Shanghai, September 2015. Mrs Liang had just moved from the village into her new urban dwelling and was experiencing one of the most challenging moments in her life.
Certainly, finding herself in a new environment that smelled
like fresh paint and cardboard boxes did not help. She looked around,
disoriented, struggling to find her own place in the city and not knowing where
Like many others in her situation, she found herself with
one foot in each of two houses: sometimes, objects or even family members are
divided between two or more places.
Gaining a sense of home is a process that every individual
experiences at some point during their lifetime. In the contemporary era,
people often experience several changes in home as their life takes them along
different paths and to different places. Mrs Liang observed:
an accepted path nowadays. After all, this generation of ours is always on the
move and perhaps we don’t need to follow our parents’ example: living a whole
life in one place and having the same job for a lifetime.
Her life aspirations as well as changes in home were far
from exceptional. In today’s China, there are nearly 285 million rural-to-urban
migrant workers, and migration is becoming an ever more accepted path of life.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the
meaning of home as a subject for empirical investigation and theoretical
exploration. However, there are multiple views as to how “home” is to be
defined and analyzed: home is arguably a definable and analyzable
“socio-spatial system,” it is not merely a question of feelings, but rather an
intellectual construction that can be affected by numerous factors that derive
from life experiences.
Home is an especially interesting concept when applied to
migration, a phenomenon which implies a separation from one’s original home in
order to create a new home in a different place. Separation produces the need
for adaptation to new contexts and patterns, but most of all, separation
produces change. For middle-class individuals
who move from the village to the city to secure job opportunities, the most
important change occurs in terms of social status and class belonging: rural
migrants, in fact, tend to acquire new skills, experiences, perspectives, as
well as new identities in the city that reflect the new urban environment and
This article suggests a new pattern for the analysis of the
concept of home from the perspective of migration, connecting home-shifting
mechanisms to dynamics of upward mobility and social advancement. The analysis
hereby presented focuses on the social group of middle-class migrants with
rural origins: for this group in particular, a separation from the rural home
has meant social mobility and an increase in status, as well as a chance to
secure urban middle-class membership.