Human Arenas

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Mobility Dynamics in South of France: Proculturation Traces by Italian Workers

  • Maria Antonietta ImpedovoEmail author
  • Magali Ballatore
Arena of Movement


This paper deals with the adaptation process of Intra-European South-South migration. The case study focuses on Italian mobility to the South of France with a focus on the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) region. This paper aims to analyze the developmental perception of adaptation in migration and the traces left on social networks. Data were collected from an online group on Facebook as a rich interpersonal and social bonding space and narrative accounts of young Italian workers on a website. The posts and narratives were qualitatively analyzed from a dialogical and cultural perspective. Data from the online network revealed the need of the community to share and build knowledge before the migration and right after and during the stay, reconstructing a polyphonic social reference of belonging. In the narratives, the external positions addressed and shaped the process of adaptation during the migration.


Proculturation Dialogical self-theory Intra-European mobility Italian Social network 


Intra-European migrations have evolved in their profiles and modalities (Verwiebe et al. 2014). Of European Union citizens of working age (20–64), 3.8% were residing in another Member State than that of their citizenship in 2017. This share has increased from 2.5% 10 years ago (Eurostat 2018). Italians, Polish, Romanians, and Portuguese remained the four largest nationalities at the EU-28 level with their combined numbers reaching 5.9 million, around half of all movers in the EU-28 (Fries-Tersch et al. 2018). Their dynamic is alive and changes constantly (Dubucs and Mourlane 2017), as consequences on a European crisis scale in terms of the labor market, social mixing, cultural exchanges, and international relations (Lafleur and Stanek 2017). However, Intra-European migrations are less numerous and especially less visible than migration from non-European countries. Even less attention is dedicated to the South-South migration of EU citizens if we consider the migration flow from Southern European EU citizens (from Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece) to Northern European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). This paper focuses on the adaptation process of the “new” flow of South-South intra-European migration, particularly Italian workers moving to the South of France, and it also examines the traces left on the social networks.

The aim is to analyze the developmental perception of adaptation in the migration of this specific Intra-European group. A dialogical and cultural perspective is adopted to examine how people deal with the cultural experiences of migration. In the following sections, the theoretical approach is developed, followed by the case study and the final discussion.

Mobility in a Dialogical Perspective

“Integration” and “assimilation” are key notions in social science studies that focus on the way in which immigrants and immigrant-origin groups adapt and participate in receiving societies. Debates remain open about the definition of the “mainstream,” the “majority culture,” or the “segment” into which immigrants are meant to integrate (Alba and Duyvendak 2019). Much of the critique has concerned the ethnic focus of integration research. The introduction of the discussed super-diversity concept (Vertovec 2007) highlights the need to recognize the complexity of migration processes and the range of shifting variables involved in integration patterns.

Another key concept in the social science of migration is acculturation, which refers to changes that appear after interaction between distinct cultures (Redfield et al. 1936). One leading example is Berry’s (2008) model, which proposes four acculturation orientations: integration, assimilation, marginalization, and separation. Despite the wider use of this model, it fails to depict the importance of contextual and cross-situational factors (Bhatia and Ram 2009). Indeed, it implied that cultures are independent agents without taking into consideration personal interpretation and the role of the meaning-making process according to Gamsakhurdia (2018).

Recently, the term proculturation (Gamsakhurdia 2018) emphasizes the constructive and subjective nature of human adaptation to any kind of novelties. Proculturation is a continuous process in which any meeting with new ideas is interpreted subjectively and becomes part of cognitive and affective experience. As explained by Gamsakhurdia (2018, p. 1), each proculturative experience makes an imprint on personality: “Proculturation can be initiated even without leaving home as globalisation and modern mass media spread cultural elements from culture to culture easily throughout the whole world.” Generally, this term stresses the reconstructive and imaginative nature of personality and its developmental nature. This concept follows sociocultural discussions and the adaptation process in the light of the Dialogical Self (DS) Theory (Hermans and Gieser 2012; Hermans and Hermans-Konopka 2010).

