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University of Gothenburg

Ethnic Bonding and Homing Desires: The Polish Diaspora and Civil Society Making

The Polish diaspora in the United Kingdom has produced a unique pattern of civil society making, due to the dividing homing desires of different generations of Polish migrants arriving after the Second World War, during the Cold War and Solidarity periods, and post–EU expansion. Polish London constitutes a significant space of migrant engagement associated with both civil society of contemporary Poland and the diasporic structures formed in and by the country of settlement and is formed and maintained by central ties, links, norms, and discourses of home, nationhood, and integration.

A process-oriented approach enables the analysis of Polish civil society development in the United Kingdom since the Second World War and accounts for the unique pattern four-stage process commencing with the foundation of exile organizations, moving towards the maintenance of these organizations, the rejuvenation and amplification of existing organizations, and the diversification of organizational production including campaigning. These stages are linked to varied expressions and desires for home and renegotiations of status and pride from a minority position of civil engagement. Of particular interest are uncompromising, diverging, or even dividing homing desires that manifest a desire for home rather than a desire to return home. Diversity-and-division within the Polish civil space reveals the uneasy coexistence between what are perceived as three main generations of Polish migrants (many who are British citizens) and illuminate civil society development both as a process and as a relationship to other civil spaces and to the contestation of re-created memory spaces abroad. Significantly, internal critique does not undermine the existence of co-ethnic organizations or Polish London. On the contrary, the creation of a Polish-specific civil space, although stratified, is made possible within a framework of a Polish national community sustained and produced by underlying uniting national narrations for minority recognition.

This project builds on qualitative data comprised of over one hundred in-depth interviews mainly conducted with Polish interviewees within Greater London. Complementary purposive sampling techniques—snowball, maximum variation and strategic sample—were required in various stages of the interview process to ensure that the affiliated sample of interviewees represented a variety of significant organizations connected to the three generations of Polish migration.

This project on the Polish Diaspora in the United Kingdom is related to two projects: “To What Extent Does Homeland Matter? Diaspora in the UK” (funded by the British Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences and the John Fell Foundation, University of Oxford), and “Institutional Constraints and Creative Solutions: Polish Civil Society in Comparative Perspective” (the Swedish Research Council, University of Gothenburg, PI Kerstin Jacobsson).