Return Migration and Everyday Objects

“Migrants know they can move on; it is one of their skills”

– Caroline Knowles and Douglas Harper, 2009, Hong Kong: migrant lives, landscapes, and journeys, p. 59

“On moving abroad, home must be reconceptualized, re-created, and relived and three ordinary things, a painting, a bowl, and a DVD, suggest the complexity, instability, and multiplicity” of this process.

– Katie Walsh, 2006, Home Cultures 3(2), p. 138

While the old adage suggests that you can never truly go home again, migration scholars are increasingly recognizing that migrants can and do return to the countries they once left. Indeed, changing family and career circumstances can lead many middle-class migrants to re-consider where they live and the opportunities provided by living elsewhere. Hong Kong provides a particularly interesting case because although thousands of residents obtained foreign passports in the late 1980s and 1990s when the city’s future was uncertain, many returned after its handover to China in 1997. Some even continue to leave and return in monthly or annual cycles, in order to support family, find career success, or take advantage of lifestyle opportunities.

This one-year project, started with Prof Adrian Bailey and Miss Kelly Li in September 2012, looks more closely at return migrants – in particular Hong Kong residents who migrated to other countries and have now returned (temporarily or for good). In particular, the project focuses upon how people’s everyday lives and objects have changed over the course of return migration. Qualitative data on the changes in people’s everyday object practices will be collected through semi-structured interviews and a two-week period of playful experiments that track how and where everyday objects move. This research draws together and contributes to the theoretical concepts grounding discussions of migration, mobilities and social practices.


Bailey, Adrian and Allison Hui (2012-13). Hong Kong Baptist University Faculty Research Grant “Everyday object mobilities: the changing practices of return migrants in Hong Kong” – $92,540 HKD

Journal article:

Hui, Allison. (2015), Networks of home, travel and use during Hong Kong return migration: thinking topologically about the spaces of human–material practices. Global Networks, 15: 536–552. doi: 10.1111/glob.12093 [Hui Networks of home travel and use Accepted version]

Media and Public Engagement:

Short interview as part of the ‘What is Mobilities?’ series produced by Concordia University’s Mobile Media Lab:

Policy Briefing Note on how return migrants’ everyday lives can inform progressive immigration policies in Hong Kong

Brief public podcasts about the project:
Short Social Stories 1 – What do you take with you?

Short Social Stories 1 transcription

Short Social Stories 2 – When objects don’t fit in

Short Social Stories 2 transcription

Short Social Stories 3 – Migrant photos

Short Social Stories 3 transcription

Conference presentations:

Hui, A. (2014). ‘Ruptures, absences and transformations: tracing changes in everyday practice through the migrations of objects’, Liverpool University Geography and Planning Seminar, UK (15 May).

Hui, A. (2014). ‘The things that move with us: using ‘object experiment books’ to uncover mobile, exceptional, and everyday dynamics in the lives of Hong Kong return migrants’, British Sociological Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds (23 April). [More about the conference can be found here]

Hui, A. (2013). ‘Situating the limits of mobility futures: lessons from Hong Kong migration studies’, Global Mobility Futures Conference, Lancaster University (6 Sept). [More about the conference can be found here]

Hui, A. and Li, K. (2013). ‘Material migrations: the object stories, networks and practices of return migrants in Hong Kong’, David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies Seminar, Hong Kong Baptist University (3 July). [Poster here]

Hui, A. (2013). ‘Networked materialities in the changing lives of Hong Kong’s return migrants’, Differential mobilities: movement and mediation in networked societies, Conference of the Pan-American Mobilities Network, Montreal, Canada (8-11 May). [More about the conference can be found here]

Hui, A. (2013). ‘Normal mobilities and future trajectories: Hong Kong migration and an Asian mobilities agenda’, Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, Los Angeles, USA (9-13 April).

Working paper:

Hui, A., Lan, S. and Bailey, A.J. (2013). ‘Transbordering and diverse Hong Kong mobilities’, David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies Working Paper 122, Hong Kong. Available