Experiences of culture and cultural negotiations among Russian-speaking migrants: National habitus and cultural continuity dilemmas in child-rearing
School of Arts and Humanities
How migrants negotiate and adjust to new cultural settings and how they transmit culture to their children are key questions for migration researchers. This paper explores how culture is experienced and negotiated among Russian-speaking migrants, drawing on interviews and observation data collected in Perth, Australia, and Madrid, Spain, together with online forum data and documents. Analysis reveals that long-term socio-historical processes taking place within the post-Soviet space generate certain similarities among its inhabitants. These shared features, which Norbert Elias (1996) called ‘national habitus’, include internalised dispositions and behavioural patterns evident and reproduced in everyday life, such as hygiene and healthcare practices, norms of conduct in public places, and practices and beliefs related to the control of children’s behaviour and discipline. Many migrants come to realise that they are bearers of these similarities only in the process of the migration experience. This process of recognition of their habitus, including realising the cultural nature of certain standards of behaviour perceived as ‘civilised’ and ‘rational’ in the past, and the making of decisions about what is important to keep and what is not, we refer to as ‘cultural continuity dilemmas’. Participants resolve these dilemmas in three main ways: reinforcing their cultural classification systems through condemnation or attempts to correct; adopting the new standards; or adjusting perceptions to find a compromise. In these processes, certain practices and norms may come to be recognised as Soviet in both positive and negative senses, as being acceptable, or outdated remnants of a totalitarian system. Solving such dilemmas creates a unique combination of practices, forming a common cultural hybridity and generating new awareness of cultural and national identities.