The Expat


Globalization has displaced many people, but not always for apparently negative reasons. A frequently overlooked, but growing and highly influential category of displacement is expats. Expats are migrants, but a specific kind in that they constitute what Michael Kimmelman describes as “an often unrecognized but large class of middle-class, educated, mobile people who choose to see different parts of the world and live in different places because they can” (Stott 2016). Stephen Cairns summarises this case as a (hyper) privileged form of migrancy. Expat domestic spaces, referred to by Cairns as ‘expat towns’, have emerged not only in the developing world, but also throughout the developed world. These days it is not just Western (white) middle-class on the move. For instance, in Silicon Valley reside a notable number of non-Western, such as Indians and Chinese, highly-skilled technical and digital specialists. Even more recently, the term “digital nomads” refers to a growing group of people who travel the world, working anywhere as long as they have access to the internet (Spinks 2015).  Despite the noticeable presence of this hyper privileged form of migrancy, it has yet to be thoroughly questioned how domestic spaces have been or are being built for and by them. 

Such expat enclaves take multiple and diverse forms in relation to domesticity. Expats, like migrants, appropriate the local culture and style in conjunction with their own cultural taste to produce heterogeneous spaces. As such, domestic hybrids of style have emerged. Gautam Bhatia offers some examples in the postcolonial Indian context, such as, Punjabi Baroque, Tamil Tiffany, and Chandani Chowk Chippendale (Bhatia 1994). However, and controversially, more and more enclaves provided for expats simply resemble each other. They are characterized as ‘international’ and feature well-known coffee shops, international schools, supermarkets, shopping malls, multi-storey car parks, and ultimately constitute gated communities. These enclaves have faced heavy critique due to their homogeneity, social polarization, spatial segregation and mechanisms of gentrification (cf. Li and Wu 2008; Atkinson and Easthope 2009). Saskia Sassen argues that the “material doesn’t tell you a story” and we must remain vigilant against “modernity being shaped by globalizing capitalism.” 

This briefly goes to show that expats – which includes the migration of architects and their knowledge – have an interesting and complex relation to domestic spaces and practices. Little attention, however, has been given to this category and the corresponding transnational spaces. Applicants are therefore invited to question the consequences on domesticity – both local and global – of this growing class of (hyper) privileged migrants, especially in light of critiques of neoliberalism and colonialism. This is to uniquely question how are spaces currently being built for expats, but also how do expats live in relation to their differing locales.

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