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Lifestyle Migration: Multi-locality, Escapism and Chasing the “Good Life”

Lifestyle Migration: Multi-locality, Escapism and Chasing the “Good Life”
Merits and drawbacks of multi-locality...Photo by Tibor Janosi Mozes

“I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia is amongst hundreds of travel books and memoirs that has come to speak for a particular brand of cultural philosophy gaining popularity worldwide. First published in 2006 and later adapted into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts in the lead role, it is about a thirty-something woman travelling the world in order to find herself.

Throughout history distinct cultures have always interacted with each other and transformed in their particular ways, impossible to exist otherwise in complete isolation. And although people have travelled wide and far for the sake of economics and politics, migration on a large scale for their prospective careers is relatively a modern phenomenon.

As the title of the book suggests the various locations, as geographically distant as culturally distinct, help in the evolution of the character in her journey towards self-realization. While one could argue against the kind of Orientalist, consumerist reduction of cultures and ethnic identities to certain pre-given type (Italy is associated with food, India with spirituality and Indonesia with passion or love) what is underlying in such narrative is the rising border-crossing multi-local lifestyle a lot of people are embracing.

The history of our civilization is marked with its encounters with the outside world; with various cultures and association with them. Archaeological evidence suggests ancient civilizations have had trading relationships with each other; they exchanged, shared, learned and thrived because of it. Throughout history distinct cultures have always interacted with each other and transformed in their particular ways, impossible to exist otherwise in complete isolation. And although people have travelled wide and far for the sake of economics and politics, migration on a large scale for their prospective careers is relatively a modern phenomenon.

The highly multi-local life and society that emerges out of this phenomenon is one that crosses all boundaries of nationality, culture or ethnicity. Representing inter-cultural mingling and interrelation, it is filled with the spirit of internationalism.

Emigration of people from relatively economically disadvantaged countries to advanced, industrially developed countries has been a common thing especially in the twentieth century (the European migration to United States in the post World War period and immigration to West European countries in the 1980s relates to the case in point). This essentially brought plurality of culture or multiculturalism in an ethnically diverse population. However with the growth of time today more and more people are choosing to live in culturally different places/nations not out of economic necessity but to live an alternative lifestyle altogether in a new scenario.

As Karen O’Reilly and Michaela Benson point out in their work on Lifestyle Migration, most of the people who migrate to ethnically diverse places are doing so in the hope of living the ‘good life’. Most of these migrants not only do belong to western developed societies, they are also financially well settled and even affluent. Their decision to leave their country of origin to live in another is the resultant consequence of the excessive consumerism, work alienation and detached lifestyle that they endure in the west.

However this highly romanticized, idealized concept can have its drawbacks as well. For instance it repeatedly brings in the issue of rootlessness. An understanding of one’s identity requires a sense of belonging to a place or culture. Multiculturalism or multi local lifestyle does not belong to any particular place or culture; it belongs to all yet exist belonging to none.

To them the other place provides an alternative life; they embrace its perceived communitarian and spiritual ethos. This is true not just for Westerners but people living in other parts of the world who decide to immigrate to another place. They wish to escape the limitations and restrictions of their own culture and space which confine their individuality. The new place offers new possibilities and a life that will not resemble the old.

The highly multi-local life and society that emerges out of this phenomenon is one that crosses all boundaries of nationality, culture or ethnicity. Representing inter-cultural mingling and interrelation, it is filled with the spirit of internationalism. People cross national boundaries embracing the cultural ethos and values of another to fulfill their personal quest for freedom and peace.

However this highly romanticized, idealized concept can have its drawbacks as well. For instance it repeatedly brings in the issue of rootlessness. An understanding of one’s identity requires a sense of belonging to a place or culture. Multiculturalism or multi local lifestyle does not belong to any particular place or culture; it belongs to all yet exist belonging to none. As Aijaz Ahmad says, it is a culture that resembles the supermarket, the very ideals of a capitalist social reality. Cultures are thrown into as commodities to choose from the catalog. Like the exotic products at the super mart, culture is also branded to fit an already established type: Italian, Indian or Indonesian. You can pick your choice in order of preference.

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