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Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels

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Abstract

More and more attention is put by sociologists on the relation between cities, development and the activities and profiles of the people attracted by cities themselves. Brussels is a particularly vivid example of this relation, being so influenced by the massive percentage of European high-level migrants, called Expats, who live there on a temporary or a permanent basis. The article, besides trying to define what an Expat is, provides an exploratory outline of how they are perceived and they perceive themselves. Moreover, the article analyses their sense of community, showing that speaking of a coherent Expats’ community, as it is commonly done by Brussels’ institutions, might be quite imprecise.
Brussels Studies
La revue scientique électronique pour les recherches
sur Bruxelles / Het elektronisch wetenschappelijk
tijdschrift voor onderzoek over Brussel / The e-journal
for academic research on Brussels
2016
Collection générale | 2009
Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled
migrants in Brussels
Définir les expats : le cas des immigrés hautement qualifiés à Bruxelles
Een definitie van de expat: hoogopgeleide migranten in Brussel
Emanuele Gatti
Electronic version
URL: http://brussels.revues.org/681
ISSN: 2031-0293
Publisher
Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles
Electronic reference
Emanuele Gatti, « Dening the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels », Brussels Studies
[Online], General collection, document 28, Online since 31 August 2009, connection on 12 January
2017. URL : http://brussels.revues.org/681
The text is a facsimile of the print edition.
Licence CC BY
Emanuele Gatti
Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled
migrants in Brussels
More and more attention is put by sociologists on the relation between cities, devel-
opment and the activities and profiles of the people attracted by cities themselves.
Brussels is a particularly vivid example of this relation, being so influenced by the mas-
sive percentage of European high-level migrants, called Expats, who live there on a
temporary or a permanent basis. The article, besides trying to define what an Expat is,
provides an exploratory outline of how they are perceived and they perceive them-
selves. Moreover, the article analyses their sense of community, showing that speak-
ing of a coherent Expats’ community, as it is commonly done by Brussels’ institutions,
might be quite imprecise.
After a degree in Communication, followed by some professional experiences in the
field, Emanuele Gatti obtains a Ph.D. in Transborder Policies for Daily Life at the
International University Institute for European Studies, analysing the consequences of
non-family interpersonal relationships of European high skilled migrants in Brussels on
their mobility and identity schemes. Among his interests there are the human dimen-
sion of globalisation, the intra-European mobility and the European identity, as well as
the studies concerning interpersonal communication.
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels
www.brusselsstudies.be Issue 28, 31 august 2009. ISSN 2031-0293
Brussels Studies is published thanks to the support of the ISRIB (Institute for the
encouragement of Scientific Research and Innovation of Brussels - Brussels-Capital Region)
Contacts!:
Emanuele Gatti, gatti.emanuele@libero.it
Michel Hubert (ed. in chief), 02/211 78 53 –
0485/41 67 64 – hubert@fusl.ac.be
Introduction
Authors like Harvey (1990), Sassen (1996), Sennett (1998), Gasparini (1998) under-
line, from different points of view, how economy and policy making are not indiffer-
ent to geography. On the contrary, there is a geography of power, and cities are its
nodes. Harvey, for instance, maintains that cities are in open competition to attract
investments and people – not all kinds of people, of course, but tourists, investors
and high-skilled professionals. More recently, Florida (2002) establishes a relation
among economic development, creative workers and places, affirming that the most
creative workers tend to concentrate in specific cities, triggering a virtuous circle of
development which improves the quality of life and the general economic level of
those cities.
It is undeniable that Brussels, with its concentration of institution headquarters and
all the related companies and services, is a symbolic and material centre of power.
Such a centre of power attracts people, from all over the world but mainly from the
European countries, who come to work in those institutional entities (local, regional
and national representations, chambers of commerce, NGOs, but also universities
and research centres) or private organisations specialised in lobbying and European
project funding, as well as in consultancy and communication, translation and re-
cruitment (Huysseune and Jans, 2008).
Because of their high mobility, it is not easy to quantify the number of these high-
skilled migrants; the Brussels Europe Liaison Office advances a rough estimate of
100,000 people (around 10% of Brussels total population), a massive amount of
people who have a heavy impact on the fabric of the city.
In Brussels it is common to refer to these high-skilled migrants as the Expat com-
munity. Nevertheless, the actual nature of this community feeling is not clear; even
its existence remains doubtful, and the fact that expatriates recognise themselves in
such a community often seems to be taken for granted. In such a large number of
people, coming from almost all countries in the world (even though mainly from the
EU and, more generally, from the Western countries plus Japan), it is conceivable to
find diverse reactions to Brussels environment. Moreover, the ways people interact
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !1
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
both with other foreigners and with locals (whether of Belgian descent or not) may
differ widely.
To understand whether it is appropriate to speak about a community of expatriates,
a sound approach could consist in the investigation of expatriates’ sense of com-
munity, defined as the feeling of “belonging to a group or a community based upon
the perception of similarity among members and where reciprocal relations facilitate
the satisfaction of individual needs” (Maya-Jariego and Armitage, 2007: 744). This
article represents a first exploratory attempt to answer two questions:
Q1: Who forms the Expat community?
Q2: How do Brussels stakeholders contribute in creating this sense of community
and do they succeed in doing so?
To do this, over a 6-month period in Brussels I conducted 30 structured in-depth
interviews with young (23-35) professional expatriates from 25 different European1
countries, as well as 3 in-depth interviews with key people. In addition, I made a
textual analysis of paper publications specially catering to Expats (see Appendix).
The analysis of the interviewees’ point of view made it possible to go beyond a
theoretical understanding of the Expat phenomenon, defining what an Expat is and
clarifying the Expats’ sense of belonging to a community in an empirical way.