The DS theory was introduced by Hermans (2013) in the wake of American pragmatism and Russian dialogism. It is inspired by both William James (1890), who distinguishes the I and the Me (where the I is equated with the self-as-knower and the Me with the self-as-known), and Mikhail Bakhtin (1984, 1986), who introduced the idea of multiple voices composing a polyphony engaged in either opposition, consensus, or conflict. Hermans (1996) considers the dimensions of discontinuity, multiplicity, and the social nature of identity. He proposed the idea of a flexible self that is composed of multiple positions encompassing different aspects of the self. An I-position can be considered a “voiced” position; each I-position is driven by its own intention, internal (inner voices of the self, recognizable most of the time because they are marked by the expression “I am …” ) or external (voices initially coming from relevant others but incorporated within the individual landscape marked by the expression “my …” =). I-positions are dynamically relational and are defined at the intersection of personal and societal forces through tension (Marsico and Tateo 2017). I-positions are also social, in between persons and groups. The notions of tension and discontinuity are useful to describe identity as a fluid feature, always continuously changing, shifting from context to context and from moment to moment. The DS stresses special but also temporal transformations (Hermans and Hermans-Konopka 2010). As Raggatt (2012) explained, the DS is characterized by internal and external positions linked to the spatial dimension and by a succession of I-positions associated with the temporal dimension.

The DS theory seems to offer a good lens through which to understand how individuals interpret and make sense of such interconnections between identity and situations (for an example of DS applied to migration process analysis, see Bhatia and Ram 2009). Considering the Individual-Socio-Ecological frame of reference (Valsiner 2000), the person-environment relations are inherently dialogical, as they involve the process of constant interchange together.

Narrative accounts are traditional tools to self-disclosure and identification of positions. In this paper, we also consider social network activity as a means to support the expression of positions. Through it, members can “voice” who they are and in what relation they see their positions to other significant people during the adaptation process of migration.

Mean-Making Process and Mobilizing of Resources

Considering the current social and cultural conditions of the European work market, individuals are pushed to adapt to continuous change. Cultural psychology highlights the role played by sense-making in shaping how the mind works. Culture is constantly developing a dynamic semiotic system as the result of permanent reflection, dialog, and negotiation, which gives meaning to a person’s internal or external world and helps him in orientation (Valsiner 2014). Semiotic dynamics of meaning-making processes are active in the adaptation process in a constant intersection of the person with the environment (Salvatore et al. 2018). Accordingly, sense-making is inherently socially situated, and it always implies an affirmation of identity.

Migration is a significant moment of change and transition entailing identity alterations, learning processes, a definition of new skills, and the construction of meaning that is driven by both external and internal forces (Zittoun 2012a). During the migration, the person should seek to update his own meanings to understand the new environment and lived experience, searching for a new adaptation between the person and the environment (Märtsin and Mahmoud 2012a, b). To cope with these demands and challenges, individuals would need to mobilize their resources, develop skills, and collect knowledge. It is possible to identify personal resources, relating to the experience that a person has acquired in different spheres of life, institutional resources as collective arrangements, symbolic resources (which can be different elements acquiring subjective meanings), and social resources represented by people who can provide support like family and friends (Zittoun 2012b).

The creation and maintenance of relationships between friends or family members based on a certain solidarity and reciprocity can represent social resources for migrants. The existence of similar characteristics and attitudes is at the basis of network structure and the sense of belonging; “it denotes a symbolic space that covers all the people who share the same identity referents, whether they are real or unreal” (Salvatore et al. 2018, p. 18) such as gender, ethnicity, age, religion, or education (status homophily) either on shared values or beliefs (value homophily; Dahinden 2010).

