‘Global elites’ are citizens of somewhere

Published: 19 September 2017 at 09:00

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Study into globally mobile professionals uncovers a strong sense of community

So-called “global elites” have a strong sense of identity and community albeit one that transcends nationality and ethnicity, according to a new study published in the journal Human Relations.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a Conservative Party Conference speech in 2016 that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”, implying that people who embrace globalisation and cosmopolitanism do not have the same sense of identity or community as those who identify strongly with their nationality.

Some believe that this divide between nationalism and globalism was one of the catalysts for the Brexit vote earlier in the year. However, new research carried out by Anglia Ruskin University has found that globally mobile professionals, often labelled “global elites”, develop a shared sense of identity which goes beyond nationality or ethnicity – suggesting that cosmopolitanism can be a source of belonging of its own.

The study involved interviewing a diverse group of middle-class expats working for multinational firms in Amsterdam and found that they formed strong bonds with other professionals from across the world as well as an attachment to Amsterdam as their home.

Anthropologist Dr Irene Skovgaard-Smith, co-author of the study and Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“The so-called ‘global elites’ are often portrayed as a uniform group of disloyal mercenaries who shun both their roots as well as local engagement in the countries they move to.
“The reality is far more nuanced, as can be seen in this study. While these expats are undoubtedly privileged with professional careers in multinational firms, they are not free-floating, detached individualists. They live normal lives like millions of middle-class professionals in the UK and elsewhere who have not left their home country. They have families, often of mixed nationality, and they too seek community and belonging and want to feel at home as engaged citizens where they live.

“The study shows that these people have a shared sense of identity just as strong as people who base their cultural identity on nationality, ethnicity or religion. Far from being ‘citizens of nowhere’, they are also proud ‘Amsterdammers’ who have put down roots in the city and call it home.
“These expats are highly coveted by the city of Amsterdam. The city recognises the contribution they make and they have a strategic focus on making Amsterdam an attractive place for high-skilled migrants.”

A recent KPMG survey suggested that almost a million EU citizens living in the UK are either planning to leave or have already left following the Brexit vote. Many of these workers are similarly young, highly qualified and sought-after by firms.

Dr Skovgaard-Smith added: 

“In the wake of the Brexit vote, it is these skilled EU citizens who are most likely to consider leaving to go elsewhere. They seek not only career opportunities and the freedom to move across national borders, but also open, diverse places where they can feel at home as engaged citizens, regardless of nationality.”