systems in Europe.
Nathalie, Laure and Nour all laugh and recount nightmare stories of their encounters with this system when asked their experiences:
In the light of this, it is a surely a poor joke that British politicians still insist on playing the welfare spongers card, talking about NHS access as an argument for why migrants come to the UK (as opposed to elsewhere). This is nonsense: European migrants nearly all maintain doctors and dentists at home. It is true that among these migrants Nicole did get access to unemployment benefit, and other interviewes have confirmed the way they have managed to get housing benefits and access to job centers. However, this ease of access has also to be linked as well to the extraordinary openness of the economy, and the willingness to exploit available labour pulled into the country.
Respondents are critical of these aspects, as readily as they give credit to London's easy going attitudes on bureaucracy, and its accomplished multiracial, cosmopolitan environment. Laure, in particular, was very positive on this in relation to France:
Contrary to the poor image of British state schools, Laure has found great satisfaction getting involved in a typically multicultural London school.
It is interesting that, of the movers here, it is Nour who is the least impressed by what London has to offer culturally. A self-styled "classic" dresser, she is a firm believer in doing all her shopping in Paris, exchange rates permitting. This was particularly good at the time of the interview, with a very strong pound. She would join dozens of other people arriving back in London on the Eurostar, armed with foie gras and wine, that would have cost three times as much at Harrods. She points out that these good things in life, that get coded as upper class ‘elite' luxuries in Britain, are in fact available to a much broader range of the population in France.
Cross-border shopping is another big benefit of mobility, as well as another tangible fruit of European integration. Other aspects of daily life require settlement, inevitably, over time. But settlement involves the competitive struggle with natives and other residents for access to and control over scare ‘quality of life' resources in the city – the very thing that most motivates domestic middle classes (Butler and Savage 1995). This takes its most tangible shape, in London as elsewhere, on the housing market and over questions of childcare and education for children. Laure rails about the extortionate price of child care, and the professional compromises it imposes on families who would have it much easier in Brussels (where child care is good) or in Amsterdam (where international school options are better). Paris, too, would have had more options.
Nour points out one of the other absurdities with overpriced child care, and double income professionals at full financial stretch.
On housing, several of the respondents demonstrate the lack of real local knowledge that sees them renting in well trodden, higher price neighborhoods in north and west London, as opposed to doing as British newcomers would do and looking south of the river or in the east end for better value housing. Nicole's ever temporary existence, seems to be always rising in cost. She is having to move down scale now.
Her lack of settlement here precludes the kind of more localised ties and networks – a tangible form of social capital – that other residents use to make London liveable and affordable.
Nour – who lives with even more professional mobility, and more like the image of ‘global elites' in the city – opted to ignore the prices, and move into the most obviously accessible international area of London in Kensington/Chelsea. Although on a relatively average wage, she invested everything she could in a nice flat in this classic expat part of town, to make relaxation in her hectic mobile life easier.
On and off planes, working nights, and highly global in her orientation (when not back ‘home' in Paris), she admits to not knowing her way around London much, and is still not sure about where to take out of town friends when they come to visit.
It is almost an unquestioned assumption of the global cities theorists, particularly those that home in on the cosmopolitan nature of the ‘glocal' in these places (Hannerz 1996), that these former national capitals now embody in time and space the wide open ‘scapes' of a truly mobile, global culture. Yet what is striking from the Eurostars' stories in London, is just how coercive and assimilatory to specifically national norms of behavior life in this city in fact is: in terms of the everyday rhythms, patterns of sociability, and choices and compromises people make between quality of life and career. Yet it is remarkable too how the resident French see this and accept the ways it has changed them. Valerie, fresh back from her holiday in continental Europe reflects:
Being a Londoner means living the same way. Valerie jokes that she is not so well integrated because she does not share the British culture of drinking, and of dating (which she describes as "flagrant"). Her best friend is "more integrated because she drinks" – hardly the most edifying aspect of British culture.
On other aspects, the respondents frequently despair of the destructive quality of life that native Londoners put up with, and that London imposes on you.