Defining Expats
Low- vs. high-skilled migrants
A possible approach to answer to Question 1 is to highlight the Expats’ particulari-
ties by differentiating them from common migrants. Brussels, like many European
capitals, is the destination of considerable immigration flows. Generally speaking,
this immigration is characterised by low levels of qualification and socio-economic
status, which evidently contrast with the Expats’ situation. Looking at the interview-
ees’ profiles, which provide a good survey of the average Expat, we discover that,
with just two exceptions, all are from families with a good social and cultural level,
where at least one of the parents has a university diploma. They all hold at least a
bachelor's degree, and the majority one or two master degrees. They all speak sev-
eral or many languages, and almost all had other experience abroad before coming
to Brussels. Indeed, Expats are considered educated people who go to Brussels
not because they are motivated by basic needs, but rather by professional reasons
or because they seek an experience abroad. Migrants, on the other hand, are per-
ceived as people who are obliged to leave their countries because of the tough life
and work conditions in their homeland:
(I feel) More an Expat, because I think an immigrant is somebody who
doesn’t really have the choice to come back and I know I have the
choice (interviewee from Poland, 1).
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !2
1 For this work, it was preferable to restrict the analysis to European countries, in the hypothe-
sis that high-level mobility from other continents might follow different schemes and arise from
different motivations with respect to European citizens.
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
(I do not consider myself) a migrant, no: I am here because I like it (...). I
didn’t come here because in my country I can’t find a job, in my country I
would live better than here, I came to get experience (interviewee from
Czech Republic).
Expats seem to represent a sort of “positive” immigration (although sometimes an-
noying for the changes it entails in Brussels urban environment), in contrast with the
“negative” traditional immigration, which is sometimes the target of xenophobia,
stereotyped as potentially violent, prone to crime and hardly or not at all integrated.
Interestingly, this differentiation is applied not only to visible migrants (like those
coming from Africa or the Far East), but to EU migrants as well. This can be seen in
comparisons between the perceptions of low-skilled and high-skilled migrants from
Eastern Europe: whereas the former are considered to be violent and involved in
criminal activities, the latter are accused at most of being noisy during the night.
As a matter of fact, this division has also a spatial connotation, confirming that indi-
viduals do not locate themselves in the city randomly, but rather add their own terri-
torialisation mode to the existing social construction of urban space (Cailliez, 2007):
low-skilled migrants, especially but not only those from North-Africa, concentrate in
specific neighbourhoods. Often, long-established Expats and estate agencies rec-
ommend newcomers to avoid these areas (the classical advice one may receive
when looking for an apartment in Brussels is on the order of: “do not go there, it is in
a North Africa area”).
Consequently, migrants and expatriates do not seem to get in touch as they have
different biographies, different links to their country of origin, and obviously a totally
different perception of Belgium and their future there. In Ans Persoons’ words2
:
The only difference that I make is between people who came here in the
60s or in the 70s, mostly to do dirty work (…), and people who came
here because they had a job in the European institutions. (…) they don’t
really get in touch (…). They are two groups (…).
However, the strong differentiation between traditional migrants and Expats does
not automatically imply a better integration in the Belgian societies by the latter, but
rather the opposite. As for the local residents:
Belgians tend to dismiss (high-skilled migrants) as remote and temporary
eurocrats and expats – with a probably exploitative relationship to the city
(...). Lately, negativity towards these European foreigners in the city has
only grown (Favell, 2008: 49).
Many Bruxellois see Expats as privileged and high-salaried people. They are an-
noyed by the urban architectural transformations to create the physical spaces that
host the EU institutions and are worried by the increase in real estate prices due to
the Expats’ growing demand (Bernard, 2008). Regarding their social status at least,
Expats are often seen as a separate community.
This said, a definition of Expat might require considerations that go beyond a per-
son’s nationality or mobility schemes, and imply social status, education level and
profession.
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !3
2 Ans Persoons works at the Brussels Europe Liaison Office and is one of my key interviewees.
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
Time-frame of the Expats' stay in Brussels
An element to consider when distinguishing between migrants and Expats is the
time frame of their stay in Brussels. Expats generally tend to remain in Brussels for a
limited period of time. This is confirmed by the interviewees, who usually see their
experience in Brussels as strictly temporary (from some months to about 4 years).
Only four of them are prepared to live in Brussels for the rest of their lives, and it is
significant that all four have their family or partner with them in the capital city:
Here you know that people are there for a temporary time, at least, the
people that my job makes me meet: I know they are here for a short pe-
riod of time, say 3-4 years, and they are going to leave most of the times;
or maybe they are here only for a year and then they leave; or for a stage
of 6 months, and then they leave. So the feeling here is that everything is
temporary, everything is in transition (interviewee from Malta).
Nevertheless, a more careful analysis shows that this parameter may be too vague
to be considered as an element of differentiation among traditional migrants and
Expats. Firstly, it remains to be shown that traditional migrants stay in Brussels for
prolonged periods: how many of them actually remain in the city and take part in a
foreign community and how many just pass through before they go to other coun-
tries or back home? Secondly, even though the average perception confirms the
idea of a very high turnover among Expats, it is also true that some of them eventu-
ally remain in Brussels for years and years, either for sentimental or professional
reasons. As highlighted by Ans Persoons, there are professionals who come to
Brussels with the idea of remaining for a short period but then spend their entire life
there: “They want to go back to their countries after they retire, but then they realise
that Belgium is their country”. Are they considered (and do they consider them-
selves) Expats or rather integrated EU migrants? According to the interviewees,
many Expats who have remained in Brussels in a stable way still perceive them-
selves as living a temporary experience, and some dream about returning home
when they retire, as exemplified by the following quotation:
How long will I stay you mean? That’s a good question. Something of
which I think about regularly. For the time being I’m here, for sure I won’t
stay here for the rest of my life, it’s something provisory, it’s related to
professional and private life at the same time. Sometimes I think time is
going forward… (interviewee from Finland, 1, working permanently in the
Commission).
