While there is vast research on expatriate adjustment, it is still known very little on how self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) in particular might cope with identity conflicts and how they engage with identity work. What is more, although there is some literature on the existence of expatriate bubbles, this does not cover how these bubbles might impact identity work. The purpose of this paper is to explore identity work that is taking place within expatriate bubbles and thus advance our knowledge on both expatriate bubbles and expatriate adjustment.
The study reports on the analysis of in-depth, semi-structured interview data collected from 37 self-initiated expatriate engineers from Greece, Spain and Italy, currently residing in Bristol, UK.
Previous studies have argued that expatriate bubbles impede adjustment. The study analysis, however, shows that expatriate bubbles can be not only a powerful mechanism for coping with foreignness and strengthening their sense of belonging but also act as identity workspaces where SIEs engaged with identity work and navigated identity conflicts.
The present study addresses two empirical gaps: the paucity of literature on the identity work that self-initiated expatriates engage with and the paucity studies on self-initiated expatriate engineers. The study also has a theoretical contribution as, drawing upon a Goffmanian dramaturgical framework sheds light on the back regions of performance taking place within expatriate bubbles. Thus, showing how SIEs relax but also rehearse their performances in order to reduce any identity gaps triggered by the new organisational and national context.
The authors would like to wholeheartedly thank all the participants of this study who generously gave us their time in the middle of the pandemic and shared their life stories, successes and struggles with them.
Funding: This study was supported by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant SRG1920\100703.
Papafilippou, V. and Efthymiadou, C. (2023), "Identity work in the backstage: exploring the role of expatriate bubbles in identity work of self-initiated expatriate engineers through a Goffmanian lens", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 92-109. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-06-2022-0031
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