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European Societies

9(1) 2007: 23 /44

Taylor & Francis
1461-6696 print
1469-8307 online


Anna Bagnoli
Leeds Social Sciences Institute, Beech Grove House, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

ABSTRACT: Through the adoption of a dialogical, self/other model, which

can appreciate the presence of different discourses and cultures within the
self, I have investigated the identities of young migrants. A sample of young
Europeans participated in the research, narrating their migration stories with
a variety of autobiographical methods which integrated interviews with
diaries and visual media. Young migrants refer to their condition as
foreigners as an ambivalent one, which, involving also much suffering,
oscillates between two different ways of positioning the self. A dream of
return is always dominant for the outcasts, who either feel at the margins or
do not wish to immerse themselves any deeper in the society they have
moved into. Migrating means instead reaching a different level of experience
and knowledge of the world to the outsiders, who can successfully translate
the detachment of their special positioning into a creative and hybrid
reconstruction of identities.
Key words: migration; identities; dialogical self; autobiographies; young
people; hybridity

1. Introduction

In the rapid changing world of late modernity migration has become a

central feature of social life. Moving is encouraged by global capitalism,
which promotes the identities of mobile, free, and unattached individuals,
each of them a flexible work unit, able to adapt to the changing
requirements of the labour market (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995). Job
insecurity means there may be no jobs for life any longer and moving to
different locations may increasingly be required to find employment.
Qualifications are ageing fast, not fulfilling the new requirements as well
as the expectations people may have had of them, and so training and reskilling have to extend into adult life. Thinking about the future thus
DOI: 10.1080/14616690601079424



becomes more difficult in times of rapid change, since there can be no

certainty as to what will still be valid tomorrow.
In these uncertain circumstances, the parameters regulating human
existence, space and time, have undergone a major transformation: they
have been compressed (Bauman 1998). Time is characteristically experienced short-term: all attention is focussed on the present, which is
perceived as disconnected from, and bearing no relation of continuity to
the past or the future. According to Bauman (1998), people, like
consumers, are pushed to search for ever new and instant satisfaction,
enjoying the present and committing themselves only until further
notice. In the contemporary world of late modernity mobility is thus the
ultimate value. Even when lacking navigation charts, people are requested
to move, the act of departure being more important than the destination in
itself (Sennett 1998). However, exactly the degree to which one may be
free to move has become one stratification criteria in society (Bauman
1998; Rose 1995).
Globalisation has greatly intensified the degree of cultural contact in
our lives. It is no longer necessary to travel to encounter other traditions
and cultures: the cultural other is nowadays extensively present in our
daily experience even when we stay local. With the new technologies,
events which are happening on the other side of the globe may be
experienced as part of our everyday routine and as highly relevant to the self. Space may thus have little relevance to the definition
of identities. People living in different parts of the world are exposed
by the media to the same cultural models, which, lacking a grounding in
local traditions, become part of their repertoires of possible selves (Markus
and Nurius 1986), and in a collage effect (Giddens 1991), where
components from the most disparate and remote discourses with no
spatial or temporal continuity are placed together, contribute to the
construction of identities.
In such a fast changing context, many are the daily life occurrences
which may potentially turn the self into a foreigner. The experience of
being a foreigner or, in Simmels words, a stranger (Simmel 1971 [1908]),
is not anymore a prerogative of travellers and migrants alone, but can
easily be lived by anyone: in the world of late modernity the existential
condition of the foreigner, which is typically characterised by rapid social
change, can be taken to represent the human condition as a whole. This
research has thus chosen to explore the process of identity construction in
relation to a case study of migration, on the assumption that the identity
dynamics lived by migrants would show at a higher level of intensity the
same sort of processes which may be valid more generally in the
contemporary world.

