Expatriate, migrant? The social life of migration categories and the polyvalent mobility of race

Sarah Kunz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


‘Expatriate’ is an unstable and contested term, as emphatically embraced by some, as rejected by others. The category ‘migrant’, on the other hand, can have all the veneer of a self-evident and technical category. Yet, their tense relationship suggests the usefulness of an examination of their co-production and combined effects. This article explores the everyday socio-cultural production of the category ‘migrant’ in its tense relationship with the category ‘expatriate’. More specifically, it draws on 8 months of ethnographic research in Nairobi and The Hague to examine how participants deploy the category ‘migrant’ in the context of conversations about ‘expatriates’ or ‘expatriate’ lives. The article argues that the category ‘migrant’ emerges as polysemic and malleable as it is constructed with and against the ‘expatriate’; both categories are joined by a constitutive but not straightforward relationship that is deeply politicised and specifically works to reproduce racialised power relations. The polysemy of these overlapping terms is thus reflective of and operative in racialised power relations in ways that demand more analytical attention. As such, the categories’ relationship reflects the ‘polyvalent mobility’ of race as it works through ostensibly neutral migration categories and ‘takes on the form of other things’.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2019


  • categories
  • Expatriate
  • migrant
  • polysemy
  • race and racism


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