French Caribbean migrations: from transatlantic space to transnational space

Stephanie Condon, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)

As citizens of the French republic, Martinicains and Guadeloupeans who move to mainland France are considered internal migrants. It is principally for this reason that academic research on immigration to France has rarely included Caribbean migration. Yet, as specific studies have shown, the dynamics of emigration from the French Caribbean display similarities with both internal movements and post-colonial labour immigration. The migration cycle – emigration and return – has been shown to be increasingly inappropriate for understanding much of Caribbean migration as movements between the Europe and the Caribbean are frequent and of a varied nature. The first aim of this paper is to discuss the extent to which thousands of people born in the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and having migrated to France live out their lives in a transatlantic space. Their multiple attachments, involving the circulation of individuals and goods, bear similarities to the dynamics of the much discussed Caribbean transnational experience. Up until recently, this absence of national boundary meant that the term ‘transnationality’ was inappropriate. A second aim of the paper is to examine new trends which bring French Caribbeans into the context of transnational migration and circulation. For most of the period from 1920s to 1980s, migration from Guadeloupe and Martinique was directed to the French metropole. This was the result of a combination of the French state’s policies of assimilation and emigration and of language barriers. Now increasing numbers of French Caribbeans, either born in the Caribbean or metropolitan-born descendants of migrants, move to work in London or elsewhere in Europe. A major challenge for such work is the scarcity of data. For no ‘ethnic’ identification of individuals in census or other survey data is available. Research results used in this paper are based on census data, written archives and qualitative interviews.

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Presented in Session 14: Transnational Communities and Diaspora Networks