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2.2 - Fictive Families, Imagined Communities

While expatriate privilege24 may well mediate the stressors typically asso-ciated with transmigrancy,25for my interview participants, some insecurities are still clearly experienced as significant.

According to Carola & Marcelo Suårez-Orozco, "the presence of a healthy social support network has long been regarded as a key mediator of stress" (2010, p 339). They go on to argue that immigrants are especially reliant on effective networks to provide them with acceptance, emotional support, advice and tangible aid in their new homes (p 339). Ingrid, Faustine and Harriet all cited access to reliable advice from their peers as one reason why establishing or maintaining a local support network had been important to them in China.

Acceptance is also a concern for many expatriates, and is hinted at in the responses quoted above, through Elaine's frustration at not being able to blend in, as well as in a desire, expressed by several respondents, for

"understanding," through shared experiences, or as a result of all being

"in the same boat" - as Ingrid phrased it. Miller's traffic accident and Har-riet's experience with the flu are both examples, albeit extreme ones, of the sort of tangible aid Shanghai's expatriates might require from, or provide to, their own networks of support. They are also examples of situ-ations that are complicated by barriers of class, language, culture and distance for many of Shanghai's Western expatriates. Angela, Christy and Sean all implicitly recognised the problem of distance, noting that relatives and established networks of friends were much less accessible in China than they would have been back in the home country.

Bjorn's framing of the response of police to Miller's traffic accident as incompetent clearly carries with it expectations of what might constitute

24. In the absence of significant input from local Chinese, a thorough unpacking of this topic falls outside the scope of this research. However, I attempt a brief overview in Section 8.3 (pp 251-261).

25. These are summarised in Section 4.1 (pp 91-115)

competence in that situation - calling an ambulance, for example, or administering basic first aid. However, in a city where ambulance crews do not administer first aid, and where traffic will not and often cannot make way for emergency vehicles, these essentially Western expectations, are literally out of place. Incidents like these, or the threat of incidents like these, cannot help but contribute to the insecurities which Bauman (2001), Carola & Marcelo Suårez-Orozco (2010) and others suggest the experi-ence of community remedies.

Tangible aid from family and close friends back in the home country is effectively limited to what can be sent by post, or by wire transfer, and their ability to offer emotional support or advice may also be limited by their understanding of the Chinese context. Elaine and Bruce both complained that, when talking to people in their home countries, they had to, in Elaine's words, "dumb down [their] stories about China, dumb down what we did, explain constantly that people don't wear Mao suits every day and yes there are televisions." Several authors have documented this disrup-tion of tradidisrup-tional support networks within a variety of non-Western transmigrant communities, and the construction of informal networks to replace them (cf. Ahmed et al 2004; Walsh & Simonelli 1986; Metcalf 1982).

For most expatriates life was noticeably punctuated by the repatriation of friends. Departures were typically marked by a large shared meal. During my initial fieldwork, teppanyaki restaurant were the venue for these meals so often that it became kind of a cliche - "We're having a farewell get-together for John." "Let me guess. We're doing teppanyaki again."26 Of the seven interview participants I asked, only two said Shanghai's transit-oriness had no effect on their approach to new social ties, although both believed they had seen its effect on others.

Expatriates, both in interview and in casual conversation, often drew indir-ect parallels between the support of family members and the support provided by their new informal networks, while Angela and Sean described

26. Tastes seemed to have become more varied since then.

a more direct equivalence. "They become [like/your] family," they both said. The formation of fictive kin groups in migrant communities has been documented by a number of scholars (Cruz 1998; Dill 1998; Ebaugh &

Curry 2000; Horowitz 1985; Kim 2009; Sørensen 2005). Among Shang-hai's expatriates, these networks were not usually formalised, or structured to resemble a traditional family. The use of kinship terms by expatriates to refer directly to others not related to them by blood was rare. On the other hand, indirect comparisons to kinship roles were commonplace and uncontroversial.

The notion of fictive kin has been criticised in recent years because it prior-itises affinal and consanguineal kinship as "real," whereas some cultures do not make such distinctions (cf. Schneider 1984). Despite this, and the absence of formal kinship terms or structures, it is my belief that the idea of fictive family still has some utility here, even if only as a cover-term. As the responses of several interview participants indicate, these relation-ships often do "replicate many of the rights and obligations usually associated with close family ties" (Ebaugh & Curry 2000, p 189).

As I outlined in Section 1.2 (see pp 14-15), a number of tourism and migrant studies scholars have used a ritual lens to describe aspects of the transmigrant experience (Bhabha 1994; Aguilar 1999; Noussia & Lyons 2009; Graburn 2001; Andrews & Roberts eds. 2012; Kugelmass 1994;

Hummon 1988; Lett 1983). In her ethnography of retirement migrants in Spain's Costa Del Sol, Caroline Oliver extends the concept of migrant liminality even further, suggesting the use of the term 'imagined com-munitas' to describe the de-emphasising of normally accepted class differences amongst and between her participants.

