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Oceans away: Sri Lankan migrants in New Zealand - Explorations of hybrid identities, distance & everyday material practices

The past 50 years have seen a remarkable increase in migration, with more people moving than ever before. In New Zealand, foreign born peoples comprised over a quarter of the population in 2013, most of whom were from Asian countries, including Sri Lanka. These developments necessitate more culture specific research with these migrant communities in order to gain a greater understanding of their settlement experiences. Accordingly, this thesis explores the ways in which eight households of Sri Lankan migrants living in New Zealand, navigate distance (geographical, social and imagined), and establish a sense of continuity between the here (host nation) and there (country of origin). I demonstrate that migrant settlement and negotiations of belonging in their new homes are more complex and dynamic than what is indicated in previous research. The theoretical framework for this research is informed by ethnography, narrative and social practice theory, complemented by indigenous research perspectives and participatory methods. Particular attention is paid to migrants’ complex and fluid cultural identities, their negotiations of space and place, material practices and objects of significance. First, this research delves into the notion of hybrid identities, and argues for the need to acknowledge both the historical and current contexts that shape migrants’ cultural identities. Second, I emphasise that spaces and places are not mere backdrops in the everyday lives of migrants. Rather, public, domestic and mediated spaces can provide transnational links between the here and there. Such spaces are actively constructed and defined by the people inhabiting them, and thus play an important role in facilitating a sense of belonging in a foreign country. Third, I explore the centrality of food related material practices to the (re)establishment of a sense of normality, familiarity and stability in migrants’ everyday lives. The present research provides a rich understanding of migrant experiences, from which to argue that migrants’ everyday lives span not only localised or national borders, but also the past, present and future. This research foregrounds the agency and resilience of migrants, and acknowledges the complexities of everyday life.
Type of thesis
Cassim, S. (2017). Oceans away: Sri Lankan migrants in New Zealand - Explorations of hybrid identities, distance & everyday material practices (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11188
University of Waikato
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