Ethnic homogeneity is particularly well-known in these processes of groups; mutual aid among people sharing similar migration experiences remains important for adjusting to a foreign environment (Dahinden 2005). Networks are a form of social capital that the individual can exploit as a resource (Bourdieu 1977). Online social networks can also develop explicit and tacit knowledge at the transnational level. Migration researchers have long written about this phenomenon, especially how social networks are utilized every day throughout the world by family, friends, community members, businesses, organizations, government agencies, and a wide range of others. In social science studies, factors related to the influence of religion, ethnicity, language, and gender identity in affecting social media adoption have been gaining consideration (Liew et al. 2014; Na et al. 2015). The Italian mobility case study in the South of France is discussed below.

The Study: Italian Workers’ Mobility Dynamics in South of France

Like other European countries, France has known for about 20 years a resumption of Italian migration. The Italians constitute the first foreign nationality represented in France from the beginning of the twentieth century until in the 1960s. This immigration, first coming from the North of the Peninsula and then from the South after 1945, was largely composed of a non-qualified labor force coming to work in different sectors of the industry, in the building and public works as well as agriculture.

Dubucs et al. (2017b) discussed a “new wave” of Italian immigration to France since the mid-2000s. Indeed, between 1990 and 2005, the official entries of Italians into France oscillated around 3000 individuals per year. The entries surpassed 9020 individuals in 2015. This phenomenon is indicative of the emerging migratory forms of a new generation of mobile Europeans. Today, France is the fourth destination of this wave of migration behind Germany, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland, but ahead of the USA. Italian migration in France is individualistic, not relying on family or existent networks. The specificity of current Italian migrations is young graduates. More than the economic crisis and the search for a job, the mobility of young graduates of the middle class responds to structural blockages of their original society, incapable of generational renewal (Dubucs et al. 2017a).

This paper adopts a regional perspective with a focus on the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) region, which is historically connected with Italian immigration. The departments of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, and Bouches-du-Rhone constitute since the end of the nineteenth century one of the main regions that welcome reception of Italian immigration. Also, only in Marseille, there are about 300,000 Italian immigrants, making them the largest foreign community in the city. For this reason, we focus our attention on Italians in Marseille as a larger area in the region. The Italian community in Marseille uses different online tools to stay connected. In this paper, the data collected through the social network and online platform have been considered with the aim to explore the adaptation process.

Aim of the Study

The aim of the paper is to analyze the developmental perception of adaptation by the “new” Italian migrants in the South of France. Our research questions are: What dialogical dimensions can be recognized in the developmental adaptation of new migrants? Which resources are mobilized in the proculturation process? In particular, we wanted to understand what new migrants express during their developmental perception of adaptation.

To answer the research question, we explored a Facebook group about Italians, as a rich interpersonal and social bonding space, and Italian workers’ memories on a dedicated website. Social network activity and personal accounts can be a dialogical activity giving insight into members’ self-disclosure about the process of adaptation. The study shed light about the developmental perception of adaptation of skilled workers’ migration going from Italy to France.


Data Collection

To collect data, we explored the process of Italian adaptation via a social network and a website because they are widely used in the Italian community. After identification of resources (blogs about Italian emigrants, online websites for Italians in the Italian language, social networks, etc.), we selected two online platforms for data collection: a closed group on Facebook and accounts on a website.

As a first source, Facebook was chosen due to its widespread usage. After a first screening of the existing closed and open social groups in the Italian language about Italians, we identified one group related to our target called “Italiani a Marsiglia.” With 4349 members (increasing daily), the group has the explicit aim of “bringing together Italians living in Marseille.” From this group, we selected all the posts in a period of 2 months (July–August 2018) for a total of 100 posts. No personal information was combined to recognize Facebook group members.

As a second source, we used a website called “the QX1 platform.” The name QX1 comes from the International Code of Maritime Signals and means, “You have permission to dock in this port.” Proposed by a local social association, the website has the aim of helping immigrants who have recently arrived in Marseille by giving them reliable information. The QX1 platform collects interviews (in the original language and translated to French) of migrants who want to freely tell their stories and share their experiences about their adaptation to life in France, whether they were settling there or simply visiting. From the 26 full interviews published online, only two are from Italian workers. These two Italians had emigrated to Marseille; the first was Tiziano, and the second was Marcello, respectively 25 and 35 years old at the time of the interview, both ensured by anonymity. French accounts can be read online at <> and <>.