Laure's choice of metaphor is very telling. Perhaps nothing has symbolised the break down of London life more dramatically than recent disasters on public transport. Nathalie recalls taking often the same train involved in the Paddington station train disaster, and how upset she was the following week at the station when she got into an argument with an unhelpful and uncontrite ticket conductor. Nobody else seemed to be complaining, but she was outraged.
Nour makes a similar point (about the managers of her housing block):
Others point to Britain's terrible service culture, that ironically belies the British economy's highly ‘Americanised' self-image. Nour, again:
Laure connects up bad service, with ‘rip-off Britain', and the collapse of engineering expertise in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, in one very funny story.
For all the talk of Americanisation – for all The Sun editorials proclaiming that, ‘We work like America, think like America, etc' – Great British peculiarities remain just that: Great British. Rupert Murdoch may well be successful selling the British masses a lowest common denominator image of American society and its similarities to Britain, but it is clear too that Americans would have exactly the same complaints. On the other hand, it can be argued that a parallel Europeanisation might be a having effect in raising London's quality of life, and in transcending British class divisions. Jamie Oliver has indeed brought simple Italian food to the same masses, although (an equally simple) dinner at the River Café still requires a blue chip income. However, quantitatively, economically, the impact of the new European population on London has been considerable. In many ways, these European residents and their lifestyle preferences have become a conduit for the progressive Europeanisation of some of London's worst eating and going out habits, with the new vogue for restaurants, street cafés and Euro-chic. A good example is the transformation of Islington, a Europeanised, cosmopolitan neighborhood, highly popular with Eurostars who can afford it.
What is noticeable, however, in London as elsewhere, is how this involvement almost never translates into political participation. The EU studies literature on European citizenship indeed is way off beam in its hopes that this might be an effective route towards Europeanisation and a more democratic Europe. Nicole, when asked about this, shrugged in a way typical of nearly all interviewees – who would be classified among some of the most politically and culturally aware members of the European population, as well as those most likely to care about European citizenship.
Freedom… or Anomie?
Nicole's crisp statement here summarises the sojourner mentality: a way of life made possible by the European free movement provisions, and the new forms of mobility that it encourages. For the younger movers, provisionality is the key to this freedom, and it is this that Eurocities – whether London or any other – most usefully enable:
Valerie, defines her own notion of this trans-European, de-nationalised freedom, by comparing life in cosmopolitan London with Paris:
But Valerie is slightly older than Nicole, and has passed a certain threshold where she in fact now feels there is no real going back.
A few further years later down the road, married with children, ostensibly settled and successful in London, Laure is even more doubtful of the longer term commitments she is making:
Her words express the anomie that comes with the European freedoms; an anomie – life without norms – that harks back towards the specific frustrations of life as a foreigner in a foreign city, but also points further to a sense of how unsettling a truly de-nationalised life in the European context might be.
One way this plays out over time is in your closest social networks: one's ‘best friends', something always especially important for women. Valerie explains why her three best friends turn out to be French women as well:
Nicole also points to a specifically gendered and nationalised scenario vis-à-vis male or female friends:
Nathalie, with her boyfriend Jeroen, express frustration with this kind of nationalised ‘social closure' on a different question: why there is no appeal in doing what other English of their age are doing and moving out of the city in the suburbs (which is also why they don't have English friends). Here Jeroen voices their thoughts:
The suburban middle class option has been the routine way that native Londoners have since the early 19 th century squared the circle between the impossibly competitive struggle over housing, childcare, affordable education, space and greenery, with urban life in the city their love.
The normal route out of the city is just not an option for Eurostars: after all that's not why they came to London, or why they continue to be there. But this kind of attitude gets harder to maintain. As Nicole says,
I ask her when will it be that she's had enough of the struggle?
The single women here seem to be somewhat out of synch, out of time, with the norms around them. They identify buying a house with being a couple and settling down – and think they won't do that until they return. This is precisely the step that the younger Eurostars don't want to take. It leaves them in a kind of limbo land, in terms of age and lifestyle, increasingly living a different schedule to both their peer group back home and their age cohort of native British people in London. Nicole identifies how out of time she is, compared to her friends, and the astonishment of her family.
