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Sample text

They are not tied to it and do not sojourn there permanently but nevertheless, they return there regularly. In fact, many buy their return flights from Varanasi, which shows that it is a central place for them. The lifestyle of the Westerners in Varanasi is characterised by frequent transnational mobility. During each year, in addition to spending time in Varanasi, the Westerners visit relatives and friends in their countries of origin and most of them work there too. In addition, many also visit other “Westerners” in Varanasi, India: A Permanent yet Temporary Community 45  countries, either in order to work or to visit friends or to attend festivals or other gatherings of “alternative” people.

The Cocoon Community can quite easily be associated with Bauman’s idea of a paradise lost that we still hope to return to, or with the notion of a cosmopolitan bubble where people gather for a specific purpose and concurrently where togetherness is synonymous with sameness (Bauman 2000, 2001). Yet at the same time, the cocoon can be ripped open and discarded when the metamorphosis is complete. It is thus also easily associated with the liminal or temporary space referred to in transition rites theory (Van Gennep 1960).

It allowed us to highlight the fact that in that particular community, spirituality took precedence over all other aspects of identity, and served as a bellwether for judging all other types of identity or sociality. It is in this context that we can understand why Western expatriates’ central identity wavered in the intercultural process. In fact, the exclusive gathering with other Western expatriates provided them with recognition of their social disjunction. Of course informants were still taking advantage of their socioeconomic position to be able to fully adopt their new spiritual frame of reference, but their liminal position allowed them to “be themselves” (that is, spiritual) without too many social constraints.

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