The administrators of the Facebook group and the online platforms were contacted. Both were informed about the aim of the research and the use of the data. All data from the Italian language were translated by the authors into English (from native Italian). The researchers were both members of the Facebook group for more than 5 years.

The two sources of data were meant to be complementary. In the online group, the posts reflected short, vivid, and direct insight into the life of the individuals, revealing information about the ongoing process of adaptation. The narratives were longer reconstructions and mediated personal interpretations of the adaptation process, which makes them a good way to understand how people tell and construct their own stories (Potter and Hepburn 2008). The study is proposed to become the starting point for future elaboration of an interview protocol.

Data Analysis

The entries were analyzed using a combination of thematic and discourse analysis with the aim to analyze the developmental perception of adaptation in migration.

To find out the dialogical dimensions and the resources that are mobilized in the proculturation process, the posts and the accounts were analyzed qualitatively (Grimell 2018; Riff et al. 2014).

The first step was to read the material. They were read by two researchers. The data were first approached with the purpose of obtaining “an overview of the thematic range of the text which is to be analysed” (Flick 2014, p. 394). In this way, it was possible to have an overview of all data collected. The reading phase helped to select the materials where I-positions, “voices,” and dialog between “voices” could be retrieved. This selection required several cycles of data reading and grounding them in the theories (Charmaz 2006). This method allows for increasing generality through a process of abstraction, staying close to the data throughout. Based on thematic content analysis (Neuendorf 2016), the researchers agreed in singling out three dialogical dimensions through which to present the relevant results. Attempting to answer our two research questions, these dimensions will be described in the next section along with some clarifying excerpts.

The Developmental Adaptation Process from the Online Posts

Through our qualitative analysis, we singled out the three following dialogical dimensions retrieved from the online posts: (a) dialogical exploration, (b) externality, and (c) cultural and social identity. We selected some examples where one of them appears to prevail in answering our research question.

Dialogical Exploration

While individuals are still at home in Italy or already out of Italy, they start to think about and value the possibility of moving to a new territory. The crucial role played by social networks as facilitators of migration has been well-established in migration theory (Massey et al. 1993; Pellegrino 2004). Joining the online group “Italian in Marseille” helps members to explore and deal with new opportunities in a different territory (Diminescu 2005):

“At the moment, me and my boyfriend work in the UK, but we cannot stay there anymore. Do you find work easily if you have experience in tourism and catering? Sorry, but England is very different, and I do not know how Marseille. Thanks in advance” (young woman).

Marseille and the surrounding region are considered an attractive Mediterranean area. This quality is sufficient to consider it as a possible destination. However, many members of the social group do not know the living conditions in the city, so they explore it with specific questions about work possibilities, cost of living, etc. All information collected online allows for discovering Marseille as a destination of migration, a city outside of the traditional destinations of Italian migration (like more common Bruxelles).

From the questions, it is evident that many members do not have any personal relationships in the city. The Facebook group links potential migrants in the place of origin to current or previous migrants in the destination (Curran and Rivero-Fuentes 2003). Italian members already in Marseille become voluntary and valuable resources for information—someone to trust and that can influence the decision to move or personal choices such as which area of the city to rent a house: Hi guys! What, for example, is the quieter area and maybe the streets to avoid to rent an apartment?” The validity of the information is entrusted to the answers generated by the post, which provides a polyphonic response to the questions (Bakhtin 1986). The “reliable Italians already in the city” is the generic interlocutor of the post. They also sought advice in searching for jobs: “I am a cook assistant with good experience. I speak French, I am looking for a job in the Marseille area if possible. I am a humble and reliable person” (man). Many people sponsor their skills to receive job offers with the implicit expectation that members in the group could help them directly from Italy.

