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Cross border residence. Identity experience and integration processes in the Greater Region (CB-RES)

The Topic

Research on transnational mobility is marked with a focus on labour migration, where people relocate closer to a job or closer to better opportunities to find employment. A relatively new and fast growing form of movement across borders is appearing though: cross border residency. Mostly occurring within the European Union, where internal borders are relatively open and border regions are well integrated, this phenomenon involves people relocating their homes a relatively short distance across a national border, often retaining their jobs in the country of departure (although some such movement also occurs in retirement).

This relatively recent form of movement is best described as “cross-border residential mobility.” It has been rather neglected by research thus far, despite this form of population mobility increasing significantly in Europe and in North America too over the last decades.

The aim of the planned research project is to examine this phenomenon with a focus on the Luxembourg-German border region and to analyse its effects on: a) the development of local communities, b) regional integration processes, and c) the formation of individual and collective identities. For those that move, the phenomenon combines aspects of classical residential mobility (e.g. where people move into new neighbourhoods and different accommodations) and transnational migration. For the communities absorbing the, at times, large numbers of new neighbours, the phenomenon combines the suburbanisation of rural communities and the commonly urban phenomenon of transnational immigration. As one respondent puts it: “We used be the armpit of the world, now we are in the heart of Europe.”

The Study Area

Population mobility is an important social and political issue in Luxembourg, the geographic and dynamic centre of the “Greater Region”, which attracts work commuters from the border zones and labour migrants from other European countries at a scale unique in Europe (approximately 33% of positions in the country are filled by non-residents). These diverse forms of population movement and their economic and socio-cultural implications have become an important subject of social science- and historical research.

This unique position of Luxembourg makes it a prime example for cross border residential mobility. A CEPS study from 2007 shows that between 2001 and 2007 a total of over 7000 people relocated to a neighbouring country whilst retaining employment in Luxembourg.

CBRES will focus on the Luxembourgish-German border in the Rheinland Pfalz section of the Mosel River. We will look at this particular border because this area is a popular location and the majority of Luxembourgers choose to relocate here, rather than Belgium or France, creating situations where over 20% of a towns population are from Luxembourg. There are a lot of integration processes under way here already, possibly in part due to the lack of a clear language barrier.



The CBRES project is concerned with understanding the everyday lives of the various parties living in these border towns. This includes: the public perception about the phenomenon; the various stereotypes and attitudes that shape how people interact; the spatial practices of those that move and how their lives change in light of moving their home; the community formation and change in the towns and the way in which these large groups of new residents interact with one another and the ‘locals’ alike; and finally the way in which these aspects relate to the identity processes.

The study will select four communities in which to conduct qualitative micro-studies. The towns are selected through a process of purposive sampling, aiming to isolate criteria that are thought to be specifically relevant to our research questions. These case studies will constitute a combination of unstructured interviews with residents (old and new) and some participant observation (such as attending local events). This will be supplemented with a range of expert interviews, such as local mayors and officials.

Hypothesis and Preliminary Outcomes

An initial observation of our project is that, in the case under study, the phenomenon of “cross-border residential migration” comprises processes that are markedly diverse in character. Not only are the reasons for relocating very varied, but Luxembourg’s unusually international composition means that those that move hold a whole range of different nationalities, adding a distinctly cosmopolitan character to the small rural communities.

While the German Mosel region is sought after by a steadily growing number of autochthonous Luxembourgers, who chose to move to the rural towns across the border, the region is also increasingly the home of labour migrants and members of a highly mobile international “elite” working in Luxembourg. The process of taking up residence in another country is, however, not – we would like to argue – a sign of mobility but, quite to the contrary, of sedentarity. This hypothesis challenges the general characterisation of these border crossing processes as forms of “globalised migration” and proposes to investigate the heterogeneity and complexity of residential migration and its effects on the emergence of neighbourhoods and the development of the villages and border spaces in question and on processes of individual and collective identity formation. In this regard, we would argue that the differences in age, family composition, nationality, and employment background are important with respect to the significance of the border and to the ongoing integration processes and identity constructions linked to border crossing.

In contrast to previous macro-sociological investigations that gathered general demographic data and data on structural development the planned research in the German-Luxembourg border region, combining geostatistical analysis of existing demographic data with qualitative micro-studies, will deal with the complexity of the “border society” which is mainly brought about by the socio-cultural heterogeneity of the residential migrants. The study will further the understanding of societal development in the border zones of the Greater Region. At the centre of the study are the processes of border-transcending and border-transformation in the everyday endeavours of  “place-making”, i.e. the forming of “spatial identity” by the inhabitants of the border region.


The Project began in April 2012 and is scheduled to take 3 years, concluding March 2016.


Research Team and Partners

Head of the project: Dr. Elisabeth Boesen
Research Associate: Dr. Gregor Schnuer

Realised in cooperation with CEPS/INSTEAD and Forum EUROPA

CBRES also participates in the project IDENT2 - Strategies of Regionalisation: Constructing Identity Across Borders

CBRES is a CORE Project funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR)



For more information, or to participate in our project, please contact:

Dr. Elisabeth Boesen
Institut d’Histoire / UR IPSE
Université du Luxembourg
Maison des Sciences Humaines
11, Porte des Sciences
L-4366 Esch-sur-Alzette
Tel.: (+352) 46 66 44 6350
Email: elisabeth.boesen[at]