Between outcast and outsider


2. Studying migrant identities with a dialogical, self other approach


Studying the identities of migrants requires a focus on the relation

between identities and change over time and space. A dynamic model of
identities is thus needed, a model which can account for the complex ways
in which different cultures participate in the process of identity
construction in the contemporary global and postcolonial context
(Bhabha 1994). On the assumption that we construct our identities in a
dialogue with the other, defining who we are primarily through the
relationship to what we are not, I have based this research on what I have
called a self other model of identities. The starting point for this
relational model is Hermans theorisation of the dialogical self (Hermans
2001a,b; Hermans and Kempen 1993, 1998).
Decentralising both notions of self and of culture (Hermans 2001a), the
dialogical approach challenges the standard Western notion that a
boundary differentiating and opposing the self to the other should instead
be fundamental in the process of identity construction (Paasi 2001). It is a
dynamic construct which is able to account for the co-presence of different
cultures in ones self-construction, as well as to integrate the dimensions
of uncertainty and of the imaginary (Hermans 2001b). By referring to the
dialectics of self and other it looks at identities as multiple and shifting
narrative constructions, made of diverse and often conflicting selves
(Markus and Nurius 1986), and constantly being negotiated.
As outlined by Markus and Nurius (1986) in their theory of possible
selves, an array of different and even contradictory self-representations
make the totality of our self-knowledge, framing the direction of our
future actions. Possible selves may act as incentives and role-models,
representing our goals and what we would like to be, our wished-for selves,
or else they may stand as threats and feared selves, and remind us of what
we are afraid of becoming. In a dialogical dimension (Hermans 2001a),
they may be viewed as multiple voices speaking within the same subject,
and engaging in a process of inner dialogue between different and
contrasting worldviews.
The pole of the other, which in this perspective contributes very
significantly to the shaping of identities, can thus be broadly understood as
a multiplicity of voices, arising from both within and without the subject.
Present within ones individual consciousness in the form of representations of significant others, this other can be thought of as pertaining to the
world of everyday experience, as well as to the world of ones imaginary.
Either when acting as role-models or when as threats, these representations may thus directly arise from our own past life experiences, but can
also be based on the inner dialogue we may entertain with figures which



have a mere imaginal quality (Hermans et al. 1993), yet still a significant
centrality to our lives.
The dialogical model allows an appreciation of the impact of different
identity narratives on ones self-constructions, whether they respond to
the logic of dominant, context provided identities, or to alternative
discourses and narratives of resistance (Smith 1993). It can therefore
account for the ways in which people position themselves and negotiate
between different discourses, allowing the asymmetries in power existing
in societies between different cultures and social groups to emerge in their
complexity (Hermans 2001a). This perspective thus supersedes the
paradigm of acculturation studies (Berry and Sam 1997), which,
presupposing a linear model of cultural change, view cultures as mutually
distinct and internally homogenous. Provided it ever had any theoretical
validity, such a static view definitely cannot hold in the age of
globalisation, when cultures are making contact and mixing to an
unprecedented degree (Bhatia and Ram 2001), and people may easily be
part of both the in-group and the out-group at the same time
(Chryssochoou 2000).

3. The migration of young people in Europe: An autobiographical study

The migration case study that this research has investigated is one type of
movement which is typically experienced by young people in contemporary Europe. Migration in the globalised world is a reality which involves
very different people. On the one hand there is the migration of the postindustrial migrants (King 1995): the asylum seekers, the refugees, the
economic migrants of today. These are people who migrate mainly due to
push rather than pull factors, that is to say they migrate more in order to
escape difficult situations at home than because of what they may find in
their countries of destination. On the other hand there is the migration of
the global nomads (Bauman 1998), the highly qualified people who
migrate to find jobs that are adequate to their skills and qualifications.
These two very different worlds of migration co-exist in connection with a
demand for labour which is polarised between the highly skilled and
competitive positions and the unskilled jobs, which may be filled by people
who are available to take them at any low rate of pay.
This research has studied one case of migration in the global nomads
category: the move of young Europeans within the Union, a new form of
migration made possible by recent economic and political changes. By
moving, these young people are actively taking advantage of the new
possibilities for internal movement that the European Union has recently
granted to its own citizens. These young European migrants may be

Between outcast and outsider


considered a vanguard of young people, since their mobility is a new

phenomenon which would have been unimaginable only a few years ago,
and also because by moving they express the aspirations of the other young
people of their generation who stay local but would often like to make
those experiences themselves.
The migrants who took part in this research were 20 young people, ten
of English nationality who had migrated to Italy, and ten of Italian
nationality who had migrated to England. They were half of the total
sample that I investigated for my Ph.D. project on young people and
identities at the Centre for Family Research of the University of
Cambridge1 (Bagnoli 2001). The fieldwork study was conducted in Italy
and in England, in the Provincia di Firenze and in Cambridgeshire,
respectively, from late February 1998 until early October 1999. The young
people, aged 16 26, came from varied backgrounds and were equally
divided between men and women.
The research was an autobiographical project which actively involved
the young people as co-researchers and which I designed by taking as a
framework my own life experience of migrating from Italy to England as a
young woman. This aspect was very important, in that sharing the identity
of the migrant was a crucial component of the relationship which in each
single case was established between the subjectivities of the participants
and mine. The study of identities was approached holistically and involved
the use of a multi-method qualitative approach, the aims of which were
encouraging reflexivity, providing a variety of media in accordance with
different styles of self-expression, and allowing a full participation of the
young people as authors of their autobiographies (Bagnoli 2004).
I met participants for a first open-ended interview, which familiarised
them with the study themes and included the visual technique of the selfportrait: representing themselves at that moment in time on a white paper.
Starting on the day following the interview, they were asked to keep a oneweek diary and to provide a photograph of themselves that they
particularly liked. A second interview was finally arranged, guided by
the diaries (Zimmerman and Wieder 1977) and by the rest of the
autobiographical materials collected. Data from different sources were
commonly analysed according to the criteria of qualitative narrative
analysis (Lieblich et al. 1998), and with the aid of the Atlas-ti computer
software (Muhr 1994). The multi-dimensional nature of this methodology,
with its open and flexible structure, was very successful with the young
people who took part, who were indeed able to guide the research

1. This project was supported by the European Commission with a Marie Curie TMR



according to the directions that they preferred, and who put great
enthusiasm in the project.

4. Migration stories

My interest here was seeing what sort of changes, if any, would emerge in
young peoples identities with the experience of migrating. The quality of
these changes would obviously be related to the specific characters of the
migration stories. Only first generation migrants, whose migration had a
time frame of at least six months, were included in the sample. Three of
these young people had migrated with their family, the rest individually.
One common feature in these stories was that what one was moving away
from was usually clearer than the direction one was going towards. Often
associated with an experience of loss, such as finishing school, changing
jobs, or breaking up with a partner, the decision to migrate appeared
related to three main motives: education, employment, and relationships.
Within individual stories, however, these motives often intertwined.
Education is by far the most common reason for migrating. For young
Italians in particular, a study programme abroad, typically a period of
language study, is the most popular ways of first leaving home. Studying
abroad is often undertaken within specific educational exchange programmes, such as the Erasmus project. Others move without the help of
an educational institution, often arranging to stay with a family as an au
pair. Among the English young people it is also very common to take a
year out. Employment may also motivate a move, either to find a job, to
avoid unemployment, or to change jobs. Finally, relationships may be
associated with migration either as a push factor, typically in the cases of a
relationship break-up and of parental divorce, or as a pull factor, when
joining ones partner abroad.
The unclear direction which characterises most of these stories may
allow one to read them in terms of moratorium (Erikson 1982)
experiences, that is to say, migration experiences which allow some degree
of experimentation of different possibilities, before any commitment is
taken. Migrating may therefore be, for these young Europeans, one way to
explore with different identities. However, not everyone in the sample
changed their identities substantially as a result. For at least seven young
people, time spent abroad, although important in many ways, was sort of
put in brackets within their lives, and did not appear to have any especially
significant impact on identities. I have labelled these moratorium
migrants. For the remaining 13, the experience of living in an unfamiliar
environment became instead so meaningful to produce some peculiar

Between outcast and outsider


Migrant types


total number in sample: 20
Figure 1.

Migrant types.

changes on their identities. These migrants reconstructed their identities

oscillating between the positions of outcast and outsider (Figure 1).
The stories narrated by Emma2 and Pamela are a good illustration of
this psychological duality which is so characteristic of migrants
experience. They are the only two stories in which employment figures
as the main motive behind migration, and are important also because they
refer to two distinct narratives and cultural patterns of migrating, one
typically English, the other typically Italian.
In the story she narrates about her migration, Emma, a 26-year-old
English travel agent living in Florence, assigns an important role to the
dimension of fate. When she decided to leave her job at a London auction
house to move to Italy, people seemed to think this too risky:
Emma : Everyone said: You know youve got a very good job in London (. . .)
And I was leaving to what I thought at the time was just a seasonal work (. . .) I
thought it was just going to be until October and then I didnt know what I was
going to be doing with my life. So everyone thought that was a big risk, but it
was the best thing I have ever done. Because I believe in fate and fate has
brought me back to Florence.

Indeed, Emma had already been in Florence before:

Emma : I took a year out between school and university and studied here in
Florence, that was when I first fell in love with Florence (. . .) I just fell in love
with it from the moment . . . The first moment I ever came here with my
mother when I was still . . . just turned eighteen, and then started studying
2. All names are fictional and have been chosen by participants themselves.



here. Stayed here for about six months and then had to come back (. . .) I knew
I wanted to come back here.

Fate seems to be drawing Emma to Florence. She describes her attraction

for the city in terms which construct the experience almost as a love-affair.
Yet from what Emma says about how her interest in Florence first
originated it becomes clear that not everything happened totally by
Emma : I was meant to be doing history of art and French at university, but /
em / then I had to do a re-take in my year off (. . .) I re-applied to universities
and they didnt have any places left to do history of art and French. So my
mother speaks Italian and loved everything about Italy, and so she said Well
why dont you do history of art and Italian? So I got into university to do
history of art and Italian.

Emmas mother has had an important role in her migration: this is an

example of what, building on Griecos (1987) notion of chain migration, I
have called a psychological chain migration. Whereas a chain migration
involves the existence, in the place of destination, of a social network
which may potentially act as a support, a psychological chain refers to the
shared construction of a psychological link that will eventually attract a
migration even in the absence of any existing social connection. In this
case, the shared mother daughter love for Florence has been at the
origin of the young womans move.
Many are the English migrants who similarly narrate their experience of
Italy in terms of love and passion. This reference to a language of
emotions echoes the cultural script of the Grand Tour (Towner 1985).
Routinely undertaken, from the seventeenth century onwards, by the
young of the English dominant classes with the aim of refining their
education, the Grand Tour typically touched the major cultural centres of
Europe. Florence was one of its most popular destinations and it is thus
not surprising, in a study that was based in Florence, that so many of the
English people who nowadays move to this city still make reference to the
Grand Tour tradition. Indeed, even the experience of taking a year out,
which Emma herself has done, and which is typically English, as indicated
even by the absence of an Italian translation, may be considered as one
contemporary version of the Grand Tour. The photograph that Emma
gave me confirms this narrative as a major cultural script (Figure 2). Here
Emma is sitting in Piazza della Signoria, in the very heart of Florence,
having some white wine, actively enjoying what best the world she has
moved into has to offer. The narrative that this image tells is the
quintessential in refinement: it is a Grand Tour narrative.


Between outcast and outsider

Figure 2.


Emmas photograph.

Like Emma, Pamela is a travel agent and has moved for employment
reasons, but her story of migration is very different. In the following
passage, she explains her reasons for migrating to London at the end of
Pamela : Finding a job, given that in Italy almost everyone is unemployed and
you cannot find a proper job (. . .) My town is not a big one and you would have
to move anyway. Move North, I am not speaking of the South, because, you
know, theres nothing much, and youve got more choice in the North of Italy
than in the South, and . . . Well, I came here in England to learn the language
and to find a job here.

Indeed in the South of Italy, where Pamela comes from, the unemployment rate among young women is as high as 60.1%, 46.1% for men
(ISTAT 2001). Though not occurring in her own family, out-migration is
thus a familiar experience for her background:
Pamela : My school mates (. . .) a couple of them are in Australia, others are in
America . . . Their parents were migrants who had returned to Italy, and you
know, cause you need a passport, a visa . . . They all go there because theres
more jobs than in Italy. And some of them have got their grandparents or their
uncles. It is easier for them.

The historical and socio-economic roots of the migration experienced by

Pamela and her friends are the same, yet their moves are different in that,
whereas her school mates are chain migrants, Pamela has had to face the
transition just on the basis of her own resources. However, although being


an individual enterprise, and a late modern one, her migration still

maintains several traits in common with the traditional pattern of
economic out-migration which has characterised Italy from the late
nineteenth century onwards. With a total of approximately five million of
its citizens today resident abroad, only since 1975 Italy has reversed its
status from that of a sending, to that of a receiving, country (Campani
2000). The Italian migration was historically village-based and involved
people of humble origins who from conditions of deprivation would move
towards more promising economic sites (Gabaccia 2000). These migrants
would typically bring with them an image of their homeland, which they
would nurture in a dream of return to finally accomplish at the end of a
lifetime of work. The first entry in Pamelas diary might easily have been
said by one of them:
Dear Diary,
My name is Pamela and I am Italian, sadly it has already been six years since
I moved to England for work. I say sadly because in a way I miss Italy, the sun,
but especially my family, and my countryside where as a little girl I would have
long walks with my dogs.
11/11/98, 19.30

The formal opening Dear Diary is a standard literary device which

officially establishes a dialogue, as well as a distance, between the self as
recorder and the diary as ongoing record of events. The content of this
extract is no less conventional: with its references to the sun, the family,
the countryside, and ones own sadness at being away, this page constructs
the identity of the migrant in terms of her heartfelt nostalgia for home.
This repertoire would indeed make sense to many of the more traditional
Italian migrants, in whose lives an idealised and often crystallised image of
Italy would be ever-present.
The stories told by Pamela and by Emma indicate two different cultural
patterns of migration, patterns which refer to two distinct historical
experiences of migrating: for the English, a migration of the dominant
classes, aimed at increasing cultural capital, for the Italians, a migration of
the lower classes, undertaken for economic reasons. However, from these
two stories also two different ways of living the condition of the migrant
become apparent: whereas Emma enjoys the world she has moved into,
and participating in its different culture, Pamela suffers for being away
and her ultimate aim is to finally be able to return home. This duality
characteristically defines the existential condition of the migrant as a state
of in between-ness (Lawson 2000), caught in a tension between a here
and a there, between the spaces of the home and of the host country.
Migrant identities accordingly reflect this ambiguity of separation and

Between outcast and outsider


entanglement, which makes the self long for a place when living in
another, identifying with home when abroad, and with abroad when home
(King 1995).