While starting to explore the new city, future migrants involved their family and friends in this dialogical exploration: “Together with my girlfriend, we have been living in Munich for five years. Please, I would like to ask you before considering to move there: prices, rents, and basic salaries” (young man). The project of migration involves the girlfriend, and the couple will negotiate together whether to move there or not based on the information collected online. The family is at the center of these relationships because it is often the place where the decision to migrate is taken and the migration is organized (Wanner and Fibbi 2002). The dialogical exploration is potentially followed by a concrete availability to move with the family, as expressed in this post: “I live in the centre of Italy, married with two children, being a storekeeper currently looking for a job, could you tell me if this kind of work is required? Thanks for everything and greetings from Italy” (man). The geographical and personal status (married with two children) opens the post as a strong point to consider before the personal position (storekeeper) and the real aim of the post (help with finding a job).


In many posts, Italian emigrants already in the Marseille region expressed mutually interconnected dialog on exchange “externality.” By definition, an externality is a positive or negative consequence of an economic activity experienced by unrelated third parties. Here, we adopt this term to express the exchange of information, resources, time, and presence between the members of the online group. In many posts, the issues raised are about the bureaucratic formalities, which are not always easy to quickly understand and perform in the first weeks of their arrival. For example: “Hello everyone, to get the social cart (for medical assistance), do I have to go to the Italian Consulate? What should I know? I’m in Marseille for an internship” (boy). The community becomes a space for dialog thanks to the sharing of a common Italian identity. Requests are also about furniture: “Hello everyone! I’m looking for a bed or sofa and a desk for my new room. Also, I am interested in other furniture (bedside, table, etc.). If someone has something like that... contact me!” Many requests are also about recommendations for professionals like psychologists, doctors, and lawyers. Thanks to the sharing, the individuals start to refer to the group as “us,” stressing the value of the community for making recommendations: “Good morning! Is there any official translator (French courts) among us?” The exchange of externality also includes the simple request of favors, with the implicit assumption that it is a fair request in the community: “Do you guys know a cat sitter or someone who loves animals to leave my cat from Thursday? Thanks in advance” (woman). The members consider the group an extended social community that can be a resource for sharing needs. They do not view each other as anonymous individuals outside of the social group of Italians.

Social and Cultural Identity

The social value of the group is stressed in the members’ posts. The group became a space for sharing the Italian cultural identity as something that creates immediate connections and sources of pride. “We just arrived in this group, and we are reading some online posts. I see that there are many Italians from the South. We are Neapolitans. Greetings to all!” Here, the new member refers to a region (Neapolitans) as a strategy to open the discussion. Also, the reference to food became a topic for discussion related to their identity as Italians. As a topic for dialog, food can trigger emotional expression, contextual dimensions, and cultural issues (Harris and Barter 2015). “I have to do a tiramisu; do you know where I can find some ‘pavesini?’ Or eventually with which other cookies will you replace them?” The reference is to a local brand not always available in supermarkets abroad. To make a traditional recipe, the woman urges the expertise of the community to give tips and reliable alternative brands to use. Many posts are meant to form and consolidate new social ties, find a place to hang out, or meet new Italian people to spend time together: “Good morning! Is there any bored person like me available to have a chat tonight and see the football game?” In this case, the position of football amateur became a way to socialize, reproducing in Marseille the social rituals of watching football with friends.

The Developmental Adaptation Process Expressed in the Two Narratives

In this section, we analyze the two narratives with a focus on resources mobilized in the proculturation process in an effort to answer the second research question. The first account is of Tiziano, and the second is of Marcello.