Such a situation cannot help but produce a certain degree of weariness and malaise. As Nathalie says:
In other, generally older interviewees, I find that older single women and gay men have managed to transcend these conventional lifestyle pressures, by opting for distinctly different urban lifestyles in the cities studied. Here, however, all of my respondents report more or less conventional wishes in terms of heterosexual romance and partnerships, something that in relationships or outside, London is increasingly failing to deliver.
Valerie's nice piece of self irony here points to doubts about the longer term viability of their chosen lifestyle. And, given these things are so much more easily and naturally accessed by natives of the country they live in, one also questions just how truly international, London, this place , really is. Laure, speaking of East European au pairs, reflects again on the toughness of the city on other young migrants:
Laure then goes on to diagnose a mismatch between migrant aspirations, and the personal development you need to get on with your life, whether at home or abroad.
Laure is talking about a different group of migrants in London, a different set of stories: young East European women with a very different background and social origin to the young French women I interviewed. For sure, these latter are not so vulnerable. Their middle class family resources are more solid; their personal and career development in London has been remarkable; they might still be able to make all that count going back to their home job market, or elsewhere. But one might look again at these smart, rootless, unfulfilled young French women in London and wonder to what extent Laure's words are also addressed to herself and her own co-nationals.
THE HUMAN FACE OF TRENDS IN ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHY
Talk of mobility is all the rage these days. We have been rightly urged to push sociology and other social sciences beyond the nation state (Urry 2000), with an integrating Europe a key research terrain (Therborn 1995). One or two historians have written brilliant, sweeping overviews of mobility – and immobility – in Europe's past (Kaelble 1990; Moch 2003). Now, in the contemporary situation, it is only geographers who are likely to be equipped enough – with their distinctive sense of spatial scales, flows, place and time – to begin to capture the fundamental changes afoot on the European continent in empirical terms.
Unfortunately, however, the most well know geographical literature of relevance here – the economic geography literature on global cities and transnational economies – has on the whole proceeded apace with scant attention to the human dimension of these phenomena. Flows and networks between locations are measured by counting the number of offices corporation have in different cities, measuring foreign direct investment and information exchange, or by quantitatively charting shifts in business activities from production to service industries (Taylor, Walker and Beaverstock 2000; Sassen 2000; Brenner 1999). But rarely is any kind of human face given to these macro-level transactions and data-sets. Urry's mobile manifesto, meanwhile, offers the right diagnosis as premise, but totally the wrong methodological remedy. It exhorts a cavalier abandonment of all empirical method – the tools of comparativism, carefully constructed case-studies, data collection – in favour of a post-humanist, metaphors-strewn theorizing about ‘global complexity'. Sociologists are supposed to now study flows of waste, symbolic networks of meaning, virtual transactions, and other abstract ideas, rather than ask questions of real people, with real lives. Theories of globalization are full of such rhetorical excess. As this suggests, what is most needed is a way of mediating between the necessarily abstract, macro-data driven perspectives on globalization, economies and regional integration, and the equally necessary call for phenomenological insight into the lives and experiences of flesh and blood individuals who are the true face of these global and regional trends.
The other literature on which such research may puts a face is, of course, the literature on European (EU) integration. Dominated by top-down policy studies, and hence mainly legal and institutional analysis, very few have thought about what it might mean to study Europeanisation from below. The experiences, attitudes and social trajectories of prototypical free moving European citizens offers a tangible grounding by which we might be able to chart the actual effects of European integration on the ground. They are among the most obvious avatars of the broader institutional process.
All of these processes are located in a global city like London, and can be read through the mobile lives and experiences of individuals who best embody these macro-trends. The growing European presence in London suggests a regional embedding of this particular city, in a way that qualifies some of the excesses of the general literature on globalization and global cities. London is an extraordinary international place, but as we have seen it also has its provincial dimensions; for all its global networks, and nodal centrality, it remains a highly nationalised, specific place in many ways. The image of effortless, frictionless mobility given to us by theorists of globalization, and portrayed in the stylized übermenschen of global yuppie magazines such as Wallpaper , gives way here to a very different image: of average middle class Europeans, aware of the benefits and freedoms that mobility has bestowed, but struggling to get by in a global city that cannot satisfy all of their cosmopolitan hopes and aspirations. It turns out – as with ‘flexibility' in the new post-industrial economy (Sennett 1998) – that it is not such an easy thing to build a complete, fulfilled life out of ‘mobility': there are costs as well as benefits to free movement. The lives of the Eurostars are extraordinary precisely because it is not easy to opt out of the standard social trajectories offered to middle class children in European nation-state-societies. Thus, they remain, for all their numbers, the exception in a generally immobile Europe. European residents of London are having an impact on the city, and do embody one important facet of its current internationalisation. Yet their experiences also remind us that global mobility is much easier in theory than in practice; and that even in the most of global of cities, not everyone feels as much at home as everyone else.