Again, further investigation is needed in order to analyse the temporal schemes of
Expats and traditional migrants. In any case, the limited temporal horizon of Expats
in Brussels is confirmed by the fact that some Expats, seeing themselves as tempo-
rary migrants, refuse to make the effort to learn French or Dutch. It is actually sur-
prising to discover that many people enrolled in French schools at very basic learn-
ing levels have already spent 3 or 4 years in Brussels. Of course, not speaking the
languages of the country they live in hampers the Expats’ ability to integrate with
Belgians. However, unlike low-skilled migrants, they do not seem to be expected to
learn French or Dutch. This is confirmed by the publications analysis: with the ex-
ception of Expats in Brussels (both in English and French) and Agenda (which also
has some articles in Flemish), all publications are in English, which in fact is the Ex-
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !4
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
pat community's language. Some advertisements even highlight that the advertised
shop or agency personnel speak English. “If you already know a foreign language,
Belgium is an excellent place to maintain and improve your linguistic skills”, we read
in Newcomer (Autumn 2006: 105), both because there are large national communi-
ties and because “English-language books, videos and DVDs are widely available in
libraries and shops in Belgium” (ivi: 116). In other words, the possibility for a life in a
new country without having to learn its language is an incentive to go there, even
though it implicitly means that Expats who cannot speak the local languages will
likely create their interpersonal relationships within the Expat community alone.
One of the main consequences of a temporary stay is the difficulty, felt by both Bel-
gians and Expats, to invest emotionally in interpersonal relationships with people
who will probably leave within a short while. Expats, however, are all in the same
situation, usually meet at the work place, and find it easier to frequent other expatri-
ates. On the contrary, when an effort to go beyond the invisible barriers between the
Belgian and the Expats communities is required, often there is no wish to do so:
It is funny, I don’t have any Belgian friends and I don’t have any foreign
friend who would have Belgian friends: Belgians stick with each other,
they don’t really want to make friends within the foreigners, because for-
eigners are here only temporarily (interviewee from Slovenia).
If I was living here a long time then I would probably try to integrate more
with Belgian people, to spend more time with them. But now it’s a transi-
tory thing for me, yea, I’m not going to stay here for a long time. It’s hard
to get to know Belgians if you are not working with Belgians, and I think
Brussels is quite divided (interviewee from the United Kingdom).
Therefore, at both an interpersonal and socio-economic level, Expats are perceived
as a separate community.
Profiling Expats
Overall Expats appear to be a special subgroup of immigrants characterised by a
high level of education and a relatively high professional status, as summed up in
the abstracts below:
Highly educated, between 25 and 35, here for a limited time, quite extro-
verted, he (the Expat) likes to socialise, he likes to see new things, maybe
not career driven, I don’t think that all the people here are career driven, I
know people goal driven and other people who are here to make an ex-
perience, and most people don’t plan to stay here, most people want to
stay here for a period and then to go back home (…). And if you meet
people down here, they wear their suits, they speak this Eurolanguage,
which if you don’t know it currently is very hard to understand what peo-
ple talk about, so that forms a kind of subculture (interviewee from Swe-
den).
On the basis of the interviewees’ descriptions, Expats usually present the following
characteristics:
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !5
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
job driven;
in Brussels for a short period;
highly educated;
group in an international community and seem to be very sociable;
usually have minimum contacts with Belgians;
often do not speak French;
usually work in EU affairs and the related environment;
have high wages;
quite young.
Some of the perceptions listed above, however, are especially problematic. The fact,
for instance, that Expats are meant to enjoy high wages seems to be a stereotype
due to a misleading identification of all Expats with the minority who do work in the
European institutions. A large number of Expats actually work underpaid in NGOs
and private consulting firms. Moreover, a considerable number of Expats are unpaid
stagiaires.
A second point which seems open to criticism is the Expats' perceived youth. Actu-
ally, a great number of professionals are definitely older, and have established their
life and their family in Brussels.
Finally, identifying Expats exclusively with those who work in the EU institutions gives
a narrow view of the expatriates' reality, as this group is also formed by artists, sci-
entific researchers, engineers, etc., as well as by the families of many who have a
stable professional position. In this sense, the publications analysed contribute to
this imprecise idea as they usually place the accent on Brussels European identity
and its role as “capital of Europe”. However, it is difficult to underestimate the role of
the EU institutions in attracting high-skilled migrants and consequently characteris-
ing Brussels Expat community. Among the interviewees, only two of them do not
work in the EU environment and the related organisations. The majority studied
economics, political science or European affairs, and found in Brussels the possibil-
ity to work in their field. Moreover, all of them generally refer to the Expat community
as based on the European institutions.
These data seem to confirm Florida's (2002) theory about cities attracting power:
Brussels is attractive mainly (not exclusively, of course, but mainly) for those who are
interested in EU affairs and lobbying, and its expatriate community would have a
dominant number of this kind of people3. This consideration leads to the conclusion
that, whether it may be true that Expats are often not attached to Brussels as the
place they would like to be, it is misleading to affirm that they could go anywhere:
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !6
3 In the same way as Milan attracts people interested in fashion, Barcelona in architecture, etc.
Expatriate presence in a city may also be professionally very heterogeneous: Dublin, for exam-
ple, with its numerous English schools and its policy to attract corporate headquearters, is the
temporary destination for thousands of young people from all over the world and from different
extractions and backgrounds.
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
not only did they choose Brussels, but also they often have to go there because
Brussels is the only place that can offer the professional opportunities or experience
they are seeking.
A preconceived notion of Expat
Promoting Brussels for Expats
In order to describe the image of the Expat provided to newcomers, I will now dis-
cuss the publications analysed. Welcome to Brussels, Newcomer, Expat survival
guide and Expats in Brussels provide specific information about all the topics that
newcomers may find useful: accommodation, education, health, transport, banks,
culture, leisure activities, etc. Newcomer and Expats in Brussels are very much de-
tailed: the latter in particular is a 300-page guide with an impressive amount of in-
formation and useful addresses. This material is all the more relevant since new-
comers need to orientate themselves in their new urban environment and familiarise
with it (Cailliez, 2007).
