Reimagining Lifestyle Migration

resisting ‘Presentism’ and future directions for research

seminar presented by Dr Nick Osbaldiston, Federation University

21st August 2014

Since its insertion into the modern vernacular of migration and consumption research in 2009, the direction of lifestyle migration work has trended towards mostly understanding motivation for individuals to leave their urban environments for usually regional ones and how this relates to our changed globalised social structures.
As Michaela Benson and I argue (Benson & Osbaldiston, 2014), this focus has meant that a lot of research has been founded on what David Inglis (2013) has recently coined ‘presentist’ social theory. In particular, the emphasis on this phenomenon as something ‘new’ which rests on distinction from earlier epochs is an assertion presented as fait accompli. One of the reasons for this is perhaps the broader social theory environment where ‘a range of periodizing constructs’ provide packaged up and black boxed theory (to borrow from Latour) where the ‘serious study of historical processes’ is negated (Inglis 2013: 3). In short, the intellectual entrepreneurs of contemporary social theory have done the work that sociology was once attuned to, namely historical comparison, for us.

In this paper I wish to point out three main points for the future of lifestyle migration research here in Australia and beyond. Firstly, at a broader level I argue that sociology needs to reacquaint itself with its core foundation, namely the transition of what we might call a premodern world through to our contemporary condition. Secondly and related, if we follow this type of theoretical approach then can we argue that lifestyle migration is indeed fresh or is it merely another manifestation of older forms of migration? Thirdly, if we do away with concepts from modernity as perhaps Ulrich Beck suggests, we risk overlooking some of the most important issues in relation to current lifestyle migration.