Migrants’ Rights Network: Living in an Age of Migration

by , under Don Flynn

Don Flynn*





Immigration studies has emerged as an important discipline in colleges and universities across the world, with scores of research centres being established in the UK alone over the last decade or so. Contributions have come from sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, political scientist, economists and philosophers over this time, giving anyone who is moved to make a systematic review of the literature quite a job in terms of catching up on what is being said and thought about the subject.

That is a good enough reason to welcome the 5th edition of Age of Migration and what has probably become the 101 introductory text to the study of population movements in the modern world.  Enough has happened since the publication of the 4th edition in 2009 to justify a considerable revision of the book, and the long-standing authors, Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller have been joined by Hein de Haas of the International Migration Institute in Oxford.

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The book puts as its central proposition the fact that we are once again living in the midst of an age of migration. Some would say that doesn’t mean that much, since migration has been a major activity for human beings since they first moved out of Africa around 500,000 years ago. But if migration can be said to have happened in each and every age of humanity it is of critical importance to note that what drives people to move at any one time is related in large part to the distinct features of the age under consideration.

Global markets

For the Age of Migration considered by Castles and his colleagues, it is the age of global markets. More precisely, global markets that themselves evolve over time as the terms of trade and commerce are shaped by the rise of nation states and their out-flowing into colonialism, the dominance of particular economic and political super-powers, changes to the structures of firms, the proliferation of manufacturing and service-providing sectors, the integration of economic regions, and the new technologies of management and communication.

All of these things provide the factors which allow migration across periods of decades to ebb and flow, at some points allowing politicians to believe that it is no longer an important feature of the systems they govern, but at others revealing hitherto unacknowledged demand which brings millions back into the business of crossing borders.

These layers of complexity mean that no one theory of migration suffices to tell the whole story. The two main branches – functionalist accounts of ‘push-pull’ factors, and historical-structural theories – are further subdivided and contribute insights based on what their approaches have encouraged them to focus on. Dependency and world systems theory looks at the power relations between ‘core’ capitalist states and the nations of the ‘periphery’, showing how migration chains are built up from movements between villages and urban areas in developing areas and transformed into international migration through relationships of dominance and subordination between the developed and developing regions of the world.

Theorists stressing the significance of globalisation stress the importance of the economic component of these relations between the nationals powerful enough to structure markets and the terms of trade, and consequently the importance this had in increasing the movement of people seeking opportunities for wage labour.  Economists constructing models of segmented labour markets give us a way of understanding how the demand for migration can persist even when the overall economy is mired in recession.  And in the background looms the grimmer story of forced migration, where the movement of people is induced by political instability and terror.

Unstoppable movement

Age of Migration implies that the balance of all theories on the movement of people tends to agreement that it is so closely entwined with the spirit of our times as to be unamenable to serious reduction in the either the short or medium terms.   It certainly provides no example of any contributor to high-level discussion who would support the viewpoint common amongst so many mainstream politicians that, with just one more push, we could reverse the trends of a half century or more and get the system under the firm management of the state authorities.

If migration is determined at its broadest extent by the imbalances between the rich and the poor worlds, then the authors consider whether the volume of people movement would be reduced by the developing regions catching up and become ‘more like us’.  The review the literature that  has considered this possibility and conclude that the opposite effect is more likely for the foreseeable future, with incremental improvements to the living standards of modest households bringing more people to the point where the investment in at least one of their members becoming mobile across frontier seems to be worthwhile.

If the arguments stack up around the viewpoint that every which way leads to the continuation of migration the authors suggest that gloom and despondency is not the appropriate response.  Despite all the furore the economic and social forces that prevail over the lives of humans still favour most of us – at present around 97% – remaining in our home territories.  If no more than 3% have attained the footloose and fancy free status of migrant the increase in the global population of the world to its current 7 billion (5 billion in 1987) means that there are more people in this fragment, and most still look for opportunities in the relatively small number of highly developed nations.

But cheer up:  this is a pretty smart bunch of people, with higher proportions having had experience of tertiary education that exists in national populations.  They are young and ambitious, and having grown up as a part of the global digital generation, they are generally well-informed about they need to do to make a success of their migration projects.

There is another story to be told however, and Age of Migration traces this out in chapters which look at the literature on migrant experiences in the labour force, and the continuing tendency of western societies to generate racisms and other forms of exclusion which turn newcomers into marginalised ethnic minorities over time.  All of this suggests, and the authors do more than hint that this is the case, that the real substance of an immigration policy agenda ought to be less about stopping people from coming, and more to do with tackling exploitation and chronic disadvantage.

Age of Migration has a website which aims to supplement the text with more case studies and updates on developments in migration studies.  You can view it by CLICKING HERE

Read original story here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

*Don Flynn, the MRN Director, leads the organisation’s strategic development and coordinates MRN’s policy and project work. He is a regular and sought-after speaker at conferences, seminars and lectures on behalf of MRN.