Expats represent a great source of income for Brussels, so public and private or-
ganisations have an interest in investing in promotion that gives a positive image of
the city and helps Expats settle in. Even though at an urban scale the relation be-
tween Brussels and the European Union and its institutions is often controversial,
the marketing of Brussels is strictly linked to its role as “Capital of Europe”, which is
reflected in attractiveness policies at both the local and international scale (Calay,
2007). The very volume of this information offered may be seen as evidence that
many organisations make a profit out of attracting foreigners. A guide like Expats in
Brussels is so complete and precise that it is difficult for other guides to provide
additional information. If the only purpose of all this material were to inform foreign-
ers, Expats in Brussels could be adopted as an official guide and financed by the
public administration. On the contrary, it is the only publication among those men-
tioned that sells for a considerable price. When it is compared with Newcomer, To-
gether magazine or the Expat survival guide, the reason for both the price difference
and the abundance of information becomes clear: about the half the pages of these
publications are filled by advertisements. A brief review of these advertisements
gives an idea of the stakeholders prospering with Expats: relocation services, ac-
commodation agencies, hotels, residences, restaurants and food shops, laundry
services, sport and wellness clubs, childcare and schools (all international), post-
graduate colleges, language schools, banks and insurance companies, recruitment
agencies and career services, churches, travel agencies, airlines companies, car
rentals and sellers, foreign magazines and newspapers, etc. As Cailliez (2007)
notes, the existence of different interests also produces different and not fully corre-
sponding descriptions of the city.
On a very general plan, the presence of educated, middle- and upper-class foreign-
ers in Brussels is a benefit to the city, creating a virtuous circle: the more people
keep coming to Brussels and have a good experience, the more they attract new
people by promoting the city informally, by inviting their friends at home to join them,
by family reunifications (thus confirming the existence and functioning of migrants'
informal networks; see Urry, 2002 and 2003; Cass et al., 2005). Moreover, Expats
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !7
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
have families who come for visits, which creates a continuous tourist flow. Huge
economic interests are at stake around Expats, and it is natural that public and pri-
vate organisations try to attract them.
To do this, a simple strategy seems to be employed repeatedly, a simple message is
diffused explicitly or implicitly (at a narrative4
level): “Belgium might not be the place
where you want to live, but you are an important professional, so we will compen-
sate for your inconvenience by taking care of you and offering you all the comforts
you need to feel at home in our prestigious city”. So first an amount of useful infor-
mation about Brussels and its services is made available; secondly an institution like
the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office works to help newcomers settle down and inte-
grate in the city; thirdly, an entire economic system offers its services specially de-
signed for foreigners; and lastly, the community of those who have already settled
down respond to people's social needs.
Going through the publications, this approach is easily recognisable. If almost all the
interviewees express the idea that, for one reason or another, Brussels is a place
they do not really like and at the same time the place where they have to be, in the
documents analysed the city is presented as a place with light and shadows, but on
the whole cosy and stimulating. Most of all, Brussels is presented as the capital of
Europe, referring to the 2001 Treaty of Nice. This is what we read at the very begin-
ning of Brussels. Yours to discover:
Your favourite. Brussels, capital of the kingdom of Belgium is also the
capital of Europe (...). This cosmopolitan city that loves good food lives
life its way and expresses itself in a style very much its own: sometimes
rebellious and mischievous, sometimes thoughtful and composed, but
always very likeable. Despite its European dimension and despite all the
different languages spoken of every street, Brussels is still inspired by a
very “village-like” spirit (Brussels. Yours to discover: 3).
The Expat survival guide is even more explicit:
It is flat and boring, overcrowded, always rains and torn apart by the lan-
guage conflict. (…) Just some of the usual misconceptions about Bel-
gium, (…) home to the European Union, the self-proclaimed capital of
Europe (Expat survival guide: 4).
Newcomers articles are along the same line, although with a soberer tone:
Welcome to Belgium, land of hospitality. (…) The country may not be
what you expected, but it’s likely to win your heart. Belgium has wel-
comed expatriates for more than five centuries. Its tradition of hospitality
and tolerance date back to the middle ages (…). Recognising the impor-
tance of attracting foreign talent, the Belgian government makes an effort
to welcome expatriates and deal with their needs. A special office
(Brussels-Europe Liaison Office (…)) provides expatriates with a free ad-
visory services, covering everything (…). The country’s deep-rooted ex-
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !8
4 Here I use the term “narrative” to indicate those hidden arguments that underlie factual decla-
rations and reveal the presence of an inner persuasion. They often are the consequence of
personal values or implicit beliefs that are taken for granted.
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
patriate community provides a vast network of information and services
for newcomers. (…) It’s not just business that is booming. Brussels con-
sistently scores high on quality of life (…; Newcomer, Autumn 2006: 5).
Concerning leisure activities, Brussels is presented as a stimulating city, even
though, as Expats who have spent some years in it confirm, one needs to know it
well to find out what is on:
Even if the weather is miserable, you can spend the weekends taking in
the superb museums, visiting eclectic interiors or discovering quirky Bel-
gian design. The only problem is that Brussels reveals its secrets reluc-
tantly, and word-of-mouth is sometimes the only way to find out about
what to see (Newcomer, Autumn 2006: 16).
Meeting places for Expats are advertised. The Together magazine, for example, has
a survey called “the places to be”, with pictures of smiling beautiful people having
fun accompanying the addresses and the short descriptions of the events one can
find there. Events devoted to Expats are frequent: “Meet expats in the real world at
Expatica Speed Date events…” (Expat survival guide: 59). On-line dating sites are
also promoted:
Expatica date! Where expats click. Europe’s only online expat dating site. (…) you’ve
made the move, now get out and enjoy yourself (Expat survival guide: 59).
After all the information about how to settle in Brussels and enjoy the city, useful tips
on leaving Brussels are also offered, thus closing the Expat's “natural” moving cycle
and confirming the high foreigner turnover: “Selling up and moving on. You bought a
house in Belgium, now the time has come to move on” (Newcomer, Autumn 2006:
41).
Constructing an image of the Expat
The cited documents explicitly address Expats, already in their titles: Together
magazine. Dedicated to Bruxpats&business people in Brussels, Expat survival
guide, Expats in Brussels. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “expat” is an
informal synonym of expatriate. The fact that the analysed publications use the word
“expat” instead of expatriate, or even more informal words like “Bruxpat”, reveals a
familiarity which by itself already seems to go in the direction of creating a commu-
nity spirit, identification and sense of belonging. It is like winking at foreigners and
saying: “if you come here, you will be one of us, one of the club”. As Zanfrini (2004)
maintains, the typology used to organise and administratively define migration phe-
nomena reflects the expectations and the interests of the target society. This means
that every target society divides its immigrants and labels them, establishing with
each (artificial) group a precise social distance. By using the word Expats the exam-
ined publications stress the separation between migrants and expatriates, even
linguistically, in order to attribute a diverse value to each group.