The Developmental Adaptation of Tiziano

Tiziano begins thinking about moving from the South of Italy to go abroad. He expresses the general idea to go out, learn English, and find generic new opportunities abroad based on personal preferences: “I come from the South of Italy. It was already some time since I was thinking to leave: the idea was to go somewhere to learn English ... England seemed to me a choice too classic.” Tiziano went to Marseille mainly to visit a friend from his hometown. His role as a friend is central in his decision to visit (and ultimately live) in the city: “In Marseille, I had a friend from my hometown who had been there for four months; I decided to visit him on the way, knowing that I was in no hurry to get up there ... and finally, I liked the city, and I’m still three years later! I do not think about my initial destinations. I went to see how we live elsewhere, to experience and discover other ways of living ...When I left, I did not have much that held me back: I gave up studying graphic design, after some exams, because I did not like the university atmosphere. We learned interesting things, but I never caught on with the commercial side of the training, nor the opportunities that would come to me. Arriving, I knew nothing about Marseille or France, but the friend I had here hosted me the first month.”

The generation of Tiziano considers themselves less “lucky” than their parents (Dubucs et al. 2017) with nothing to lose by leaving, especially those coming from less developed regions. The users express a “mobility de-territorialised” (Urry 2003), a wide movement of people belonging to global fluids or networks without a clear point of departure or arrival. In this dynamic, the identity as a friend became relevant in deciding to leave more so than others with a silent position as a family member. Friendship appears to be important in the mobile and interconnected world: “Friendship networks may play a role in enabling change and innovation, while also ensuring a sense of stability and continuity” (Ryan 2015, p. 1667).

After Tiziano settled in the city, another two external positions (my girlfriend and my owner) became relevant in the adaptation process. As expressed by Tiziano, the owner gives him confidence despite the lack of an employment contract as a guarantee of payment. The trust of the owner becomes the positive externality. “I found a rented accommodation for a period of three months with my girlfriend of the time. I did not have a job, but I answered an advertisement, and I met a very good person who trusted us. The fact that we are in a relationship and that we are already taking French language courses reassured her. She was good enough to accept financial guarantors from Italy.”

The support of the relationship and the understanding of the owner will shape the adaptation of Tiziano in the city. In this way, he manages to follow a linguistic course: “In the meantime, I had already started going to a social association. There were various free courses. After a professional interview with a woman from the association, I was admitted to attend a French language course. After some months, I felt comfortable enough to speak French and to start looking for a job.”

Two artifacts deal with the process of adaptation: the curriculum and the map of the city. “I translated my resume into French and began to circulate it a bit throughout the city. Later, I was advised by a professional to modify it, to adapt it to the French criteria. I had to synthesize it and select my professional experiences according to the targeted positions by highlighting the skills related to the sectors sought. I took the map of the city and, after having cut it by district and by type of company, I made targeted visits: the graphics studios, the photography laboratories, the building companies, the bars and restaurants ... I had no answer, except a glacier on the Old Port who offered me a job interview, but no longer manifested thereafter, no news.” Both artifacts mediate the French culture to him. The CV had to be translated and adapted to the French code, often implicitly. The map helps to code the work positions. Both are boundary objects (Star and Griesemer 1989) between the personal and professional aspirations and the professional positions in the city.

Again, the owner of the house will play an important supporting role for Tiziano’s adaptation. A reciprocal positive externality is activated between them (a small job in the reduction of rent). She also introduces Tiziano to new social relationships to find jobs, helping to overcome the administrative difficulties: “I managed a little bit by doing small jobs in the apartment where I lived; in exchange, the landlord reduced my rent. She also put me in touch with other people, acquaintances or friends, who had some stuff to do in their homes.”

Standing in a stall position, Tiziano set a deadline to balance his experience abroad:

“Later, after three months I began to demoralize, the months passed, and I could not find a job. The language, it did not progress too much because I did not meet so many French people and I did not have any work to practice it. I set myself a deadline to make a balance: October, even if it’s clear that I did not want to go home to Italy. In the end, I told myself that at least I was getting to know the city, to express in French, and that it did not have any meaning to move again.” Here Tiziano deals with conflicts of motives (to leave considering the failure to adapt or to stay and try more to adapt) as a double stimulation, which is a strategic setup that human beings establish to intentionally affect their behavior and the world around them (Sannino 2015).

