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Migrant families and their support networks: narratives of austerity

Mort, Lucy (2017) Migrant families and their support networks: narratives of austerity. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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Concerned with the experiences of migrant families in a time of increasing scarcity and anti-migrant rhetoric, this research set out to understand the impact of austerity on a demographic largely marginalised in the contemporary austerity literature. Ethnographic research in a voluntary organisation that supported migrant families and interviews with those that provided and accessed the service demonstrates the pervasive nature of crisis and the material and immaterial harms inflicted by austerity. An attention to narrative suggests ways in which austerity might be obscured, though not absent, in migrant family accounts of everyday life in the UK. The thesis begins by placing austerity within a historical context of racialised and restrictive welfare, and charts the contemporary austerity literature. This highlights the ways in which austerity is understood as affecting policy and discourse, and how these come to affect particular social groups. A smaller, though influential, body of work that considers the impact of austerity on migrant groups is reviewed to contextualise this study. Mixed-qualitative methods and the context in which they were implemented are discussed. Through reflexive engagement with methodology, this thesis highlights the rich and informative understandings that are developed through attending to spaces of crisis. Drawing on the ‘Listening Guide’ (Mauthner and Doucet, 2008) the analysis attends to the complexity of migrants’ everyday lives, through multiple readings that put researcher and participant subjectivity, relationships and structure in dialogue. The findings explore the interplay between policy, discourse and lived experience. An increasingly hostile environment toward migrants, funding cuts from central government, and a decontested space between local government and the voluntary sector coalesced in the closure of the organisation under study. Ethnographic observations and interviews with professionals highlight the affective nature of organisational loss. For migrant families, crisis is not a singular event. Austerity works to worsen transnational and historical inequalities, and existing inequalities work to obscure the effects of austerity. Through attention to narrative and the materiality of everyday lives, this thesis attends to both what austerity does and how it is understood by migrant families.

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