Indeed, articles and advertisements focus on high status professionals, transmitting
the message: “we take care of you providing the highest level of services”. Some of
the many examples:
Brussels Studies
the e-journal for academic research on Brussels !9
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
Marriott executive apartments. Brussels European quarter. Welcome to
the Finest Executive Apartments in Brussels! When you need to stay
longer… «Home, Away from Home» (Newcomer, Autumn 2006: 26).
Expatplus. A healthy decision. Let us take care of your health care needs,
while you settle in Belgium. Expatplus has been specifically designed for
expats like you (Expat survival guide: 29).
Euromut health care. Live, we take care about the rest. It is essential that
you receive the best health care advice and customer service (…).
Euromut – The Expatriates Best Choice (Expat survival guide: 47).
Advertisements and articles emphasise the professional facet of their readers, or the
fact that they are highly demanding customers with special needs. An Italian bank
uses a solidarity rhetoric to promote its services: “As Expats, which bank can take
care of our financial affairs? Who understands an expat better than another expat?”
(Newcomer, Autumn 2006: 78).
All these contents rely on the idea that there is a defined Expat community in which
newcomers can immediately recognise, just because:
they have their own guides (as the ones analysed) and publications (as the To-
gether magazine or the highly popular The Bulletin);
they are addressed as Expats, as the titles of many of these publications do;
they have at their disposal, limited only by their spending capacity, every possible
dedicated service;
they can use a common language - English;
they have physical and virtual meeting places where it is easy to socialise with
other Expats.
The document analysis shows that there is a certain number of narratives at play in
the communication towards expatriates:
“It is a great experience to explore other countries”
“It is nice to meet different people”
“In Brussels it is easy to meet people”
“You are a professional, you deserve much, you have the right to pretend”
“Being an Expat you will enter in a world of opportunities”
This way, newcomers are somehow invited immediately to define themselves in a
social role, as a very powerful image of what an Expat should be is immediately
transmitted:
cosmopolitan, open to diversity and multicultural;
sociable and friendly;
career-driven or at least job-oriented;
exigent in demanding dedicated services and personnel able to speak in English;
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earning good money;
willing to “join the club”.
This image is implicit and is conveyed by a very peculiar use of the language, a spe-
cific type of advertisements, and narratives.
Interestingly, interviewees express a strong adherence to this described image, ei-
ther implicitly (narratives 4 and 5, above) and more often explicitly (narratives 1 to 3,
but also narrative 5, above). They often repeat in their own words the recognised
narratives and adopt them as their own opinion. Nonetheless, it must be added,
that a minority of the interviewees provide a critical description of the Brussels Expat
environment, suggesting that this adherence to a stereotyped view of how an Expat
should be and think is in fact a socialisation system, a way to feel part of the Expat
community.
Identifying as an Expat
Even though it is not possible to deepen the topic here, Expats have their rituals (like
the “happy hour” after work), their language (the so called Eurolanguage or Euro-
english, notorious for being quite different from proper English), their status symbols
(suits and dresses, European institutions and companies badges, etc.), their meet-
ing places (special squares, bars, but also conferences, events, etc.), their dedi-
cated publications and web sites, etc. Some of these elements help provide new-
comers with an idea of the Expat identity, of how an Expat should be. I will now
verify if these elements actually succeed in creating a sense of community by ana-
lysing interviewees’ declarations.
Ans Persons describes the Expat community enthusiastically:
I think it’s the realisation of the European Community in real, because you
see people living together, mixing up, sharing experiences (...), there are
so many nationalities here in Brussels living together, that’s what all
Europe is about (B: 193-197).
Some interviewees share her opinion:
here it’s like a melting pot, everything comes together, (...) this is like a
mosaic of cultures (interviewee from Finland, 2).
Nevertheless, they also show a more multi-faceted and sceptical opinion:
Do you know the publication “The Bulletin”? (...) When you read it, it
makes you believe that there is like an international community, but I think
there are many national communities. I know that I’m an expatriate, but I
don’t have this kind of community feeling of being an Expat. (...) I
wouldn’t say that all the Expats are one homogeneous group. I would
say that there are many grouping (…). I see the Expat as smaller groups,
not as one big group, but I also see that there is a certain Expat culture
as such, which is different from the one they have at home, so the Finns
here are different from the Finns at home (interviewee from Finland 2).
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E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
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According to this interviewee, there are many groups inside the Expat community
even though there is also a common cultural layer, or at least a common multicul-
tural predisposition, which makes it possible for all Expats to stay together.
Other interviewees focus on individual personality more than on the sense of be-
longing to the Expat community:
I should stay together with all the Expats and feel united to them because
they are in the same situation as I am? I don’t know. You can keep a
conversation with someone, “why are you here?”, the same conversation
of every party (...). If this is the empathy that I am supposed to have, it is
a little boring, (…) because everyone tells the same story. I prefer to stay
with people who are not in the same situation as I am, or to meet people
from here (Belgians), or from wherever, but people who do not do the
same as I do (interviewee from Spain).
That’s why I wouldn’t go to stagier parties, assistant parties, and stuff like
that: it’s always the stereotypic questions: “where are you from, what are
you doing here, who do you know in the Commission”, and maybe one
of the last question is “what is your name” or something like that, and
then the last question, you know, the social question is “what about the
weather?” (...): it’s very superficial, and it’s boring (...; interviewee from
Rumania).
Others simply refuse to identify with the Expat community:
I didn’t have any particular need to meet Expat people, I can meet them
already at work, some of them became my friends, but I’m not searching
for their company in particular. I meet people, Belgian and others, that’s
it, I didn’t have a particular necessity to go to Place Lux (one of the place
where Expats usually meet for the after hour) or whatever (interviewee
from Finland, 1).
The Expat's self-perception may vary widely and there are also people who do not
even feel comfortable with the “expatriate” notion itself. Claire-Lise Dautry5, ostensi-
bly showing a strong European identity, maintains that in Europe speaking about
expatriates is not correct, for distances among countries are short and cultural dif-
ferences are not pronounced:
I expatriated, but I do not feel an expatriate (...), because when you are
French, you do not feel an expatriate in Belgium: here is Europe. I have
just spent five years in China and over there there is an expatriate com-
munity (...). I do not feel neither an expatriate nor an immigrant, I feel
European, a Southern French detached by its headquarter in a city which
is at one hour from Paris. I am a detached professional. In “expatriation”
there is the word “ex” and I don’t feel at all “ex”.
These testimonies, just few examples among many others, show that speaking of
an Expat community is quite an arbitrary choice, as the sense of community seems
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5 Claire-Lise Dautry is Director of the French school Alliance Française!Bruxelles and is one of
my key interviewees.
E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
to be weak and not shared universally. Moreover, it seems to be based more on the
fact of being in the same moving condition than on a sense of membership.
Conclusions
The question opened by Claire-Lise Dautry is not solved. I have shown that Brussels
stakeholders produce a rhetoric about Expats and that while some interviewees
accept it passively, others do not identify with such a superficial model. Thus further
investigation is still needed to deepen the topic of Expat self-perception, especially
among those who have settled in Brussels for many years and who, although tech-
nically expatriates, might not define themselves as Expats. Nonetheless, it is now
possible to provide a first answer to the two research questions.
Question 1: Who forms the Expat community?
The Expat community is formed by highly skilled, highly educated migrants, of a
middle or good social level, who are professionally oriented. They are perceived to
be quite young on the average, and they usually stay in Brussels for a limited period,
even though a minority of them, normally the most mature ones, have decided to
settle in the city on a permanent basis. They are thought to hold important profes-
sional positions and receive high wages, but this perception is an effect of the incor-
rect correlation between EU institution officers and Expats.
Question 2: How do Brussels’ stakeholders contribute in creating this sense of
community and do they succeed in doing so?
Brussels’ stakeholders use a communication directed towards Expats which is
based on a number of identity assumptions about what an Expat is, the professional
position he covers and what his needs are. Nevertheless, the attempt to close all
expatriates in a community seems to be quite artificial and to provide just a superfi-
cial image of a more complex identity reality. Even though Expats may group to-
gether, the nature of this grouping is not homogeneous. Moreover, the sense of
membership in the community is often doubtful, as some Expats use strictly per-
sonal criteria to choose the company they keep.
Brussels Studies
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E. GATTI, ” Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels”,
Brussels Studies, Issue 28, 31 august 2009, www.brusselsstudies.be
Appendix
Publications that cater to expatriates are widespread in Brussels. Some of them are
directly produced by public financed institutions (like the Ministry of the Brussels-
Capital Region or by Brussels International-Tourism & Congress) or private entities.
The majority are guides that provide useful information to foreigners either wishing to
come to Brussels or already living in the city.
The documents taken into consideration are:
Mini-Bru. Statistical survey of the Brussels-Capital Region, published by the Ministry
of the Brussels-Capital Region (available for free);
Welcome to Brussels, published by the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office (available for
free);
Brussels. Yours to discover, one if the many thematic guides published by Brussels
International-Tourism & Congress, the Office de Promotion du Tourisme Wallo-
nie-Bruxelles and the Tourist Office of Flanders (available for free);
Agenda/Cinema. Out and about in Brussels, a weekly magazine which provides
information about events and cinema programs in the capital; written in three
languages (Flemish, French and English) and consequently supported by the
Flemish government and the Flemish Community Commission, is the only do-
cument considered that does not exclusively address expatriates;
Newcomer. An introduction to life in Belgium, a guide which has the form of a ma-
gazine and is re-edited every six months, sold (for 3) as supplement to the Ex-
pats-dedicated magazine “The Bulletin” (the issues considered are Autumn 2006
and Spring 2007);
Together magazine. Dedicated to Bruxpats&business people in Brussels, a privately
financed magazine first published in 2007 (available for free);
Expat survival guide. Your essential guide to living in Belgium, published by Expatica,
a company that provides information and communication services for expatria-
tes in several European cities, such as a well-known website
(www.expatica.com) which offers an electronic rental home finder and a meeting
forum (available for free);
Expats in Brussels. The practical guide to settling and living in Brussels, a bilingual
(English and French) yearly guide (already in its 8th edition); printed in book for-
mat. It is probably the most complete guide for Expats (15).
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This article examines the experiences of (re)producing home food in the daily life and food practices of Belgian Taiwanese immigrant women. The research is based on ethnography—both online and offline—and qualitative semi-structured interviews with seventeen Taiwanese immigrant women/housewives in Belgium. Participants’ food practices involve buying, growing, making, and sharing food. Buying Taiwanese food ingredients presents a genuine challenge, as Chinese and Asian supermarkets in Belgium do not carry all Taiwanese food items. Consequently, many Taiwanese immigrant women and housewives in this study share similar experiences of growing specific foods in their home garden; moreover, by doing so, they also transform their gardens in their private homes into transnational social spaces, and thereby connect their previous lived experiences and homeland memories with their present living circumstances. Moreover, Taiwanese immigrant women like to prepare and cook food with their husband and children while imparting Taiwanese food and cultural values through personal stories. Furthermore, by organizing and regularly participating in activities involving sharing and eating food with other Taiwanese immigrant women, these food-sharing events and behaviors also become an important social networking strategy that allows them to make, expand, and cultivate friendships; in addition, food sharing activities also assist the participants to construct a collective social identity of being immigrant mothers/housewives in a foreign land. However, what is meant by “Taiwanese” food varies substantially between participants, as do the associated emotional and ethnic meanings. Several things were stated to account for the taste of Taiwanese food, such as using certain condiments or the Ta Tung rice cooker. Equally diverse is the personal attachment of ethnonational identity toward the notion of home food, as discussions of childhood memories, ethnonational identity negotiation, and cultural markers are accompanied by critical reflection on the social constructed nature of home/ethnic foods in the migration contexts.
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In the past half-century, the oil-producing states of the Arab Gulf have undergone rapid and radical socioeconomic transformations, with particularly prominent transformations evident in the areas of urbanization and migration. While gated housing developments for foreign white-collar professionals have become prevalent in the cities of the Gulf, little attention has been paid to the social dimensions associated with these developments. This article examines the local social networks of female residents of gated communities in Bahrain. Drawing on data from surveys and in-depth interviews, the article identifies factors in the built and social environments that support or limit the formation of local social networks by the residents of gated communities. Based on these factors, the article offers a generalizable conceptual framework for understanding the mechanisms that shape the social networks of gated community residents. The article concludes that a focus on the perspectives of female gated community residents in Bahrain enhances understandings of urbanization and migration in the Gulf city.
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This note presents partial results of an on-going study of whether and how informal social organisations that include both host country and expatriate members serve as settings for expatriates to establish new relationships and develop a sense of belonging in a new environment. It is set in Puglia’s farthest southern reaches, a cultural and geographic zone called Salento. Salento has become known internationally for its distinctive folk music and dances, wine production and eco-friendly beaches. Its expatriate population continues to grow. The investigation has focused on four organisations to date. It tests the hypothesis that informal multicultural social organisations contribute to building trust among expatriate and local members, provide an interface across cultural and linguistic differences, and contribute to intercultural understanding. Research commenced in 2016 and has been conducted over multiple site visits for a combined total of 38 months. Although the organisations' activities were dramatically affected by the SARS COVID-19 health crisis, it has been possible to collect descriptive, interview, and survey data on their operations and members’ aspirations and draw some preliminary conclusions. The note presents, in particular, findings and discussion regarding the organisation English Practice in Lecce.
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This paper investigates the perception of diplomats by local inhabitants in the diplomatic quarter of Bern, Switzerland, well known as a ‘diplomatic site’. Through 16 semi-structured interviews with residents of the quarter, it was found that diplomats are perceived as a distant, separate community characterised by a lack of interest and effort to integrate into the host environment. In lieu of significant interactions, the perception was largely defined by the material dimensions of the diplomatic site and a generally positive understanding of diplomats. It is argued that this ambivalent, non-elitist, perception in Bern is two-dimensional, consisting of the personal, daily, spatially rooted, social experience of the diplomatic site situated within a wider societal narrative on diplomats and diplomacy, which should be accounted for in public diplomacy efforts. Future research should focus on investigating perceptions of diplomats outside of the diplomatic quarter to elucidate said societal narrative.
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This paper investigates the role that different degrees of place attachment play in the pleasure travel patterns of Western professional expatriates, via a qualitative study with in‐depth interviews as the main data collection approach. Four discrete groups of migrants were identified. “Push” factors that influenced home return travel varied across the groups, influencing the frequency of such activity. Likewise, the push and pull factors for travel within the Asia–Pacific region varied significantly across the groups, again influencing destination choice. The paper added new nuances to the existing knowledge on how place attachment influences travel behavior.
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Brussels is known worldwide for hosting (most of) the European institutions as well as several other international organisations like North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Besides the symbolic political value, their presence has an economic impact because of their administrative activities and staff remunerations. Estimating the economic impact poses two main challenges. First, the supranational nature of these organisations makes it challenging to quantify the size of these institutions and related bodies because country-based statistical systems hardly account for transnational organisations. Second, as these institutions and organisations mainly rely on taxpayers’ funding, policymakers need transparent estimates to assess the implications of their decisions as well as for a matter of accountability. For these purposes, a meticulous data collection is carried out, and transparent assumptions are used to estimate the local economic multiplier effect of these activities accounting for operational expenditures, employees’ consumption as well as (Belgian) taxes and saving. The results show that the economic impact for the Brussels-Capital Region lies between 23% and 26% of regional turnover and 19% and 20% of employment, while interregional spillovers are estimated being around 1.5% to 1.7% of regional turnover and 0.6% to 0.7% of employment for both Flemish and Walloon regions.
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What is the impact of the presence of European institutions on the real estate market in Brussels and its outskirts? Although the question may not be taboo, it is certainly an awkward one. If we blame the European Union for having too great an influence on the housing prices in Brussels, we risk being accused of populism (and insensitivity to the precious contribution made by the EU to the capital city). On the other hand, if we refuse to recognise any correlation, we are accused of being out of touch with reality. As regards the direct impact, this effect is both limited in geographic terms and confined to a certain segment of the built-up area. However, the concentration of EU staff in the affluent neighbourhoods of the capital and in the higher property categories does have indirect effects on the other sectors. As these prosperous areas gradually become financially inaccessible, the demand turns to slightly less exclusive areas – both nearby and further away – which, in turn, experience a rise in prices, and so on. Furthermore, the danger probably also lies in the gentrification caused by the Europeans despite themselves, as they settle in certain run-down neighbourhoods in the city centre. Needless to say, the issue is complex.
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"Language wars lie at the heart of Belgian history. Through a succession of bitter battles, endless power struggles and laborious compromises, Belgium’s political leaders gradually managed to elaborate, adjust and readjust a legal framework likely to facilitate a fairly peaceful cohabitation of the populations and a reasonably effective functioning of the institutions. But while squabbles are still going on about the survival of linguistic “facilities” in a number of Flemish communes or about how fluent Brussels firemen need to be in Dutch, the linguistic landscapes of Europe, Belgium and Brussels are undergoing unprecedented transformation which it is high time for us to appreciate." In this strong text, based amongst other things on the data presented in the Eurobarometer special 2006 issue entitled "Europeans and their languages", Professor Philippe Van Parijs gives his enlightened opinion as an intellectual involved in Brussels affairs in order to get the public debate to move forward.
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Brussels has acquired international capital status for regional and local lobbying. The establishment of a representation to the EU in Brussels has become the standard for regions (and, to a lesser extent, local authorities) from EU Member States. The activities of these representations present a specific profile that partly distinguishes them from classic interest groups and lobbies. They were established for a variety of reasons, such as seeking funding, playing a political role at EU level, and raising the region’s profile and connecting with networks and a supranational community in the proximity of the EU institutions. The offices’ goals and activities have since converged and they now all seek to inform, network, lobby, liaise, and market for their regions. Regions with legislative powers concentrate more on influencing EU policies, which their preferential access to the European Council and Commission allows them to do so effectively. Because of the diversified range of functions that regional offices fulfil, they are relevant and useful to their home regions and likely to be permanent fixtures in Brussels.
