A better life [style]: British migration to Western Australia made visible through the lens of consumption

Gillian Lesley Abel

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis looks at recent British migration to Western Australia arguing that it is largely invisible. While emigrations from the majority world to the minority world are well documented, British migration to Australia is not. This invisibility rests on assumptions of homogeneity within the British population; ethnic similitude with the host nation; relative affluence; and a lingering sense of British imperial legacies that inform views and choices available in the world. A productive way, then, to interpret this migration, is through the theoretical work on consumption and the examination of elements within that analytical frame, including, at a broad level, gender, ethnicity and class.

This recent migration is facilitated by Australian government policy, which seeks to increase the country's skills base. Existing migration literature tends to be reactive to policy and political demands from government. This thesis offers a fresh perspective in a field that retains a bias towards male, labour migration from the majority to the minority world. Recently, the focus of political concern, and of popular imagination and anxiety, which in turn informs the migration literature, has addressed such large population movements. We see this focus, despite efforts by most OECD countries to attract the less numerous, skilled and highly-skilled migrants.The thesis highlights the experience of those who are sometimes described as migrants of prosperity rather than austerity.

Findings are based largely on interviews and participant observation with a sample of female migrants from the UK. The majority of these migrants arrived in Australia as ‘skilled migrants’ between 2000 and 2007, the bulk of the remainder accompanying their skilled migrant husbands. Meeting Australia’s strict entry requirements means they form part of a fairly exclusive cohort. Despite this I categorise them as ‘middling’ migrants, due to their location between labour migrants moving with more pressing economic reasons or elites such as expatriate businessmen and women moving largely at company expense.

Their stories demonstrate a particular issue with the notion of labour migration in their context, as it appeared that their ‘skills’ were merely a facilitator to entry rather than the main reason behind their migration. The most commonly stated reason for migration was for a ‘better lifestyle’ for themselves and importantly, where relevant, their children. The focus onconsumption, as revealed through the migrant narratives, is a central empirical and conceptual focus.

This migration has taken place in a time of changing expectations of the citizen in the world. Whether one subscribes to post-modern theories of the self and the continuous need for choice or not, it is arguable that we do live in an era of increased complexity and are regularly presented with new options for consumption. We have increased opportunities to move outside traditional spaces to ‘be all we can be’ and I will argue in the thesis that making the most of those opportunities is something which informs the migration decision making process in those I studied.

The thesis demonstrates the validity of studying a group of privileged white migrants and further contributes to an emerging body of work on British emigrants, arguably normalised in migration literature through their seeming invisibility to researchers.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Harney, Nicholas, Supervisor
  • Baldassar, Loretta, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


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