Being at Home in Transnational Spaces: Conceptualizing the Lifeworld of Chinese Migrants Abroad


In the scientific discourse in China, overseas Chinese are usually represented as constitutive elements of the Chinese nation-state. In contrast, Western migration studies tend to analyze Chinese migrant’s identities only in the context of their relation to the host country. In a way, both approaches fall into the trap of methodological nationalism and thus fail to account for the complex environment in which Chinese migrant’s lifeworlds are shaped. Against this backdrop, this paper aims at capturing the multiple actors, and their inter-relational power dynamics and contestations that are critical in defining Chinese diaspora identities. Based on a content analysis of Chinese language print and online media in Austria, as well as on an online survey, the paper argues that Chinese migrants’ identities (in contrast to the above-mentioned state-centered approaches) are exposed to influential factors that emanate from four different social spaces, namely the host country, China, immigrant communities within the country of residence („ethnic-enclaves“) and transnational social spaces. It is the constant interplay between actors in those different spaces that coin overseas Chinese identities. By presenting this analytical framework in which a single nation-state is no longer treated as the sole unit of analysis, the paper will hopefully contribute to the development of a more comprehensive theory on diaspora lifeworld’s that is able to recognize its internal diversities and differences shaped by multiple actors embedded in transnational arenas. Consequently, the model will help us to grasp the multiple and hybrid manifestations of “Chineseness” (and migration) in the globalized world.

Author Information
Carsten Schäfer, University of Cologne, Germany

Paper Information
Conference: ACAS2020
Stream: Chinese Studies

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon