Elite Migration: Revisiting Class and Mobility

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 12:10 PM
Washington Room 4 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Nancy L. Green, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
Immigration history emerged out of labor history, and its focus has remained, understandably, the lower class immigrants who have worked in field, factory, and more recently the service industry. Without wanting to replace one set of immigrants with another, my aim is to ask how elite migrants, fairly invisible historical actors, can help question the categories of class, ethnicity, and transnationalism that are key to understanding migration in general. Two literatures need to be addressed. On the one hand, historians have explored padroni, ethnic brokers, and more recently translators as key actors in immigration history. The focus here, however, will be less on those elites that emerge from the migration streams than those who migrate as elites for purposes of work or pleasure. (Indeed two distinct sub categories may be the working rich and the idle rich.) On the other hand, following Erik Cohen’s early work, sociologists and anthropologists have recently begun to study “expats,” often arguing that the business or retiree communities are a particularly late 20th century phenomenon. I will argue that there is a more general, longer term history of elite migration, from merchant capitalists to colonial administrators to businessmen that may be questioned within the context of “migration history.” In particular, I will focus on the first half of the 20th century and use Americans abroad as an example to question issues such as length of stay and community participation in immigration history. They can help us ask what difference class makes in the history of transnational mobility.
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