5. The identities of migrants between outcast and outsider

The process of identity reconstruction which migrants go through is

typically defined by this polarity between longing for home and getting to
know a different world. The perception of having a unique positioning in
society as an outsider, who can participate of multiple discourses and
develop a deeper, multi-layered perspective on the surrounding world, has
its negative pole in the feeling of not belonging and being an outcast, at
the margins of society. These two possible constructions, however, should
be considered contiguous, rather than mutually exclusive. As the
longitudinal nature of this research made evident, at different points in
their lifetime people may provide very different pictures of themselves.
The following two extracts from the interview with Johnny, a 26-year-old
teacher of English living in Florence, show a glimpse of the psychological
duality that is a trademark of migrants identities. In the first, Johnny
describes how he took the decision to stay in Florence:
Johnny : I thought I really do love this place. I would like to speak the language,
I would like not to be a tourist here, to spend some time, to understand the
country, because its not all wonderful, theres a lot of bad things too, its a
functioning country, you cant . . . stereotype it, em . . . And it became a
passion, really.

Speaking in the language of passions which we have seen to be typical of

the Grand Tour tradition, Johnny points out how deciding to stay meant
moving to a different positioning in the Italian context: from that of
tourist to that of foreigner. Whereas the tourist always has a home to
go back to, the foreigner is the man who comes today and stays
tomorrow, the potential wanderer (Bauman 1995). By staying, the
foreigner is more unsettling than the tourist, because he or she confronts
society with the unfamiliar and the unknown. Both an insider and an
outsider and a synthesis of remoteness and nearness (Simmel 1971 [1908]),
the foreigner is thus defined by duality, being able to be involved and
detached at the same time. Yet being an outsider may also easily turn into
becoming an outcast, the potential wanderer, confronting society with its
dark side (Bauman 1998). In Johnnys words, his is a middle position:


Johnny : Im now in the middle position in that Im a foreigner, I speak a little

Italian, and I live in the town, but Im not a Florentine, I never will be a
Florentine, but sometimes youre in the middle of these two camps and thats a
difficult position (. . .) You cant hide it . . . and you have to accept it. I think
you have to just accept it, or . . . or go, in a way, because otherwise it makes you
very unhappy, I think. I dont know anyone here who is English or American or
from another country, even if theyve been here twenty years, who still isnt a

Johnny may now achieve a deeper understanding of Italy, mastering the

local culture as a native, yet he knows that there are likely to be tensions
between the different worlds he now inhabits, and that managing these
tensions, which may be the cause of much unhappiness, may require a
great deal of effort and resources.
By moving to another country migrants go through a process of
reconstructing home, which involves, suspended between a here and a
there, both changing their relationship to their homeland and settling
into the new environment. Returning home is therefore always a
possibility for the migrant, even when it cannot be a realistic option,
and a dream of return may be extremely important for the definition of
migrant identities. Yet, when migrants do return, life at home may turn
out to be more problematic than expected. That was the experience of
Bianca, a 22-year-old au pair in Cambridge, when, back to Italy for the
Christmas holidays, she met her friends again:
Bianca : I went back (. . .) and they were still the same, as if time had stopped.
And many things which used to make me laugh before, things we would say
and do, which I would always be the first to say and do . . . Now they are still
doing them, and to me they are nothing (. . .) I felt really distant . . . I dont
know, I have had this feeling that I could never integrate there anymore, or that
in order to try and reintegrate back into their group I should go back, and
theres no way I will do that, since it did take me a while to take the decision
and detach from all that.

Bianca felt distant and estranged from the people who used to be
important to her, she had changed so much since leaving that she no
longer perceived any connection to her old friends. As she says, she does
not think that she will ever be able to reintegrate in her friends group:
the concept of integration is reputed to be, in the classic parameters of
acculturation studies (Berry and Sam 1997), the most successful and
adaptive outcome of migration. It refers to migrants being able to maintain
their own cultural diversity whilst also being full participants in the host
culture. Since, however, the acculturation paradigm cannot adequately