* Adrian Favell, Sociolgy, UCLA.
1. Adrian Favell, Eurostars and Eurocities: Free Moving Urban Professionals in an Integrating Europe , Oxford: Blackwell (forthcoming 2005). See also Favell (2003).
3. See the Urban Audit website: http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/regional_policy/urban2/urban/audit/index.html
5. All of my interviewees are presented with pseudonyms, with personal details blurred.
Bauman, Z. (1998) Globalization: The Human Consequences . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Beaverstock, J.V. (2002) ‘Transnational elites in global cities: British expatriates in Singapore's financial district', Geoforum 33(4): 525-538.
Bourdieu, P. (1979) La distinction . Paris: Éditions de minuit.
Brenner, N. (1999) ‘Globalization as reterritorialization: the re-scaling of urban governance in the European Union', Urban Studies 36: 431-52.
Butler, T. and M. Savage (eds.) (1995) Social Change and the Middle Classes . London: UCL Press.
Castells, M. (2000, 2 nd ed.) The Rise of the Network Society . Oxford: Blackwell.
Dobson, J., K.Koser, G.McLaughlan, and J.Salt (2001) International Migration and the United Kingdom: Recent Patterns and Trends . London: Home Office.
Favell, A. (2001, 2 nd ed.) Philosophies of Integration: Immigration and the Idea of Citizenship in France and Britain . London: Palgrave.
Favell, A. (2003) ‘Games without frontiers? Questioning the transnational social power of migrants in Europe', Archives Européennes de Sociologie XLIV, 3: 397-427.
Fielding, A.J. (1995) ‘Migration and middle-class formation in England and Wales 1981-91', in Social Change and the Middle Classes , T. Butler and M. Savage (eds.). London: UCL Press, 169-187.
Florida, R. (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class . New York: Basic Books.
Hannerz, U. (1996) Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places . London: Routledge.
Kaelble, H. (1990) A Social History of Western Europe 1880-1980 . Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
King, R. and E.Ruiz-Gelices (2003) International student migration and the European ‘year abroad': effects on European identity and subsequent migration behaviour', International Journal of Population Geography 9: 229-252.
Mayor of London (2002) The Draft London Plan: Draft Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London . London: Greater London Authority.
Moch, L.P. (2003, 2 nd ed) Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe Since 1650 . Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2002) The European Union: Economy, Society, and Polity . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sassen, S. (2000) Cities in a World Economy . Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
Sassen, S. (2001, 2 nd ed.) The Global City . Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sennett, R. (1998) The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism . New York: Norton.
Sklair, L. (2001) The Transnational Capitalist Class . Oxford: Blackwell.
Storper, M. (1997) The Regional World . New York: Guildford Press.
Taylor, P., D.R.F.Walker, and J.Beaverstock (2000) ‘Introducing GaWC: researching world city network formation', in Telematics and Global Cities , S. Sassen (ed.). Blackwell: Oxford.
Therborn, G. (1995) European Modernity and Beyond: The Trajectory of European Societies, 1945-2000 . Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Thrift, N. (1994) ‘On the social and cultural determinants of international financial centres: the case of the city of London', in Money, Power and Space , S. Corbridge, R.Martin, and N.Thrift (eds.) Blackwell: Oxford, 327-354.
Urry, J. (2000) Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-First Century . London: Routledge.
Watson, W. (1964) Social mobility and social class in industrial communities', in Closed Systems and Open Minds: The Limits of Naivety in Social Anthropology , M.Gluckman (ed.) Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 129-157.
Edited and posted on the web on 28th September 2004
Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in MP Smith and A Favell (eds) (2006) The Human Face of Global Mobility New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 247-274