Making sense of transnational belonging and social citizenship - the experiences of Polish migrants in the South West England

  • Kinga Papiez

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The Polish migrants are the largest minority of the EU citizens in the UK, but there has been relatively little research attentions paid to their experiences of belonging and social citizenship. This thesis offers an account of how the belonging and the social citizenship are experienced and negotiated by Polish migrants engaged in transnational migration. This study is based on 55 in-depth interviews with Polish migrants in the UK and returnees to Poland, who all originally migrated to the UK after the EU enlargement in 2004. Grounded theory was employed to collect and analyse the data. The empirical data were obtained through fieldwork in the region of South West England. The qualitative research addressed following research question: how are transnational belonging and social citizenship experienced by Polish migrants in the South West England?

The main conceptual contribution of this work is an in-depth synthesis of existing concepts related to transnational belonging, and development of a novel approach to understand the notion of belonging such as politics of belonging, social anchoring, and embedding.

I argue that the experiences of belonging comprise three main dimensions i.e. identification, attachment, and membership. These three dimensions can overlap each other, and the relations between them are dynamic. These dimensions of belonging can be experienced on individual, collective, and institutional levels. What is more, the belonging can be experienced transnationally with the links in at least two places. In particular, the thesis applies this innovative approach to identify three forms of belonging experienced by the participants in this study: a) presentism - based on temporally targeted timeframe of stay in the UK and a presumed plan of return to the country of origin, b) settlement - focused on stay in the UK due to the assumption of lack of opportunities in the country of origin or having family in the UK, and c) fluidity - where decision making process is fluid, affecting life in the UK, while at the same time, the participants do not feel that they belong to the place of their current stay.

Furthermore, the negotiation of the experience of the belonging and the social citizenship is based on significant perspectives: temporality, motivation of migration, intersectionality, and transnationalism. In conclusion, I specify what is the understanding and experiences of belonging and social citizenship for the participants in this study. Those findings could be incorporated into the ongoing debate about Polish migrants working and living in the UK. Making sense of the notion of belonging and experiences related to this notion is particularly important in shaping public discourse about migration, especially in the context of the Brexit referendum aftermath.
Date of Award26 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorEmma Carmel (Supervisor) & Tess Ridge (Supervisor)


  • transnational belonging
  • social citizenship
  • Polish migrants
  • EU migration
  • Identification
  • Attachment
  • Social Membership

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