Between outcast and outsider


explain the complexities of cultural change in a global context, I have

referred to a process of reconstructing home, which considers the notion
of home in its social and psychological components, as the site of lived
relationships (McDowell 1999). It is clear from Biancas example that
maintaining a rapport with home when away is not easy, and may require a
considerable amount of work.
In their host home, migrants redefine their identities through a process
of remooring (Deaux 2000), successfully positioning themselves into the
culture of the other thanks to a system of supports. Three factors have
been found to be especially important in helping migrants remooring in
these migration stories: the expectations with which young people moved,
their ability to form a social network in the host country, and their
command of the language. The next two examples will show how for
migrants language may be a medium that emphasises ones own marginality, or alternatively a resource for the creative redefinition of ones own
Michelangelo is a 26-year-old Italian engineer working in Cambridge.
He feels unease with his English, and worries about his pronunciation:
Michelangelo : If youre in Italy among Italians (. . .) and one foreigner enters
the group: he speaks perfect Italian but has a strong accent. Well, in my view
you will hear this, no matter how good his Italian is. If he has got a strong
accent he will always sound to you as an outcast.

Having an accent marks the speaker as an outcast:

Michelangelo : The feeling of being an outcast may have nothing to do with your
pronunciation but . . . it is that feeling 3 of a foreigner being in the group, every
time there is a new dish, or you see something, everyone is asking: Will the
foreigner like it? (. . .) When they ask you the question: What about Italy . . .?
That really bothers me, because it makes me feel different.

Michelangelo does not like being the foreigner in the group, because all
social interaction will be based on that difference which inevitably defines
him as the outcast and the token Italian. He would much rather pass as
English if he could:
Michelangelo : If my pronunciation was alright and could pass as English, then
it would not come so much to mind that I am a foreigner.
3. Feeling/in English in the original.



Figure 3.

Jos self-portrait.

Passing (Goffman 1968), radically erasing his difference in order to

appear identical to the majority, is Michelangelos dream: he would like to
lose any trace of his Italian accent in order not to be placed in the outcast
role of the foreigner. In the terms of the acculturation framework, his
position in relation to the dominant culture is one of assimilation
(Camilleri and Malewska-Peyre 1997).
On the other hand, learning the language of the other may correspond
to becoming an active and full member of the host society: that is when the
new language successfully becomes a medium for the expression of
emotions (Trisielotis 1968), and migrants are able to establish significant
relationships with local people. That was the case of Johnny in the extract
above, as well as that of Jo, who writes in her self-portrait of becoming
Italian (Figure 3):
Jo : People say that Im becoming more Italian. They say its just the way I
speak, the way I use my hands a lot more when I speak, the way Im a lot more
confident, and little words that just keep coming out in Italian that I cant find
in English, words like magari. 4 In English I can never find an equivalent, so I
always say: magari .

This phenomenon typically occurs in migrants narratives: the emergence

of a hybrid speech which crosses different linguistic repertoires,
4. Magari is an adverb expressing a hypothetical situation and a wish with few chances of
success. The Hazon English/Italian Dictionary translates it as: even; perhaps, maybe;
even if; if only (Hazon 1981).


Between outcast and outsider


disrespectful of the norms and bridging the gaps without the aid of
translation. Grasping the concept of magari enables Jo both to add new
significance to her existing repertoires, and to play differently with them,
so that a difficulty of translation may even become a resource. The
migrants hybrid speech makes a creative use of language which reflects
the acquisition of new dimensions of meaning as well as the changing of

6. Butterflies, jokers, and nomads: constructing hybrid identities

Jos resourceful use of language is a good example of the creative potential

of hybridity. As defined by Bhabha, hybridity is not so much the fusion of
two cultural systems, but a third space which enables other positions to
emerge (Bhabha 1994). This research has shown that when they were able
to live their foreigner condition from the perspective of the outsider
migrants could also reinvent their identities as hybrid. Living as an
outsider meant to Johnny achieving a whole new knowledge perspective
from which to experience the world:
Johnny : I know that I cant walk into another world, another culture, and
immediately everyone presumes that Im part of it, Im not. But I wouldnt
enjoy it, or look at it, in a certain way, if I wasnt an outsider, I mean, my
perspective is of an outsider (. . .) you can look at something slightly detached,
which for me is interesting, because I like to write about these things, and so
for me its almost a positive.

