Subjective Experiences of Expats in Vietnam: Linking Relative Social Position, the Habitus and Practice to Cross-Cultural Adaptation
Minot, Severine Eleonore
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This study examines the subjective experiences of expatriates in Vietnam, considering their relative social positions and dispositions as they adapt to local structural and cultural conditions. It explores how markers of differentiation related to nationality, race/ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, marital/relationship status and parenting influence the subjective negotiation of positionality, the constitution of habitus and adaptive practices. It is driven by three questions: i) how do factors of distinction affect the experience of expatriates? ii) how are relative social positions, dispositions and practice involved in the adaptation process? And iii) can long-term expatriation or successive expatriations prompt forms of adaptation that have a significant impact on the configuration of personal and social dispositions? Key concepts are drawn from the work of Pierre Bourdieu, although I propose complementary notions in order to heed expatriates’ subjective experiences and account for a potentially transformative habitus. Leaning more heavily on a phenomenological approach, the analysis focuses on the role of relative social positions and dispositions (dimensions of habitus) in the adaptation process. Structural and cultural conditions, along with deeply internalized ways of thinking/acting/being born of socialization, are taken into account, although emphasis is placed on the substance of narratives: the articulation of located perceptions, desires and needs, the apprehension of cross-cultural challenges, and the ramifications of adaptive and reflexive practices. This project draws on the results of 26 months of field observations, a survey administered to 300 respondents, 39 semi structured interviews and three thematic focus group sessions. The pairing of descriptive statistics and frequency analysis on one hand, and qualitative analysis on the other, is an unusual approach that generates complementary inferences. This study confirms that social positions and dispositions affect the subjective experiences of expatriates; that some adaptation strategies are deployed to accommodate, rather than challenge, dimensions of habitus, while other attitudinal adjustments mark an evolution in social actors’ dispositions. In some cases at least, it seems that relatively conscious reflexive and adaptive practices lead to the development of cross-cultural awareness and intersubjective engagements with profound effects on respondents’ practices and identities.