Privileged Mobilities

Professional Migration, Geo-Social Media, and a New Global Middle Class

by Erika Polson (Author)
©2016 Textbook VII, 196 Pages


As corporations ramp up «workforce globalization» and young professionals increasingly pursue opportunities to work abroad, social entrepreneurs use online digital platforms to create offline social events where foreigners can meet face-to-face. Through ethnographic study of such groups in Paris, Singapore, and Bangalore, Erika Polson illustrates how, as a new generation of expatriates uses location technologies to create mobile «places,» a new global middle class is emerging.
While there are many differences in the specifics between the expat groups, they share certain characteristics that indicate a larger logic to the way that the increasing mobility of professional career paths is connected to new subjectivities and changing forms of community among a diverse and growing demographic.
This book opens up a new field of study, one which pays more attention to middle class mobility while questioning the privileging of mobility more generally.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. A Portal to Paris
  • Chapter 2. Belonging to the Global Network Society
  • Chapter 3. Eastward Flows: Meeting Up in Singapore
  • Chapter 4. ‘Mobile Girls’: Single, Female Expats in Bangalore
  • Chapter 5. Connected, but to What? Community in a Mobile Frontier
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


Like the subjects of my research, my path during the writing of this book has been a meandering one, with the project coming together over many years and varied geographic homes, and many people influencing it along the way. When I began doctoral studies of mass communication at Penn State University, I had a vague interest in studying media and cultures across disparate national contexts, and through courses with John Spicer Nichols, Amit Schejter, and Dennis Davis, I developed a focus on migration and media; an outstanding qualitative research course with Jeremy Packer introduced me to ethnography, and I discovered how true the method felt to me. As my dissertation plans began to form around conducting a months-long ethnography of digitally organized parties for expats in Paris, my dissertation committee didn’t shy away from supporting a project that may have looked on the surface like a proposal for an extended vacation, and for that I will be forever thankful. Dennis Davis, Michael Elavsky, Matt Jordan, and Mrinalini Sinha embraced the research and encouraged me to pursue it. Matt McAllister helpfully suggested I fund the trip by teaching an online course, and Anne Hoag made it happen. It was Mrinalini Sinha who, when I returned from Paris saying that I’d been surprised to find the group wasn’t as elite as I thought it would be, recommended I read up on theories of the ‘middle class.’ ← ix | x →

At Penn State, a special group of people were an endless source of support, interesting conversation, comic relief, and meal-sharing: Doug Tewksbury (the original ‘group’ member), Shannon Kahle, Erin Whiteside, Kathleen Kuehn, Nicole Laliberte, Chris Gamble, Carmen Stavrositu, Aziz Douai, Caryn Winters, Ming Kuok Lim, TC Corrigan, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Kalen Churcher, Juraj Kittler, Youjeong Kim, Jason Genovese, and Nan Yu. Mary Beth Oliver and John Christman were always a part of happiness and well-being in State College, as were Samar Faraj and Sajay Samuel. When I moved to Spain to teach at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus, the two years were made magical by the friendship of Fabiola Martínez and Kevin Ingram, and buoyed by the collegiality of Ariadne Ferro, Mario Ojeda, Daniel Chornet Roses, Brian Goss, Anne Dewey, Maura Tarnoff, and Paul Vita.

It was after I joined the Media, Film & Journalism Studies faculty at the University of Denver in 2011 that this research grew from a case study to a broader project that could make larger claims about mobility, globalization, and cultural shifts. My colleagues aided this evolution from the beginning—starting with my former chair Renee Botta who, after hearing that I wanted to take the research to Singapore, negotiated the start-up funds to pay for it. Also in my department, I’ve benefitted so much from the guidance of my current chair, Lynn Schofield Clark, as well as support and feedback from Diane Waldman and Nadia Kaneva. I also thank Christof Demont-Heinrich, Rachael Liberman, Taylor Nygaard, Derigan Silver, and Margie Thompson for conversations contributing to this work, with particular gratitude for Adrienne Russell, who is always ready to read and comment on drafts and, more important, is my go-to source for hikes, dinners, and family time. I’m very appreciative of the help of Peggy Marlow, who seems to have the answer to every policy question and is a joy to work with. Working with graduate students Levi Lindsey and Danielle Vaughn on thesis projects related to geo-social media inspired my own research and informed my understanding of the range of theoretical lenses that could be brought to bear on the topic. Outside the department, Andrea Stanton and I have been here together from the beginning and seem, luckily, to keep joining the same division-wide committees, which makes service much more fun; I’m so grateful that Lindsey Feitz and Pavithra Prasad came to the faculty meetups and became some of my closest friends at the university and in the city. (And as I set up the research in Bangalore, Pavi gave priceless advice on where to go, what to pack, who to read, and how to think about the moon.) ← x | xi →

A set of wonderful people met through conferences and the academic network have provided inspirational conversation, helpful feedback, introductions, and friendship. Here, I thank: Paul Adams, Andrew Calabrese, Eve Forrest, Ingrid Hoofd, Jessa Lingel, Sara Martel, Jeremy Packer, Sarah Sharma, Christine Quail, and Rowan Wilken, with special notes of gratitude to Mark Hayward, who was my academic partner-in-crime in Europe (particularly when volcanoes threatened to ruin conference planning, but on so many other occasions as well), and to Jack Bratich—the ultimate bricoleur—whose blend of mentoring and friendship is irreplaceable. And I especially thank Paul Youngquist, who is one of the best listeners and responders-to-what-was-actually-said that I’ve ever met; he has been there for every step of this journey, inspiring it in countless ways.

The various challenges involved in conducting research abroad have been aided (and made more enjoyable) by Danielle Berger Fortier, Etienne Kowalski, Nicole Kornitzer, and Justin Mainguy in Paris; Jamie Licko in Singapore; and Soumya Ashok in Bangalore; along with an eclectic group of meetup attendees and organizers in all three cities to whom I am grateful for kindness and openness to sharing experiences with a stranger. Many people over the years informed and inspired how I think about cross-cultural communication and friendships. Here, I thank Rebeca Barbará, Martín Goldman Srour, Matías Guisado, Oscar Martínez Tapia, Víctor Pizarro, Miguel Quismondo, and Carlotta Silvagni, and send a special shout out to some of my earliest allies in adventure: Barbi Appel, Erin Cameron, Rafael Kotcherha-Cámpora, Shana Ayers and Tiffany Hendryx (as well as Daren Kixmiller, Jody Brooks, and Chris Willemin, who are deeply missed). I dedicated the book to my mom, Jennifer Peterson: without her crucial ‘go-with-the-flow’ travel lessons from a young age, I never could have conceived of these projects nor carried them out. But I also want to thank my papa, Carl Polson (who enthusiastically reads my work, then calls to discuss!), as well as my brothers and incredibly loving, large family of second parents, sis-in-laws, ‘niblings,’ cousins, aunts, uncles and many spin-offs.

The research and conference presentations that underlie this work were paid for with generous University of Denver start-up and annual travel funds, as well as two Walter Rosenberry Fund Grants, a DU Faculty Research Fund grant, and a DU Humanities Institute Travel Grant. The project has come together chapter by chapter, with much of the research presented at conferences and published in journals along the way. In 2015, an abbreviated ← xi | xii → version of Chapter One along with the segments of the Introduction that describe the growing mobile professional workforce and the concept of digital place-making were published as “A Gateway to the Global City: Mobile Place-making Practices by Expats” in New Media & Society, a Sage journal (see Polson, 2015). An earlier, condensed version of Chapter Two, along with parts of the Introduction (sections on theories of the middle class, and globalizing the middle class) was published in 2011 as “Belonging to the Network Society: Social Media and the Production of a New Global Middle Class” in Communication, Culture & Critique, an International Communication Association journal published by John Wiley & Sons (see Polson, 2011). In 2014, a fortuitous invitation from André Jansson to contribute to a special journal issue on “Mobile Elites: Sojourners, Dwellers and Homecomers” led to my research in Bangalore (and attendance at the excellent GeoMedia conference in Karlstad, Sweden). An expanded version of that work appears here as Chapter Four, as well as in the Introduction chapter’s section on mobility and embodiment; the original article is forthcoming in European Journal of Cultural Studies (a Sage journal) in late 2016—available online in advance (see Polson, in press). Finally, this project has come to fruition as a book thanks to a great group of people at Peter Lang, especially Bernadette Shade, who guided the manuscript through production, Sophie Appel who designed a vibrant cover, Cameron McCarthy, who invited me to publish in the series, and Mary Savigar, who offered excellent encouragement and feedback as editor. Their patience and guidance, and overall enthusiasm for the research, are deeply appreciated.

← xii | 1 →


Make the world your home.

Paris, September 2008—I stood alone in front of Galerie 31, a trendy bar in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. The building was one of the renovations common to contemporary Paris, a modern interior fit perfectly into a historic shell. Although I was only fifteen minutes late, the bar was already full, with smartly dressed late-twenties and thirty-somethings drifting out of the open floor-to-ceiling windows to the sidewalk area, drinks in hand and conversation swirling. The webpage had said that people should feel comfortable arriving solo, but from my vantage point outside, they all seemed to know one another already; I felt like an awkward intruder, crashing the party. Yet immediately as I walked in the door, a young man was waiting to say hello. He was so welcoming that I thought he must be the host. “Is this the meetup?” I asked, unsure of how to begin. He introduced himself as Aiden,1 from Singapore. He wasn’t the host, just another member looking for people to meet. Soon we were part of a small group, including a Canadian man, a German woman, and a woman who stiffly introduced herself as “Lara, South America-U.S.” A news correspondent for one of Germany’s largest private TV stations joined the group and said he’d just moved to Paris two days earlier. He ← 1 | 2 → had visited a colleague in Paris the year before and she took him to one of these events that took place on a riverboat. When he arrived a couple of days ago, she (who doesn’t live here anymore) reminded him about it. He checked it out online, noticed there was a party in two hours, and decided to drop by.


VII, 196
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
Workforce globalization Social entrepreneurs Digital platforms Expat groups Young professionals New Mobilities
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. VII, 196 pp.

Biographical notes

Erika Polson (Author)

Erika Polson (PhD, The Pennsylvania State University) is an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies at the University of Denver. Her work has appeared in publications including Media, Culture & Society; Communication, Culture & Critique; New Media & Society, and the International Communication Gazette.


Title: Privileged Mobilities