Being an outsider allows one to look at the society around them with a
degree of detachment. Not all the people who move have the willingness
or indeed the resources necessary to achieve cultural competence into an
alien structure of meaning. Those who do, like Johnny, are true
cosmopolitans (Hannerz 1992), characterised by an open attitude that
enables them to make their way into the culture of the other. Johnny
greatly appreciates the advantages of the foreigners middle position:
being in between two cultures he can participate in both, elaborating for
himself a third dimension where to construct a hybrid identity (McDowell
1999). He creatively puts to work the privileged and detached view he can
have of society by writing about it, and also, as he says in his diary, by
interpreting the role of the foreigner in a home-movie to be made by some



We all went to a bar and discussed a filmino 5 they want to make / they do this
regularly apparently. They want me to be in it / as guess what?: / Lo
straniero 6 / of course. Perhaps always.
10/10/98, 02.00 am (11/10/98)

It is through some illuminating metaphors that these migrants narrate

their becoming hybrids. Johnny condenses the many different routes he
has attempted in his life with a poignant image:
Johnny : Until recently I found it very hard to stick to one thing! (. . .) I think I
would like to have more self-discipline, more self-discipline to write, more selfdiscipline to learn the language, these things, but Im very . . . like a butterfly,
you know, I land and . . . I forget.

Like a butterfly, Johnny has been moving from one experience to the
next without sticking to any, as well as without having any definite plan of
landing anywhere. His avoidance of commitment, while offering him
possibilities for self-reconstruction, also makes him feel he ought to be
better and have more self-discipline. Yet the labour market may render a
more disciplined or committed trajectory harder to trace: it is in fact the
light and discontinuous flight of the butterfly which may be more easily
undertaken (EGRIS 2001).
By offering a privileged dimension from which to experience the world,
being a foreigner opens wide possibilities for alternative scenarios in which
to reconstruct the self. Mark, a 23-year-old PhD student, enjoys the sense
of freedom that he experiences living in Italy:
Mark : Youre a foreigner, which puts you in a category outside all other
categories of the society youre living in (. . .) youre like the joker in a pack of
cards, the wild card: no one quite fits you in, because you come from another
category, so you are much sort of freer, no one really knows quite what to
assume about you, except that youre a foreigner.

Like the joker in a pack of cards, the foreigner enjoys a special freedom of
being outside all known categories: the only assumption which can
reasonably be made about the self regards ones nationality, all the rest is
undefined. That leaves the migrant with a vast array of possible selves to
play with, reinventing ones own identity at pleasure. Identity construction
is thus essentially an individual task which lacks any sense of commitment,
5. Filmino / home-movie.
6. Lo straniero / The foreigner.


Between outcast and outsider


responsibility or connection to some wider social narrative. The individualised nature of this positioning (Beck 1992) is explicit in Biancas words:
Bianca : I do not feel this need to go back home. I mean, if I could find a good
job, something here, I would take it. If by going back home I could find a job
which made me travel all the world I would take it. I am a bit of a nomad, I do
not get that attached to places, or to people . . . and then of people you can meet
so many that it is not a problem.

Presenting herself as a nomad, Bianca contests the assumption that she

would get attached to places or to people. Moving is what counts, and
moving to England has indeed meant to her reconstructing her life and
identity in a fundamental way. Being a global nomad means being able to
move with the requirements of the labour market as only commitment
(Beck 1992), achieving the possibility of redesigning identities fluidly, with
none of the ties which fix other less mobile and privileged people to space
(Bauman 1998).

7. Conclusion

The narratives collected in this research have identified a new form of

migration, distinguished by individualised patterns of moving. For the
young people of contemporary Europe, migration is one of the possible life
options available: able to move across different worlds, they can question
societys standards, and achieve a multiplicity of identity constructions.
Seeing themselves as the joker in the pack of cards, for whom none of the
rules regulating the play of others are valid, as nomads, with no ties to
any place or people, or as butterflies, flying from one possible life to
another, without commitment, these young people construct their stories
of migration in terms of individual experience and responsibility. What we
find here is not the move of industrious bees and ants, which in swarms go
to build their nests and hives, relying on networks of mutual support
(Werbner 1997). Like butterflies, these young migrants fly on their own,
according to a plan which responds only to their individually defined
goals. As a life-project, their migration is also not definitive, and retains a
non-committal character which always leaves a possibility of return open.
However, the possibilities to define choice biographies (Beck 1992) and
reconstruct identities through migration are differently accessed in terms
of ones positioning in the social structure. The young people who do are
therefore a vanguard, yet even amongst them the extent to which
migration can actually translate into a reconstruction of lives and identities
does significantly vary. Several young people may experience their


