Understanding home: the case of Irish-born return migrants from the United States, 1996-2006
In this thesis, I examine the ideas of home among Irish-born return migrants who left the Republic of Ireland in the late-1980s/early-1990s for the United States, and then came back at the beginning of the 2000s. Drawing on an analysis of intensive interviews, I elucidate the ways in which my research participants articulate and use the concept of home to negotiate their (re)settlement experiences. The overarching argument of the thesis is that participants’ interpretations represent an alternative to fixed, bounded and exclusionary understandings of home, without necessarily downplaying the longing for a discreet, foundational and originary home. This is important because their accounts of home begin to challenge narrow readings of locality and stable definitions of identity. Moreover, their narratives of home force researchers to address awkward questions about who belongs to particular places, and on what basis claims to membership are made. I develop this argument throughout the thesis by analyzing participants’ descriptions of (re)settlement in the old/new places they inhabit. I show that the majority of participants conventionally justify the return decision as the restoration of a settled sense of home. The actual experience of (re)settlement, however, requires many participants to redefine home upon return. The anxieties associated with the return experience means that home can be simultaneously a space of both homecoming and leavetaking, blurring distinctions between ‘here’ and ‘there’, home and away. In effect, what participants’ narratives draw attention to is the often-overlooked tension between home’s dual meaning: its lived and longed-for aspects. While the reality of return revises the expectations surrounding homecoming, opening out home to broader sets of connections does not necessarily mitigate the longing to belong ‘at home’, to anchor the elusive aspects of home. Participants’ accounts of (re)settlement point towards an accommodation of both grounded and uprooted homes simultaneously: translocally lived, yet longed-for as discreetly-defined. These findings are significant, as they foreground the moored and mobile moments of home as complementary and co-existing rather than conflicting and contending. Return migrants’ (re)settlement experiences offer a productive entry point into investigating this paradoxical nature of home in contemporary societies.