Work Strategies of Immigrants and the Construction and Circulation of Myths in London

Vasta E., Erdemir A.

ERDE, vol.141, pp.15-29, 2010 (SCI-Expanded) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 141
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Journal Name: ERDE
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.15-29
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


The research presented in this paper emerges from the Immigrant Work Strategies and Networks Project. The project focused on the experiences of Ghanaian, Portuguese, Romanian, Turkish and British-born respondents (both male and female) in London, between 2004 and 2006, using questionnaires and in-depth interviews. In this article, our goal is to explore the role of imperfect information in the immigrant settlement process and destination society policies. More specifically, we examine the nature of information used in two interlinked processes: 1) information used by the destination society to debate, design, and implement policy; 2) information used by immigrants to develop work strategies. We aim to demonstrate that a great deal of information immigrants and the destination society utilise, in making their decisions, is often based on the generation, circulation and reproduction of myths. Although migration myths of destination society members and immigrants are often conflicting, they seem to be reproduced within a shared regime of myth-making. In an attempt to analyse the dynamics and inter-linkages of the myth-making regime, we offer two new concepts, i.e. "hegemonic myths" and "opportunity myths". Our discussion on the construction and circulation of myths presents new opportunities to reinterpret the immigrant settlement process. We conclude that while hegemonic myths about migrants in the public arena are rarely affirmative, opportunity myths constructed by immigrants are far more complex. They can both reproduce inequalities or provide a basis for immigrant empowerment. Hegemonic myths, for example, have the potential to focus the debate on specific groups, or immigrants in general, where they can become either heroes or, more likely, villains. We argue that opportunity myths do play a major role in the perpetuation of migration to the UK. The inequalities and exploitation experienced by immigrants are essential in the circulation of opportunity myths as immigrants attempt to maintain impressions of the good life in the UK. Ironically, immigration myths, the erosion of social rights and ongoing discrimination contribute to the continual flow of incoming migrants. In other words, the more rights are eroded and the more difficult it becomes for immigrants to succeed, the more immigrants feel compelled to construct narratives of success. Unless migration policies deal with the right to work, social rights of immigrants and with the elimination of discrimination and racism, policy and public discourse are likely to lead to unintended results.