According to Oliver this social levelling "particularly manifests in social relationships, because the imagined communitas generates limitless potential intimate friendships, yet gives no means of assessing their trust-worthiness" (2007a, p 129). The social levelling Oliver describes was also visible among Shanghai's expatriates, and will be discussed in later sec-tions. However, the responses of a number of the interview participants were also suggestive of this levelling. Siebe and Angela both framed

themselves as more cautious about making friends but explained that when they did it often happened faster than it would in their home coun-tries. Faustine, Elaine and Sean also described the process of making friends in China as unusually quick, while Harriet felt that it was more common for strangers to offer and/or ask for help in Shanghai than had been her experience in America. It should be noted, however, that this accelerated friend making did not usually extend to local Chinese. Indeed, most expatriates socialised almost exclusively with other Westerners, a point left largely unstated in the responses of interview participants.

It seems likely that Oliver's use of the term imagined communitas is a deliberate evocation of Anderson's concept of the 'Imagined Community' (1991) though she doesn't reference it directly in her paper. Anderson's concept has been extended by a number of scholars to include imagined transnational communities, or communities neither limited by national boundaries nor imagined as sovereign - "an occupational community, a community of believers in a new faith, of adherents to a youth style"

(Hannerz 1993, p 387). It has also been used to refer to diaspora com-munities (cf. Kastoryano 2003; Shi 2005; Sökefeld 2006) and the ethnic imaginary of Latino identity in the United States (Mato 1998). Other schol-ars have suggested its applicability to regionalist identities, through imagined regional communities which are themselves transnational, such as the European Union (Giordano 2009) or the Asia Pacific Region (Ching 2000; cf. Cayton 2008; Berger 2002; Sidaway 2004). It is in this latter sense which I believe it is most applicable to Shanghai's expatriates, who typically situated themselves within broad imagined communities of Westernness.

In Shanghai, the problems of trustworthiness Oliver refers to are further complicated, but also partially resolved, by the constant departure of friends. The resulting caution, which several interview participants described, was most visible in the small social groups, within which most postpats spent their leisure time. Postpats also typically avoided pursuing friendship with anyone who was not planning on staying in China long-term. A common piece of folk wisdom among expatriates holds that the

first question a newly arrived expatriate asks when they meet you is

"where are you from", whereas the first question a postpat will typically ask is "how long are you staying". Siebe described a similar process when he met someone new, "You have those selective criteria, like, 'Okay, you're a student. You're leaving in three months. It's been nice to spend some time with you, but, that's enough.'"

By investing the majority of their social capital in such carefully selected, small and tightly bounded, fictive families expatriates effectively limit the frequency with which they must confront the "feelings of loss" described by Karen and a number of other interview participants. In this way, the com-munitas of shared experience and the assumption of shared identities and values is managed, by some expatriates, through their experiences of loss. By focusing their social obligations on those they know will be around to reciprocate them, these postpats are actively engaged in an assessment of the trustworthiness of new ties. Sean's description of Shanghai as a "totally integrity based environment" also evokes the kind of gossip cells which Gluckman and others have argued are an "important part of gaining membership of any group" (1963, p 314; cf Haviland 1977;

Van Vleet 2003).

In a social context where the disruption of expatriate networks of support is cyclical and expected - almost normative - it is easy to see how the per-manent state of uneasy liminality which Bhabha describes might also be used to describe the expatriate experience of Shanghai. The levelling effect of communitas creates an environment in which forming social ties is simplified. The broad, loosely bounded, interconnected communities that are the result were both contained within, and fed by a wider imagined community of Westernness. I view this community as imagined because it was primarily constructed around a "regional" Western identity, whose transnational scope also means that "its members will never know most of their fellow-members." The experience of communitas, which I have argued was a feature of Shanghai's expatriate population, and "the limit-less potential...friendships" that are its result, are a direct expression of this imagined transnational community.

Expatriates typically self-identified as Westerners and applied this identity to their Western friends and associates. Commonly they had a widely diverse fictive family, drawn from many different, mostly Western, national backgrounds. They also belonged to a wider imagined transnational com-munity defined primarily by the shared experience of being a Westerner in China. Within the shifting, transitory support networks of Shanghai's expatriates this regional imaginary, and the sense of a common identity which it provides are a distinct advantage, providing expatriates with a broad, much less exclusive, secondary network of support from which to draw new fictive family members when established members depart.