migration as a moratorium phase, during which they have the option of

experimenting with different lifestyles, which are however lived as
temporary, on the assumption that eventually they will go back to
whatever identities they previously had. Those whose migration leads
instead to significant changes in their identities characteristically live their
existential condition as foreigners in terms of a duality in between home
and the host country. Whereas for some, home always stays as the
ultimate goal they eventually aim to go back to, for others, migration
becomes the key opening a different level of experience and knowledge of
the world. Outcasts in the first case, who either feel at the margins or do
not wish to immerse any deeper into the world they have moved into, they
are instead cosmopolitan outsiders in the second, who enjoy their detached
and privileged outlook on the society around them.
When it is from the latter perspective that they narrate their stories,
young migrants are able to fully participate in the other culture as well as
in their own and to achieve, by creatively reflecting on their experience, a
further dimension. It is on that extra dimension that they may be able to
elaborate a hybrid reconstruction of identities, transgressing many of the
limitations that bind the locals instead. Yet, as it surfaces from many of the
migrants stories, their experiences involve also much suffering, and the
positioning of outsider and outcast may actually be contiguous.
Constructing oneself by means of a dialogue with the other does not
appear to be a straightforward process. The moment of encounter with the
other involves confronting the unknown and may be the cause of a great
deal of pain. Foreclosing identities (Erikson 1982) in terms of boundaries
and borders may thus be far easier than opening the self to include the
other and facing those uncertainties that the other may stand for. Only a
few of these migrants, a privileged group themselves, were in fact creative
outsiders who could reconstruct their identities as hybrids.
Thanks to its comparative nature, this research could also grasp the
different cultural repertoires that English and Italian young people have
available for making sense of their migration experiences. Interestingly,
contemporary young migrants narratives echo the traditional cultural
scripts which associate the English migration with a movement of the
dominant classes, the Italian one with a movement of the lower classes.
This seems to reflect the different conditions of the labour market in the
two countries. In particular, due to the high incidence of unemployment
amongst Italian youth, the self-positioning of young Italian migrants,
although late modern in character, shares striking similarities with the
identities of Italys economic migrants of the past.
These findings have significant implications for the dynamics with
which identities are constructed in the contemporary world. In a present
context where rapid changes go together with ever new uncertainties, we

Between outcast and outsider


may increasingly be able to define hybrid identities, adding new

dimensions of significance to our selves. Yet, the more variegated routes
of self-construction that are opened by the process of globalisation do not
automatically lead to identities becoming hybrid, but may actually result in
a closure to anything which is other. The question then is whether
hybridity can only be the privileged dimension of the few, even amongst
the global nomads, or whether it can also describe the identity processes of
those post-industrial migrants who are becoming the human waste
(Bauman 2003) of late modern societies. What are the chances for these
unwanted migrants to reconstruct their lives and identities in a position
other than that of outcast?
Globalisation has so far encouraged the free circulation of capital,
finance, and commodities, not of people. The definition of borders has
been the major issue for the countries of the European Union by which to
find a common identity. Fortress Europes concern with distinguishing the
insiders from the outsiders has been severely limiting the rights of nonEU citizens to trespass those borders through the adoption of repressive
migration policies (Massey 1995). By denying the rights to migrate and to
access citizenship, these policies construct the migrant as a criminal and
are inspired by the very opposite of a culture of dialogue. In times of
uncertainty, migrants become an easy scapegoat to the re-emerging racist
ideologies. Yet, with an increasingly multicultural future ahead, a
different, inclusive and hybrid model of Europe could instead be pursued.


The photograph in Figure 1 and drawing in Figure 2 are part of the

autobiographical data that I have collected in this research. All participants
have agreed to their data being used for research purposes and in
publications. In the case of photographs, I have requested for special
permission to publish. I am grateful to the young people who participated
in this research for their generosity and enthusiasm. A special thank you to
Emma for allowing me to use her photograph in this context.


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Dr Anna Bagnoli is Research Fellow at the Leeds Social Sciences Institute,

and Research Associate at the School of Sociology and Social Policy,
University of Leeds []. Her
current research with Dr Bren Neale and Dr Sarah Irwin, Young Lives and
Times: the Dynamics of Young Peoples Relationships, is a prospective
qualitative longitudinal study exploring young peoples relationships over
a 10-year time-span, which is funded under the Changing Lives stream of
the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods Real Life Methods Node
[]. Annas previous work on young people and
identities, from which this article is taken, was based at the Centre for
Family Research of the University of Cambridge [
Dr_Anna_Bagnoli.htm]. Her PhD research Narratives of Identity and
Migration: an Autobiographical Study on Young People in England and
Italy (Cambridge, 2001) was awarded an EC Marie Curie TMR Fellowship
(1998 /2000), as well as an EP Ramon y Cajal Scholarship (2001 /2002),
and an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship (2002 /2003).

Address for correspondence: Dr Anna Bagnoli, Research Fellow, Leeds

Social Sciences Institute, Beech Grove House, University of Leeds, Leeds
LS2 9JT, UK. Tel: /44 113 3434421. Fax: /44 113 3437071.
E-mail: Website: