Normality unpacked: migration, ethnicity and local structure of feeling among Polish migrant workers in Northern Ireland with a comparative perspective on Scotland

Radosław Polkowski

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Previous literature on Polish migration to the UK identified a discourse of normality as a grand narrative in migrants’ justifications for living and working abroad. The present article contributes to this literature by asking what happens to this discourse in the circumstances of the UK, where it cannot be easily sustained. To explore this issue, the case of Northern Ireland is chosen and it is illustratively compared to that of Scotland. Using the concept of Structures of Feeling to frame the analysis of semi-structured interviews with Polish migrant workers, the study shows that, on the one hand, migration experience in Northern Ireland seems to undermine the ideal of a normal life as well as the idealised images of the UK that the discourse of normality conveys. However, it also shows that this discourse remains an important feature of migrants’ narratives. In accounting for this inconsistency within interviews, the article proposes the notion of ‘normality through exclusion’. It also shows that, although not straightforwardly different from the experience of migration to other parts of the UK, the experience of migration to Northern Ireland is also characterised by certain subtleties which are well accounted for by the concept of Structures of Feeling.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Early online date1 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2017


  • migration
  • polish migrants
  • structures of feeling
  • Northern Ireland

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