The following identity position as a volunteer (and then as a worker) in an associative bar helped Tiziano to succeed in the adaptation process in the city. This position allowed him to grow his social network. “I decided to try other ways and stop CVs, which ended in nothing; I learned that a local was looking for volunteer chefs, and as far as the project of this place pleased me, it reminded me of a place we had opened with friends in Italy. I decided to do it a week as a volunteer in the kitchen. (...) In addition, it allowed me to meet a lot of people, including musicians ... I spent long days, from morning to late night. Later, when they tried to hire someone, they offered me the job, and seeing that things were going very well from a human point of view, it was a very good opportunity for me.” Tiziano’s accounts evoke a “dynamic, dialectic, and developmental experience” (Märtsin and Mahmoud 2012a, b, p. 741).

The Developmental Adaptation of Marcello

Marcello highlights his position as a worker moving to Marseille to combine professional life and personal preferences. He does not have personal contacts in the city, and his decision is individualistic. As shown by Dubucs et al. (2017a), the new generation of Italians explores different destinations from previous Italian generations. “I left Italy for an internship in the United States (...). It was in 2008, the crisis began to hit, and I decided to return to Europe. I was still in contact with my former owner of Paris, from the time of Erasmus. Suddenly I chose the French capital as a base. The job offers were not lacking, but the competition either. At the end of an internship at the University, I made a balance and I decided to leave Paris. I wanted to look for a warmer, Mediterranean place. In June 2010 I had an interview in Marseille. The following month I settled here, with work in my field and housing in an apartment of my employer. The conditions of my arrival in Marseille were decidedly favorable: before arriving, I already had a job and a home.”

The adaptation phase of Marcello is disrupted by the loss of the job and the consequent loss of privilege as a worker. The external position of the employer is evoked along with the family and the two French owners: “The problems came later: three months before having to offer a permanent contract, my employer decided not to renew me. Once the last CDD ended, I also lost the apartment that the employer rented me; I was therefore in a really difficult situation where I had to look to rent a room being unemployed. The problem of the guarantors was the big obstacle to be able to sign a lease: my family is in Italy, and the French owners do not trust the guarantors located outside the country. My former owner of Paris was willing to act as a guarantor, but she did not declare enough resources.”

Despite their qualifications, new Italian migrants like Marcello can experience periods of precarious residential and professional life in the new city, as observed also by Pfirsch and Schmoll (2017) in the analysis of Italian in Paris. Indeed, Marcello is willing to accept some material discomforts to reach a degree of recognition that was not possible or not wanted in the original country. After a while, the institutional resources are activated to receive help.

The institutional resources shape the adaptation process, which is concretized by social aid and the validation of the title to be recognized as a professional in France. “I finally found an apartment, under a roof, cheap and central. (...) But after a few months, my social aid stopped arriving. This kind of inconvenience stopped when the pro-migrant association intervened, by contacting the social institute directly and threatening legal actions in defence of my rights and those of the other people who were the object of this type of treatment. I often had concerns about the recognition of my Italian degrees and diplomas.”

The external position as European citizen emerges. Marcello is affected by inter-ethnic relations, struggling to have his rights respected as an EU citizen in mobility. As discussed by Fedi et al. (2019): “Despite many examples of the receiving community holding much more power, the dynamics most often reflected in mainstream media concern receiving community member’s fears of losing power – be it cultural, sociopolitical, or economic – to their society’s newcomers” (p. 1).

In a creative and unexpected way, Marcello’s final adaptation happens, thanks to music and sports: “Doing an activity like capoeira, sharing an interest and goals with other people, immediately creates strong bonds that I could rely on. It does not make it a ‘community,’ but in need, I received some basic help. (...). Later, still thanks to the music, I met an old Italian friend whom I had known while traveling when we were very young. He too helped and supported me. This is one of the rare cases where I rubbed shoulders with Italians ( …). From a human point of view, especially thanks to music, I can say that I really did not have any problem, on the contrary. (...) If you are a European worker who wants to move to another member country, it is difficult to find the key information.” Sports and music became for Marcello the strategy to adapt to the French community. In fact, doing sports and music developed relationships with local people that allowed him to access codes and gather information on the bureaucratic system.


