By: Holly R. Barcus & Amangul Shugatai
What is the main purpose of your study?
The purpose of this study is to explore how migrants make sense of place, how they remember and create connections to a place where they have migrated away from, specifically how they remember and imagine the rural places from which they migrated. The concept of nostalgia implies a level of romanticization of a place or time-period, a selective “remembering” of a place held in the imagination of an individual or group of people. These imaginings produce a narrative that both extends place attachments to other community members, and potentially create shared myths of place.
We use interviews with Kazakh migrants who moved from their rural and remote home place in western Mongolia to the highly urbanized and densely populated capital city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as a case study of how, over time, strong place attachments evolve into place-based narratives of home and identity for diasporic communities. We argue that strong place attachments are the foundation of place-based narratives, but these narratives are nostalgic as well, highlighting key ethnic and cultural practices that reinforce ethno-cultural unity and create idyllic images of place to help maintain a collective place valuing despite residence far away.
What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
The worlds’ population is increasingly mobile with many people moving from rural to urban places. Migrants take not just material items with them when they move, but also their memories and rememberings of home. The ways in which we imagine place, whether from personal experience or imagery, influences how we collectively value places. This study helps us understand how our sense of place identity stays with us through time and how we share it with those around us. More broadly, it might add to our own personal sense of identity and our feelings of belonging to particular social or cultural groups
How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
We build our conceptual framework around three key literatures, nostalgia, place attachment and identities, and the rural idyll, in our attempt to better understand how connections to place evolves over time for populations who have moved away from the home place. The imagined home place takes on a mythical existence in personal and group narratives, complete with key social and familial practices and bucolic images of peaceful, beautiful places. We argue that linking ideas of nostalgia, place attachment, and the rural idyll are increasingly important in Global Middle countries, where newly affluent urban populations may reflect on aspects of their rural origins that are less present in their urban, modern lifestyles.
What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
First, how we remember place, particularly in nostalgic ways, is deeply connected to our own experiences as well as linked to the communities with whom we share these place attachments. These shared attachments help form narratives about place that extend these attachments to younger generations. Our work underscores how place attachments are carried with migrants to new destinations (place elasticity) and then passed along to younger generations through stories, material artifacts, cultural practices and images.
Second, this work suggests that the process by which individuals and groups selectively develop narratives of history and place serves to underscore a collective valuing of place through signifiers of place attachment and illustrates how the process of creating place attachments manifests at both individual and collective community scales. We contribute to the discussion of how rural place attachments evolve over time and that place attachments can be as much symbolic as experienced.
Lastly, we also pose the question of whether the concept of the rural idyll can be applied to Global South and Global Middle countries. So far, the concept has largely been reserved for the Global North. But as populations continue to move to urban places, can we expect that the rural imagination will expand? That instead of being viewed negatively, as the place left behind, that there will be elements of nostalgia and positive imagery that shape the narrative of particular populations, especially ethnic minorities that find themselves widely dispersed after migrating to urban places.
What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
We move the literature forward by seeking to integrate the notion of nostalgia into the conversation about rural place making and place identities or attachments. Nostalgia exemplifies the positive aspects of place and pushes us to consider how rural imagery and imaginations influence the place making and place attachment process, which begs the question of whether the rural idyll concept can be extended beyond the Global North.
How does your research help us think about Geography?
A key tenet of geography is the study and understanding of place. Geographers are continuously studying place – how people experience place, how places compare to other places, how we measure place (e.g. location), descriptions of the physical and cultural and social dimensions of place, for example. In this article we are interested in how people take place with them – how they remember, how they use nostalgia, how they pass these impressions on to other people. How we imagine and experience place and how this manifests in our everyday lives is an essential way of understanding the earth and the people who habit it ~ human geographies.