The winner of the 2021 EAC Thesis Award

The jury panel of the 2021 EAC Thesis Award have chosen a winning thesis: “The Lost Generation of Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC): Stories of Loss, Longing, and Belonging”, an MA Research Project and Paper by Aaisha Zafar Islam of York & Ryerson Universities in Toronto, Canada.

The executive summary follows, as written by Aaisha:

The history of a people is the history of a land. However, not all those who are witness to the history of a land can claim a belonging to it. If expatriates as a group have their stories ‘fall through the cracks’ in the discourse around global migration and diaspora studies, then my MA research project and paper highlight another layer of complexity to these ‘lost’ stories: the dilemma of belonging and not belonging to a land as experienced by children of expatriate workers.

My MA project, “The Lost Generation of Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC): Stories of Loss, Longing, and Belonging” is inspired by my lived experiences, and the life stories of my generational cohort, the ‘Lost Generation’ of GCC, or ‘Generation 1.5.’ These are a people with multi-hyphenated identities whose sense of collective identity as a ‘GCC kid’ has no tangible connection with the land their first identities are formed in.

From South Asia to the GCC and then GCC to Canada or other citizenship offering countries, my research project aligns closely with the mission and objectives of the Expatriate Archive Centre (EAC) to document life stories of expatriates (or expatriate children) and place them within the growing body of work around global migration studies.

As a former journalist who wrote for the public, I have struggled with academia’s (arguably) isolated knowledge creation and knowledge sharing practices. If research is funded by the public, surely the public should have access to it in an easy to understand format? My research project was an attempt to bridge this divide between knowledge for academic and public consumption.

Stories, recollections and memoirs are a time-honoured way of knowledge transfer and preserving histories. As a qualitative research tool, narrative inquiry offers a more wholesome and nuanced approach to studying a phenomenon.

This project and paper entailed double the writing efforts, while one was an academic paper detailing the process of research conceptualisation, creation and analysis, the project was envisioned and executed as a work of creative non-fiction. It was written as a collection of profiles, taking an auto-ethnographical approach to the phenomenon, while drawing on interviews with people from ‘Generation 1.5.’ Planned as a phenomenological study with oral histories and narrative inquiries as primary methods of data collection, it sought to understand how ties are formed, severed and re-formed as a people move through different countries.

The paper component was an exploration of the geo-political and socioeconomic factors that have resulted in a unique ‘non-citizen resident’ life experience in the GCC. These countries have reaped maximum advantage of the cultural, social and economic capitals of their ‘foreign’ workers, resulting in the GCC becoming a formidable power bloc in the world. On the other hand, restrictive biopolitical measures, immigration laws and policies, and nonexistent citizenship rights have resulted in a whole ‘lost’ generation of ‘expat’ children (Generation 1.5) with no claim to the land they are born in. This project and paper explores how this denial of existence and rights shapes the way these people view themselves, and their place in their new ‘home’ country, Canada.

By examining scholarly literature around citizenship, economic migrations and expatriation, as well the geopolitical and geoeconomics conditions that foster conditions for migration and diaspora experiences, and situating them within a sociocultural context offers a more nuanced understanding of expatriate stories.

In times when there is increasing interest around diversity and inclusion measures in policy-making and sociopolitical engagement in societies, qualitative research projects such as mine identify newer ways to studying and understanding migration, expatriation and diaspora experiences. My research project is different from traditional academic theses in its self-reflexive approach as it encourages the reader to engage with these stories. We can all do better with more self-awareness, compassion and empathy.