Mobility and migration can be regarded as a dialogical developmental process in which the self is being formed through negotiation with any choice, situations, and context (Valsiner 2003). The internal I-position as a migrant is connected to other positions including online users. Through the process of migration, new positions are acquired due to engaging with the different situations, which is sometimes challenging.

From the online posts in the social network emerged the need of the community to share and build knowledge before the migration, immediately after, and during the stay, reconstructing a polyphonic social process of adaptation to the migration. As discussed by Urry (2003), the literature about globalization demonstrates that there is an ever-growing variety of new instruments and technologies that compress and reduce “space-time” to travel, continuously creating networks to explain the changes affecting the institutions of Western states. Reading the post online in the closed group, a strong feeling of belonging to the “Italian community in Marseille” emerges. This feeling does not arise from pure intellectual reasoning or practical advantages unrelated to actual and effective practices without the establishment of relations with others. The social group of Italians in Marseille became an active medium (Lave and Wenger 1998) to establish connectivity (e.g., togetherness and separation, both virtual and real presence), provide a mode of engagement (self-expression, collaboration, and thin connections), and reconfigure geographies (multi-membership, dynamic boundaries). New migrants consider themselves ready to move and adapt to the new society while remaining attached to their national references (food, authors, movies, music).

From the narrative emerges the “multivoiced self” shaped by the process of migration (Aveling et al. 2014). The two accounts of Tiziano and Marcello share many discontinuities in their stories, starting from an individualistic decision to move to Marseille as a friend and as workers being the principal identity positions, followed by bureaucratic difficulties and a final creative and unexpected adaptation, thanks to informal social activities—volunteering in the first case and sports and music activities in the second. Despite the qualified profile of young Italians in mobility, we are far from the image of the frameworks of globalization circulating easily between international metropolises willingly promoted by some studies on skilled migrants, as expressed by Marcello in this extract: “If you are a European worker who wants to move to another member country, it is difficult to find the key information...” This quote shows the challenge of intra-European workers. Despite the challenge, these citizens of Europe are ready to move into the new context, often without considering returning home. In the two accounts, it is possible to trace a profound transformation of oneself. In the process of migration, people engage with others and re-position themselves in relation to the new environment (Gillespie 2012). This process of moving, both spatially and temporally, becomes a real learning experience changing personal trajectories, plans, and opinions. In this sense, mobility entails a transformative experience in a new personal becoming (Märtsin 2010; Märtsin and Mahmoud 2012a, b).

In the online posts and the two accounts, the internal and external positions are built discursively: “Dialogue is the glue that keeps together the various I-positions and, at the same time, scaffolds the acquisition of new positions as well as ultimately, the construction and re-construction of the whole identity system” (Ligorio and Barzanò 2018, p. 3).


In this paper, we have qualitatively analyzed workers’ intra-European mobility, focusing on a specific dynamic of migration from Italy to the southern region of France with the help of traces left on social networks. Qualitative analysis of these traces in the online groups from a dialogical perspective and in the narratives reveals the adaptive processes during the migration.

The social dimensions reveal the developmental perception of adaptation in the migration of this specific intra-European group. This research could be enriched by taking an interdisciplinary perspective (economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.) and by taking into consideration reciprocal acculturation strategies and expectancies (Yakushko and Morgan-Consoli 2014). The project aims to extend the research to a larger sample of Italians in Marseille for quantitative and qualitative analysis, building a specific interview grid. It will be interesting to apply the same methodology in other contexts for a generalization process of results in other intra-European dynamics.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aix Marseille Univ, ADEFMarseilleFrance
  2. 2.Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LAMESAix-en-ProvenceFrance

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