The second generation returns 'home': cultural geographies of counter-diasporic migration

  • Goodson, Ivor (CoI)
  • King, Russell (PI)
  • Christou, Anastasia (CoPI)
  • Teerling, Janine (CoI)

Project Details


Within migration and diaspora studies, the second generation has unusually complex and ambiguous views of home, identity and 'where they belong'. Moreover, their connection to the 'homeland' – where their parents were born and lived before they emigrated – has been little researched. This research project shed new light on how diasporas, migration and identities are conceptualised and understood and received £440,000 funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

Demographic data from various parts of the world with a history of post-war mass emigration (such as Greece and Cyprus) show that second-generation return is a growing phenomenon. This project, built around a comparative study of returning Greek-Americans, Greek-Germans and British-born Greek Cypriots, examined the extent to which the expectations and hopes embodied in the return and settlement in Greece were fulfilled, or disappointed. It asked what the main constituents of a ‘successful’ return were, and how these were attained. Researchers also investigated reasons for disappointment with returning ‘home’.

The research was multi-sited and multi-method. Following a life-story approach, we collected 90 narrative accounts, 30 from each group, during fieldwork in Greece and Cyprus. In addition, we interviewed ethnic community leaders and key informants, both in the places of return and in selected 'source' migration sites (London, New York, Berlin). Focus-group discussions among second-generation members were conducted in each of these three latter places in order to explore the images and experiences of the ancestral home. Participant observation, field notes, internet discussions, together with video, photographic and audio recordings supplemented the above data collection methods.

The overarching research aim was to explore the second generation migrant's return and their complex and ambivalent identities and views of home. Specific objectives included:

> producing comparative analysis of second-generation 'home-comings' of three instructively-chosen groups
> understanding how identities and belonging are contested and performed in private and public settings
> developing methodological innovation in the rigorous collection of oral and written personal narratives.

Key findings

The research was pioneering in both content and approach in that it was:

> one of the first to address the counter-diasporic phenomenon of second-generation return;
> unique in its investigation of the ‘migrant encounter’ between the returning second generation and new immigrants;
> methodologically innovative in its combination of data collection techniques;
> engaging with the migrants studied by incorporating them as active participants in the research process, and discussing findings with them, as well as with academic audiences.

Frustration with corruption, bureaucracy, difficult access to employment, lack of concern for the environment and the myriad challenges of everyday life in ‘traditional’ Greece featured. Globalisation, EU membership and enlargement, above all by large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe and the ‘Third World’ in the last 20 years, were also causes for concern.

The evidence has stimulated and furthered speculation on future trends in second-generation return in Greece and elsewhere, and suggested some avenues for further research.

Our interdisciplinary pluri-method approach thus had an exemplary function – to demonstrate how to carry out certain kinds of research with migrants. Beyond the Greek and Cyprus cases, it has potential applications in other areas of significant past emigration and current return, such as other Southern European countries, North Africa and the Caribbean.


Christou A (2011) Translocal Spatial Geographies: Multi-sited Encounters of Greek Migrants in Athens, Berlin and New York, in Brickell K and Datta A (Eds.) Translocal Geographies: Spaces, places, connections, Aldershot: Ashgate pp145-161.

Christou A (2011) Translocal spatial; geographies: multi-sited encounters of Greek migrants in Athens, Berlin, and New York, in Translocal Geographies: spaces, places, connections, Oxford: Ashgate Publishing.

King R, Christou A and Teerling J (2011) We took a bath with the chickens: memories of childhood visits to the homeland by second-generation Greek and Greek Cypriot 'returnees', Global Networks, 11 (1) 1-23.

Christou A and King R (2010) Imagining 'home': diasporic landscapes of the Greek second generation, Geoforum, 41 pp 638-646.

Christou A and King R (2010) Movements between 'white' Europe and America: Greek migration to the United States, in Knott K and McLoughlin S (eds.) Diasporas: Concepts, Identities, Intersections, Zed Books, pp 181-186.

King R and Christou A (2010) Cultural Geographies of Counter-Diasporic Migration: Perspectives from the Study of Second-Generation 'Returnees' to Greece, Population, Space and Place, 15 (2) 103-119.

King R and Christou A (2010) Diaspora, Migration and Transnationalism: Insights from the Study of Second-Generation 'Returnees', in Bauböck R and Faist T (eds.) Diaspora and Transnationalism: Conceptual, Theoretical and Methodological Challenges, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp167-183.

Christou A (2009) Telling Diaspora Stories: theoretical and methodological reflections on narratives of migrancy and belongingness in the second generation, Migration Letters, 6 (2) 143-153.

Working Papers
King R, Christou A and Teerling J (2009) Idyllic Times and Spaces? Memories of Childhood Visits to the Parental Homeland by Second-Generation Greeks and Cypriots, Working Paper No 56, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex, UK.

King R and Christou A (2008) Cultural Geographies of Counter-Diasporic Migration: The Second Generation Returns 'Home', Sussex Migration Working Paper No 45, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex, UK.

King R and Christou A (2008) Cultural Geographies of Diaspora, Migration and Transnationalism: Perspectives from the Study of Second-Generation 'Returnees', Diasporas, Migration, Identities Programme, Working Paper No 6.
Effective start/end date1/01/0631/12/09


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.