A Field Theoretical Approach to Expatriate Mobilities: Ethnographic Research on Mobility in Culinary and Sexual Fields


 A Field Theoretical Approach to Expatriate Mobilities: Ethnographic Research on Mobility in Culinary and Sexual Fields

Prof. James Farrer (Sophia University, Japan)

Time: February 9, Tuesday at 11am, Amsterdam time

Venue: Zoom 


Watch the talk on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2aZbd0T8Y8




When people move, they move not only through geographic spaces, but also within and across social fields, including fields of work, culture, sexuality and other more specialized areas of life and livelihood. How then do we best conceptualize expatriate mobilities and their relationship to field mobilities? Based on twenty years of ethnography in Shanghai, I will use sex and food as a lens to think about expatriate mobility (Farrer 2019, 2020; Farrer and Dale 2014). Food and sex are two fundamental human activities, and both can be conceptualized as social fields (Leschziner and Green 2013). When migrants move, their sexual and culinary activities and interests (their habitus) move with them. They also bring certain field specific resources, ranging from skills and knowledge to embodied sexual capital or culinary capital. When resource-rich migrants, such as expatriates, move, they are not only able to relocate their everyday individual practices but also mobilize resources to reshape the sexual fields and culinary fields in which they live and act. In short, expatriates experience not only mobility within the field – a rise or a fall in the worth of their personal capital portfolios – but also engage in reshaping transnational fields within which they act and seek affirmation. A study of expatriate mobilities must look at both processes: (1) individual mobility within social fields as individual-level processes and (2) the mobility of the fields themselves as meso-level social and political processes.



Farrer, James. 2020. "From cooks to chefs: skilled migrants in a globalising culinary field." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2020.1731990.

Farrer, James, and Sonja Dale. 2014. "Sexless in Shanghai: Gendered mobility strategies in a transnational sexual field." Sexual fields: Toward a sociology of collective sexual life, Adam Green ed, Chicago, pp. 143-69.

Farrer, James. 2019. International Migrants in China's Global City: The New Shanghailanders. Routledge.

Leschziner, Vanina, and Adam Isaiah Green. 2013. "Thinking about food and sex: deliberate cognition in the routine practices of a field." Sociological Theory 31 (2): 116-144.


James Farrer Bio

James Farrer is Professor of Sociology and Global Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo. His research focuses on the contact zones of global cities, including ethnographic studies of sexuality, nightlife, expatriate communities, and urban food cultures. Recent publications include International Migrants in China’s Global City: The New Shanghailanders (Routledge), Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal Biography of a Global City (with Andrew Field, University of Chicago Press), and Globalization and Asian Cuisines: Transnational Networks and Contact Zones (editor, Palgrave).


This event is sponsored by the ERC-funded ChinaWhite research project (www.china-white.org). It is free and open to the public, but registration is required.