At home: to be or not to be? Brotherhood researcher explores the migrant experience

25 October 2016

In her book 'Migration, settlement and the concepts of house and home' Brotherhood senior researcher Dr Iris Levin examines different groups of migrants who have settled in two major metropolitan cities, at two distinct periods, and their experience of building a home.

Timothy Grant, a year 9 student who recently did work experience at the Brotherhood, spoke to Dr Levin about her new book.

Why did you write the book?

The book is based on my PhD research which I undertook at the University of Melbourne and completed in 2010. When I completed my PhD I felt that I would like to share what I’ve found and get people to read the study because understanding the migration process and how this process is never-ending is important for those who haven’t migrated, and for those who have.

Also, the book shows another aspect of the migrant life – one that is usually not exposed, and this adds another layer to the understanding and sympathy we can all share with migrants.

Dr Levin, you decided to focus on specific migrants coming to and from certain countries. What made you write about these countries?

Thanks for your interest in the book, Timothy. I moved to Australia from Israel to undertake my PhD studies in 2006, and so I’ve decided to rely on my familiarity with the two countries which are both long-established immigration countries. They are similar in some aspects, but are very different in others. In each country, I have examined the most significant immigration groups, at two different periods – the post-Second World War era, and the 1990s–2000s. In Australia, I focus on migrants from Italy because they were the largest group that arrived during the 1950s and the 1960s, and migrants from China more recently.

In Israel, I focus on migrants from Morocco who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, and migrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived in the country more recently, in the 1990s and 2000s.

What does the future hold for Australia concerning housing and immigrants?

As I show in my book, the physical turning of a house into a home is one of the ways migrants make themselves ‘at home’ in their new country. The affordable housing crisis which affects all Australians, both established citizens and newly-arrived migrants, is making that idea of the home more and more elusive and harder to reach. With it, the feeling of ‘being at home’ in Australia is increasingly at risk.

What is your job at the Brotherhood of St Laurence?

I am a senior research officer at the Brotherhood’s Research and Policy Centre. . Five years ago, I started as a research fellow working on a project about public housing relocation. Since then I’ve worked on various research projects, in the fields of inclusive education, our Education First Youth Foyers , and more recently on economic security.


Iris Levin is an architect and urban planner. Her research interests include migration and different social groups in the city. Currently, she is working on the longitudinal Life Chances study, which explores the issues of young people’s lives, including education, work and housing.