How migrants are trying to find their place in a new social structure, is just one of the questions the new guest professor at Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM) will be looking at.

And that might be demonstrated in how they take their coffee.

Magdalena Nowicka has just started her role as Guest Professorship in Memory of Willy Brandt at the MIM research centre where she will be continuing her focus on ‘fluid classes’ and social class in a transnational context.

Her research is based on data looking at Polish migrants in four cities — two in Germany, and two in England.

In relation to her, now complete, research, the Professor for Migration and Transnationalism at the Humboldt University and Head of Department Integration at DeZIM e.V. in Berlin, believes this data is useful in terms of thinking about what role social class plays when people migrate.

“The research looks at how these migrants are trying to find their place in a new social structure. Their case is interesting because of very rapid transformations in Poland – not only the change from communism to liberal capitalism, but also the history of Poland in the 19th and 20th century that turned the country’s social structure upside down.

“This means that the idea of social class developed t in the Western European countries, which had a long history of stability, doesn’t really fit the Polish context.

“People have particular aspirations for where they want to be, and then they come, for example, to the UK, which has a very different class structure to the Polish one.

How people drink their coffee has really changed from communist times to present day, and it is different across generations and geographical locations.

“Although people have good educations, they often take up jobs in warehouses and do simple manual labour. In this sense, they are de-skilled but also have middle class ambitions.

“Many Polish people have been in the UK for 15 years now. Because they come from Eastern Europe and they are ‘white’, they are considered desirable workers and well-integrated migrants. But ‘whiteness’ is not just skin colour but a position in the socio-economic structure. These migrants try to position themselves in the British middle class, where they feel they belong to, but are also not quite accepted there because they remain migrants with relatively poor economic and social capital.”

Nowicka has ambitions to write a book about such complications. “My first idea for a working title was ‘How do you drink your coffee?’ Because what matters, I think, are not only these objective, hard indicators of class position, like formal education, but also very everyday things related to how people try and distinguish themselves from others.

Coffee is one example of this. How people drink their coffee has really changed from communist times to present day, and it is different across generations and geographical locations. When I was a kid, people would simply drink coffee grounded and poured with boiling water. Some people would also make coffee in a Turkish way, cooked together with some spices.

“This has changed. People moved to filter coffees, but now when you go to Poland, especially in big cities, you have big machines serving lattes, people paying more attention to whether their coffee is fair traded, organic or not. Yet at the same time, when you visit Polish migrants in the UK, they would often serve very traditional coffee, which might be just because it is the cheapest. I think coffee also reveals a lot of distinctions between urban cultures and provincial towns in Poland, and how these patterns also move across borders. Looking at the coffee drinking habits tells us a lot thus about how social class is culture.”

Text by: Adrian Grist