Erin Adamson was awarded an NSF for her doctoral research on Lifestyle Migrants and the Economics of Integration in Caribbean Costa Rica. The grant will help fun my ethnographic research in Costa Rica beginning in late summer 2019.
This project examines the lives and impacts of North American and European migrants who move to poor communities in Costa Rica and form “expat” communities. Many of these expat migrants are retirees hoping to stretch their pensions by living in an inexpensive locale, and some are younger people looking for adventure, a slower pace of life, or a lower cost of living in a beautiful place. Migrants often open businesses and employ local residents in their homes or workplaces in rural areas where most economic opportunities are in the tourism industry. Understanding the experiences of these migrants, many of whom are retirees from the U.S., and their relations with local Costa Ricans is important because migrants’ roles as entrepreneurs, bosses, landowners, and intimate partners have the capacity to increase economic inequality in a peaceful, democratic country in the otherwise tumultuous Central American region. The relative wealth of expat migrants fosters “reverse integration,” in which locals must learn the language and customs of migrants, rather than migrants learning the language and customs of local communities. Expats’ privileged social and commercial relations with locals mirrors earlier colonial structures in which locals provide labor but reap few economic benefits from foreign-run businesses, a situation which has caused political unrest in rural communities globally. This project advances the study of migration and integration, gentrification in rural communities, and retirement, and fills a gap in our understanding of the impact of privileged migrants on economies and social relations.