Sussex Centre for Migration Research

Cultural Geographies of Counter-Diasporic Migration

Background and Research Questions

There is growing evidence from different migratory contexts around the world of the return of diasporic peoples to their homelands. Within this general phenomenon of ‘ancestral’ or ‘ethnic’ return migration, the relocation of the second generation to their parents’ country of origin is of specific interest in places of large-scale postwar migration such as the Caribbean, South Asia and the Mediterranean. In this study of the Greek diaspora, we asked three main research questions:

  1. How are images of Greece and experiences of Greekness fashioned in the diaspora, both at the micro level within families and local diasporic communities, and at a more macro scale with reference to Greek ethno-national identity?
  2. What are the reasons behind the decision of some members of the Greek second generation to ‘return’ to the parental homeland, and how are these decisions narrated and rationalised?
  3. How do second-generation returnees evaluate and narrate their post-return lives in Greece? Is the ‘homecoming’ experienced as a ‘welcome embrace’ or is it marked by experiences of disappointment and disillusionment?

Research Design and Methods

Answering the research questions involved a multi-method, multi-sited research strategy built around a core method of life-narrative interviews to quota-samples of second-generation Greeks who had settled in Greece in their adult life-stage. Two target-groups were specified: second-generation Greek-Americans and second-generation Greek-Germans, representing two major Greek diasporic destinations with contrasting migration histories (longer to the US, limited to the early postwar years in Germany) and contrasting social models of immigration (assimilation in the US, more exclusionary in Germany).  Detailed life-narratives were collected with the participation of 30 Greek-American and 31 Greek-German ‘returnees’. Interviews were carried out in Athens, Thessaloniki, Volos and Mytilene. A small number of focus groups were organised alongside the returnee interviews. Field research was also undertaken in Berlin and New York with further samples of first-generation Greek immigrants, second-generation non-returnees and community leaders – interviews, discussion groups, participation in Greek community events etc.

Key Findings

Research in Berlin and New York enabled exploration of the characteristics and specific histories of Greek diasporic settlement in these cities and their respective countries, and appreciation of the strength of Greek ethnic identity at the family and community level, passed on to the second generation.

Regarding the decision to relocate to Greece, five main ‘narratives of return’ were articulated:

  1. Return as the fulfilment of a dream, of being ‘at home in the homeland’; or, put in a slightly different way, the only way to attain the aspired true Greek identity is to live in the ancestral homeland.
  2. Return due to the attraction of the Greek way of life, seen as more relaxed, enjoyable and family-oriented, surrounded by an attractive climate, landscapes, historical monuments, seaside etc.
  3. The family narrative of return: the second generation returns as part of a family relocation; or the second generation ‘inherits’ the first-generation’s wish to return and actualises that wish, leaving the first generation behind in the diaspora.
  4. Return as escape: fleeing redundancy, business failure, a relationship breakdown or a difficult family situation – return to Greece is seen as an appropriate and legitimate escape-route.
  5. Return as a life-stage event: going to university in Greece, marriage to a Greek from Greece, retirement etc.

Post-return experiences were highly varied, but a majority of research participants expressed various instances of disappointment, even anger, at the realities of everyday life in Greece. Key sources of frustration and disillusionment were the widespread corruption in Greek society, especially evident when trying to access employment or building or business permits; excessive and impenetrable bureaucracy; poor quality of public services; lack of respect for the environment; and widespread xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Selected Publications

King, R. and Christou, A. (2010) Cultural geographies of counter-diasporic migration: perspectives from the study of second-generation ‘returnees’ to Greece, Population, Space and Place, 16(2): 103-119.
Christou, A. and King, R. (2010) Imagining ‘home’: diasporic landscapes of the Greek-German second generation, Geoforum, 41(4): 638-646.
King, R., Christou, A. and Teerling, J. (2011) ‘We took a bath with the chickens’: memories of childhood visits to the homeland by second-generation Greek and Greek-Cypriot ‘returnees’, Global Networks, 11(1): 1-23.
King, R., Christou, A. and Levitt, P. eds. (2011) Links to the Diasporic Homeland: Second-Generation and Ancestral ‘Return’ Mobilities, special issue of Mobilities, 6(4): 451-600.
Christou, A. and King, R. (2014) Counter-Diaspora: The Greek Second Generation Returns ‘Home’. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

See also:

Cultural Geographies of Counter-Diasporic Migration: The Second Generation Returns 'Home' [PDF 330.47KB]  (SCMR working paper number 45)

In addition, two more papers are in press and one remains under review.

Some photos from the Summer 2007 fieldwork in Berlin and New York