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This article explores the relation between multiple senses of communities (M-SOC), time and relationships. Modern communications have weakened the traditional relationship between physical setting and social space, enabling participation in multiple communities simultaneously. Physical presence is no longer necessary or a guarantee for participation. This article is based upon a simple premise, that while as individuals we give meaning to our realities across a complexity of communities, our relations are continuously situated in time and space. Time participating in one community is time not spent participating in another. Additionally we are continuously holding a dialogue with time, both interpreting the past and assessing the future. Emigrating and commuting are social phenomena that are both concerned with the physical movement of individuals between social spaces, with contrasting distributions of time and relations across social spaces. Data obtained from two separate survey populations — immigrants (N = 200) and commuting university students (N = 208) from the same town — provide the empirical basis of the article. UCINET was used to map respondents' personal networks and calculate relational variables. M-SOC, measured with the Sense of Community Index (SCI), was correlated with (1) the distribution of time, (2) the future expectations of and (3) relational variables across multiple communities. In the case of foreigners, the number of years living in Spain was a significant predictor in three different hierarchical regressions of the sense of community with their neighbourhood in the sending country, their neighbourhood in Spain and the community of expatriate compatriots. For commuters, the average time spent daily in the city of residence, the average degree of their personal networks and the presence of people from the city of residence in their personal networks were all positively associated with the sense of community of the city of residence.
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European migrants to Spain's coastal areas could be described as the archetypal elite transmigrant. Embodying Papastergiadis' spectre of placeless capital and the homeless subject, 'residential tourists' make creative use of modern communication technologies and increasingly accessible air travel to construct fluid migration trajectories, employing transnational affective and instrumental networks. However, research on British migrants to Spain has revealed a high incidence of social, cultural, economic, and political exclusion, Following a dream of starting a new life in a new place, some migrants do not wish to transcend the assimilationist. model, nor have the resources to depend on transnational ties. Their drearn is integration, but the tensions inherent in the mobility-enclosure dialectic-the contradictions between freedom of movement and the reassertion of the nation state, an ambiguous status in Spanish society, their own ambivalent attitudes - constrain both assimilation and their ability to transcend it and lead to marginalization.
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Eurostars and Eurocities: Free Movement and Mobility in an Integrating Europe examines intra-European Union migration in the cities of Amsterdam, London and Brussels. Based on sixty in-depth interviews of free moving European citizens, and more than five years of ethnographic and documentary research, it uncovers the rarely studied human dimension of European integration. Examines the mobility, lifestyle and career opportunities created by the borderless society of the European Union, as well as the barriers that still persist. Analyses the new migration trends, challenges to the welfare state, and forms of urban cosmopolitanism linked to processes of European integration.
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Bruxelles, Luxembourg et Strasbourg sont officiellement reconnues comme les trois principaux sièges d’institutions européennes. Cependant, cette reconnaissance de leur statut de siège s’est de plus en plus fréquemment transformée en une désignation comme « Capitale de l’Europe » (Calay, 2003). Dans cet article, l’auteur tente de montrer comment l’apparition de cette expression coïncide avec l’émergence de nouveaux imaginaires de la valorisation de l’implantation urbaine de l’Union Européenne. L’idée, tirée de la littérature produite au sein des études urbaines, de domination d’un « compromis de l’attractivité » dans les économies urbaines post-fordistes mérite, au regard d’études de cas pratiques, une certaine relativisation. En effet, si l’on peut observer une tendance à l’hégémonie de l’idée d’attractivité dans les politiques d’aménagement et de valorisation de l’implantation européenne à Bruxelles, à Luxembourg et à Strasbourg, l’article a montré l’importance des controverses en ce domaine. Controverses qui identifient une zone conflictuelle autour de l’usage des espaces européens et, à ce titre, autour de la valorisation des rapports entre l’Europe et la ville. Ainsi a-t-on pu voir que les objets architecturaux et urbanistiques développés pour accueillir l’institution parlementaire sur le sol des trois villes sont investis de diverses formes d’imaginaires.
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In this article I discuss just why travel takes place. Why does travel occur, especially with the development of new communications technologies? I unpack how corporeal proximity in diverse modes appears to make travel necessary and desirable. I examine how aspects of conversational practice and of `meetings' make travel obligatory for sustaining `physical proximity'. I go on to consider the roles that travel plays in social networks, using Putnam's recent analysis of social capital. The implications of different kinds of travel for the distribution of such social capital are spelled out. I examine what kinds of corporeal travel are necessary and appropriate for a rich and densely networked social life across various social groups. And in the light of these analyses of proximity and social capital, virtual travel will not in a simple sense substitute for corporeal travel, since intermittent co-presence appears obligatory for many forms of social life. However, virtual travel does seem to produce a strange and uncanny life on the screen that is near and far, present and absent, and it may be that this will change the very nature of what is experienced as `co-presence'. I conclude by showing how issues of social inclusion and exclusion cannot be examined without identifying the complex, overlapping and contradictory mobilities necessarily involved in the patterning of an embodied social life.
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Much of the literature on social exclusion ignores its ‘spatial’ or ‘mobility’ related aspects. This paper seeks to rectify this by examining the mobile processes and infrastructures of travel and transport that engender and reinforce social exclusion in contemporary societies. To the extent to which this issue is addressed, it is mainly organized around the notion of ‘access’ to activities, values and goods. This paper examines this discourse in some detail. It is argued that there are many dimensions of such access, that improving access is a complex matter because of the range of human activities that might need to be ‘accessed’, that in order to know what is to be accessed the changing nature of travel and communications requires examination, and that some dimensions of access are only revealed through changes in the infrastructure that ‘uncover’ previously hidden social exclusions. Claims about access and socio-spatial exclusion routinely make assumptions about what it is to participate effectively in society. We turn this question around, also asking how mobilities of different forms constitute societal values and sets of relations, participation in which may become important for social inclusion. This paper draws upon an extensive range of library, desk and field research to deal with crucial issues relating to the nature of a fair, just and mobile society.