Retirement home? France’s migrant worker hostels and the dilemma of late-in-life return.
Hunter, Alistair Pursell
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Unlike many of their North African and West African compatriots who reunified with family and settled in France in the 1970s and 80s, the decision of migrant worker hostel residents not to return definitively to places of origin at retirement is puzzling. Firstly, it calls into question the assumptions of the ‘myth of return’ literature, which explains non-return on the basis of family localisation. In the case of ‘geographically-single’ hostel residents, however, the grounds for non-return cannot be family localisation, since the men’s families remain in places of origin. Secondly, older hostel residents also remain unmoved by the financial incentives of a return homewards, where their French state pensions would have far greater purchasing power. Instead of definitive return, the overwhelming preference of hostel residents is for back-and-forth migration, between the hostel in France and communities of origin. The aim of this dissertation is to resolve this puzzle, by asking: What explains the hostel residents’ preference for back-and-forth mobility over definitive return at retirement? In order to make sense of these mobility decisions, several theories of migration are presented and evaluated against qualitative data from a multi-sited research design incorporating ethnography, life story and semi-structured interviews, and archive material. This fieldwork was carried out across France, Morocco and Senegal. Although no one theory adequately accounts for all the phenomena observed, the added value of each theory becomes most apparent when levels of analysis are kept distinct: at the household level as regards remittances; at the kinship/village level as regards re-integration in the home context; at the meso-level of ethnic communities in terms of migrants’ transnational ties; and at the macro-level of social systems concerning inclusion in healthcare and administrative organisations. Widening the focus beyond the puzzle/dilemma of late-in-life mobility, the thesis concludes by questioning what ‘home’ can mean for the retired hostel residents. An innovative way of theorising home – building on conventional conceptions of home based on territory and community – is outlined, arguing that to be ‘at home’ can also mean to be ‘included’ in different ‘social systems’. With this argument the thesis aims to contribute to broader debates on what it means for immigrants to belong and achieve inclusion in society.