Mobilities and embodied transnational practices: En ethnography of return(s) and other intersections between China and Spain


Irene Masdeu Torruella

PhD defended at: 

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).



This dissertation aims to explore transnational links and contemporary return migration practices from Spain to China from an intergenerational perspective.
The study is framed in an in-depth ethnography based in Qingtian (Zhejiang), the place from where most of the Chinese people in Spain come from. The ethnography conceptualizes and analyses return process within the diversity of transnational practices and links between China and Spain that shape the life of Qingtianese migrants.
Therefore this dissertation does not approach return as a detached and isolated phenomenon but approaches it within the wider scope of transnational practices.
The aim of this research is not only to follow itineraries and understand the experience of migrants who return to China. Going beyond this one-sided perspective focused on the perspective of "returnees", this ethnography takes a relational perspective and explores the broader context of the migration process, which includes different social actors, different places and different forms of mobility.

To do so, I developed an empirically-grounded analytical scheme, which includes the different bidirectional transnational practices according to their different nature and degrees of embodiment: from the physical movement of people (visits, migration and return) to object-mediated mobilities (circulation of objects, products and economic capital and their emplacement), and the more ethereal, virtual contacts and exchange of information through the new information and communication technologies. The conceptual and analytical model, allowed me to underscore how different movements related to things, ideas and people are an integral part of present-day transnational practices between Qingtian and Spain.

This study has shown that transnational social practices have changed in meaning, intensity, direction and dimension in the last few years and that new modes of mobility are arising within the China – Spain scope. Besides, the research revealed how nowadays transnational connections and mobilities are involved in a complex set of factors related to structural changes, generation continuum, class and different nature of mobility.
Weather we are referring to migrants or to their descendants, nowadays movements from Spain to China featured by Chinese people cannot be explained as a return in its traditional sense. These practices not only involve a physical but also a social mobility and are aimed to keep on “moving on by going back”.