Balancing mobility and moorings

By Karen O’Reilly

I wanted to respond to Ulrika’s comment about the balance between mobility and moorings. I really like this phrase as for me it captures something I have long tried to say. My research has been of British living in Spain, and more recently British (and other Westerners) living in Malaysia and Thailand. The fieldwork in East Asia has only just been completed and Kate and I have not even had time to discuss it yet. But, one thing that kept coming up when I was writing about Spain over the years, is this notion of balance. The attraction of another place to live in is quite simply (sometimes) that it is another place. Somewhere can only be exotic, exciting, different, challenging, as long as it remains other. Once we are familiar with it, and it becomes pedestrian, we start to find the same faults that we find in our own country (or somewhere else we have lived a while).  This may explain why some migrants are so reluctant to really integrate (whatever we might take that to mean); once they are a fully fledged member of that society they are no longer constantly aware of the advantages of one place over another.  However, the only way to retain both a sense of otherness and a sense of commitment to somewhere is to balance one place with or against another. It seems to me lifestyle migrants do this a lot. In Malaysia, I asked people why they came to live there, and people would list many other places they could have lived and the reasons they didn’t choose those places – often before telling me why Malaysia! Is it perhaps that the more we travel, virtually or physically, the more we want some of the good things from around the world, but they only seem good when contrasted with other things? I mean, some people told me they crave the cold from time to time and so go somewhere with snow for their ‘ice fix’!

2 thoughts on “Balancing mobility and moorings

  1. Thank you for this comment, Karen! I really think you´re right in that many people seek to balance and contrast the advantages of different places in order to keep the feeling of novelty or something out of the ordinary. I have not yet thought about it in this light, but I recognize some of the same stories among my respondents as well.

    I also understand this phrase to signify something of a reluctance to really leave the place of ‘home’, to really migrate to another place altogether. For my respondents, it was quite clear that they will never truly become Maltese, they will always be ‘the Swedes in Malta’, regardless if they integrate into society or not. They will also always have something to connect them to Sweden, be it close ones, or a second home, or just an abstract feeling of belonging or identity. Balancing the performance of mobility with the keeping of moorings, as I understand it, becomes a way to enjoy quality of life as it comes in opportunities related to both places.



    • I must add here that the situation of lifestyle migrant children is extremely interesting here. Will they also be “Swedes in Malta” (or whatever nationality their parents are in whatever destination)? They do not have the same experiences of sedentary life in their “native land” than their parents who have migrated as adults. The question is then, how do they define their belonging? The preliminary analysis of my data from Goa shows that the children are very talented in defining and negotiating their belonging but adults whom they meet seem to have trouble recognizing the children’s ways of defining home and belonging.


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