Centre for Cultural Psychology


PhD Thesis by Sanna Schliewe

The thesis explores how privileged migration is experienced and negotiated in everyday encounters between expatriates and local domestic workers in India.

Last modified: 07.05.2019

Privileged Migration: Danes and their domestic workers in India

By Sanna Schliewe

The number of high skilled people moving between countries to work on temporary contracts is increasing. However, we know little about the phenomenological experiences and psychological dynamics of temporary migration. This thesis contributes to the limited literature in this field, with a particular focus on the psychological processes that take place when people from the Global North move to the Global South; a move that includes not only novel cultural encounters but also a rise in socioeconomic position. Based on extensive (phenomenological) fieldwork and a longitudinal interview study, the project explore how privileged migration is experienced and negotiated in everyday encounters between expatriates and local domestic workers in India. Furthermore, the complex dialogical relationship between the expatriates’ subjective experiences and the sociocultural settings of which they are part is illuminated through cultural psychology theory.

The thesis consists of an introduction to privileged migration, an explanation of the research design and cultural psychology theory, followed by four articles (Chapters 4-7). In Chapter 4 embodied ethnography is presented as a method to investigate expatriates’ affective- and sensory experiences during migration, and it can thus provide additional insight into the phenomenon of privileged migration. In Chapter 5, to get close to the concrete (spatial and temporal) dimensions of expatriate everyday life, the Mobile Life-World Map is proposed as a useful conceptual tool. With this in hand, it becomes clearer how and why integration into the local society is often difficult for expatriates and how and why other expatriates so easily become ready-made friends (and with this, central mediators of novelty). In Chapter 6 it is described how Danes employ a range of strategies (e.g., leveling) to sustain the experience of themselves as (morally) good persons when placed in the novel (and highly ambiguous) privileged position of employers of domestic staff in India. In Chapter 7 the expatriate community’s collective sharing of staff and social representations is outlined. An informal system of inheriting domestic workers exist in Delhi that seems to keep certain social norms quite stable over generations of expatriates in spite of active individual negotiations of this informal practice.

Ultimately, privileged migration may be pictured as a (liminal) situation in which the usual norms are loosening up. However, rather than a move away from pre-existing norms, this change may be more due to a selective adaptation of additional norm systems over the time of the posting, e.g. norms from the local expatriate community, the local (Indian) society, and norms related to the temporariness of the sojourn (minor-moral holidays).

The concluding section provides suggestions on how this novel knowledge may be used in applied settings.

Download thesis