Jamaican Middle-Class Immigrants in Toronto: Habitus, Capitals and Inclusion

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Date
2014-01-30
Authors
Williams, Kay-Ann
Keyword
Capitals , Skilled Immigrants , Jamaicans , Habitus
Abstract
This dissertation explores connections between the labour market experiences of skilled middle-class immigrants in Canada, and their civic engagement in both sending and receiving countries. My work expands scholarship by delving into the ways that the criteria of social distinction, such as gender, race, immigrant status, and class, and the internalized roles, values, and norms passed down over generations shape citizenship practice. I argue that there is a link between inclusion and the possibilities offered through civic engagement, in that the struggle for inclusion is also a struggle for the recognition of resources that are valued as markers of valued members of society. This research engaged with a theoretical orientation that required synthesizing various forms of social structures that shape societies. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice offered an alternative perspective on the use of assets in order to retain or improve social positioning, and the use of networks and civic engagement as a form of capital that can also serve to influence one’s place in society. Semi-structured interviews and participant observation were used to gather information regarding the experiences of skilled Jamaican immigrants involved in ethnic-based organizations that support economic, social, and infrastructural development projects in Jamaica and organizations that focus on the socio-economic well-being of the black community in Canada. This research shows that the processes of migration and (re)settlement have implications for the ways ideologies and social relations shift across space. I found that historically-shaped values, ideals, and norms associated with the development of a middle-class identity informed the ways the participants responded to barriers in the labour market, and changes in socio-economic status. Responses to changed socio-economic positioning through civic engagement were found to be based on gendered relations, the recognition and experiences of racism, and political attitude towards Jamaica, and relied on familiar strategies of the uses of social and cultural capitals to retain and/or improve their middle-class positions. This process of negotiation revealed the complex ways that middle-class(ness) is produced and reproduced across territories, and the implications for civic participation not only in Canada, but also in support of Jamaican development.
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