Critical expatriate studies

Changing expatriate communities in Asia and the blurring boundaries of expatriate identity

Authored by: James Farrer

Routledge Handbook of Asian Migrations

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  January  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138959859
eBook ISBN: 9781315660493
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter reviews a growing body of critical social science research on western expatriates in Asian contexts and develops an urban sociology perspective on expatriate communities. Borrowing from Eric Cohen’s classic essay on expatriate communities, I emphasise the collective social factors that have supported the existence of distinct expatriate communities: specialised institutions, associated geographies, and the informal social norms (Cohen 1977). Following this organisation, my review of research on expatriate communities in Asia shows continuities with the postcolonial characterisation of expatriate communities, while accounting for the blurring and fragmentation of the expatriate experience we see today. In particular, we see how the expatriate institutions, geographies and social norms all increasingly fail to support a distinctive and separate expatriate identity in Asia. However, expatriate communities have not disappeared and still occupy a distinctive position in Asian cities.

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