Key theories of migration and forced migration
An important distinction to make when thinking about theory is between macro, micro and meso approaches. Macro level analysis relates to structural, overarching issues such as legal frameworks that seek to control migration, unequal political and economic contexts in a given country, the role of the state and aspects of historical relationships such as colonialism (Giddens and Sutton, 2017; O’Reilly, 2012). Micro-level approaches relate to individuals’ motivations, resources, knowledge, understandings and what influences decisions to migrate. A mid-range theoretical approach at meso level considers linkages between people and societies at local or global level, looking at social networks (see details that follow).
There are a number of binary positions in migration studies that are not always helpful. For example literature may look at either international or internal migration or seek to distinguish between voluntary or forced migration without looking at what lies between these binary positions. Another distinction has been temporary or permanent migration, whereas recent studies are showing how migration across the life course is somewhere between. Studies often treat the binary points separately within the literature on migration as well as during data collection, analysis and within any subsequent policy responses.
There is no single theory of migration (Castles et al., 2014; Kunz, 1973, 1981), nor are there single sociological explanations of conflict or ethnic relations (Richmond, 1994). King and Skeldon also resist attempting any ‘grand theory’ of migration which ‘incorporates all types of migration, in all places and at all times’ (2010:1619). Focussing on one of the binaries within migration studies — international and internal migration - King and Skeldon outline how the separation of these two ‘migration traditions’ results in a blurred ‘boundary’ between the distinct literatures, conceptualisations, methods and policy agendas (2010:1619—1621). They suggest that the term migration has become coterminous with international migration, rather than internal migration. As Castles et al. suggest, both forms of migration are driven by similar processes of social, economic and political change and internal migration is actually greater in scale than incidence of crossing international borders (2014:26). This is borne out in statistics around forced migration with the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) much higher than those seeking asylum or gaining refugee status, as will be explored in subsequent chapters.
One of the earliest theories of migration related to internal migration. Raven-stein’s ‘laws of migration’ saw migration as inseparable from economic development within countries (1885, cited in King and Skeldon, 2010; Castles et al., 2014). Since then other theorists have put forward ‘push’ and ‘pull’ models of migration that offer a simplistic framework, be these within or between countries. These push-pull models focus on factors that are positive and negative in sending and receiving areas/countries, asserting that people are pushed and pulled by particular economic or demographic factors. For example, people may be pushed to migrate because of a lack of employment and pulled due to the availability of employment in another part of the country or across a border. At first glance this model is compelling. However, this framework is considered deterministic — events being determined by external causes beyond the control of people — and does not take in the full range of reasons why people migrate or the ways in which people work with or resist such structures.
These push-pull theories have been surpassed in part by approaches that embrace migration as a complex process and stress the role of migrants’ agency during migration. Studies describing how migrants overcome events and external causes such as social exclusion stress the creativity of people to overcome such structural constraints (Castles et al., 2014). Studies on social networks — interpersonal ties that connect people — of migrants have also become important, emphasising how people can create conditions to enable migration through their individual and collective agency. People maintain and create social networks during migration through diaspora and language communities that have often been shaped by historical legacies of, for example, colonialism or geographical proximity. A shift in thinking around social networks has created an understanding of migrants as living within transnational social spaces (Castles, 2003:27; Boswell and Crisp, 2004:16; Castles, 2003:27; Vertovec, 1999, 2007).
For example, the theorist Emmanuel Marx (1990) pointed out the need to examine social networks within studies of refugees after drawing on a famous and seminal study by Thomas and Znaniecki (1918) on Polish immigrants in Chicago to chart the stages of resettlement and the establishment of formal associations. Marx combined ‘network analysis’ with the ‘social worlds’
The study of forced migration 17 of refugees, bearing in mind the social life of refugees because this embraced matters whose significance he could not appreciate, including the networks of social relationships held (1990:193). This idea around the social world of refugees is also not confined to a particular geography or territory — in fact, a territorial base can be dispensed with completely. In other words, social networks help to enable the process of migration to happen.
Calls to analyse forced migration as a ‘social process in which human agency and social networks play a major part’ continue (Castles, 2003:13). In terms of the distinction between voluntary and forced migration, forced migration is often related to not having any choice but to migrate, utilising such social networks. The reasons why people migrate are invariably complex, and separating social, economic or political reasons is extremely difficult.
In Key Thinker Box 1.2, Anthony Richmond outlines how a distinction between voluntary and involuntary migration is not useful, but is in fact ‘misleading’and ‘untenable’because of the degree to which ‘all human behaviour is contained and enabled’ (1998:20). This forced or involuntary element has been outlined by many others and should be a constant consideration for you as you learn about this topic.
Overall, migration studies has historically not always drawn on broader social science theory and concepts. Therefore, when studying forced migration, drawing on theories from the field of social science is advised. Migration studies is necessarily an inter-disciplinary exercise, so work from human geography, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, psychology', history and other academic disciplines is key to offering explanations for causes, patterns and consequences of migration.
Key Thinker Box 1.2 Anthony Richmond — Global Apartheid
Anthony Richmond’s (1994) seminal text - Global Apartheid — examines the impact of post-industrialism, postmodernism and globalisation in relation to ‘international migration, racial conflict and ethnic nationalism’. Locating refugees within population movements following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he notes how Western European countries were - more than 20 years ago — taking ‘severe measures to deter and exclude spontaneous arrivals of asylum seekers’ (1994:xi). He wrote this at a time when there were 16.3 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world, plus 25 million IDPs.
Using the analogy of the South African hedge of bitter wild almonds planted by Dutch settlers in 1660 to keep populations separate, Richmond argued that ‘new hedges are being built’in the form of‘increasingly repressive and restrictive measures to restrain the flows of migrant labourers and refugees from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America’ (1994:xiv). For Richmond, these new hedges were guards at airports, coastguard patrols, gunboats turning back ships holding asylum seekers and so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants, fingerprinting and other advanced technologies to excluded the ‘unwanted’. The denial of voting rights and citizenship for those with different ethnic origin to majority groups are outlined as another mechanism of exclusion. He outlines how the predominantly ‘white’ and wealthy countries of North America, Europe and Australasia ‘endeavour to protect themselves from what they believe are imminent threats to their territorial integrity and privileged lifestyles’ (1994:xv). This central paradox, he suggests, creates conditions wherein people are labelled as ‘illegal’ and ‘undesirable’ rather than being considered useful workers or fleeing from oppressive regimes.
Influenced by the structuration theory of Anthony Giddens, Richmond highlights several key concepts necessary to understand international migration — power, conflict, agency, structuration, security, identity and communication — and goes on to explore each of these theoretically. He outlines how any sociological theory of international migration should explain the scale, direction and composition of population movements plus factors that determine the decision to move in the first instance, integration in receiving countries and eventual outcomes, including remigration and return movements. Two key conclusions are made. Firstly, that a clear distinction between the economic and socio-political determinants of population movements is inappropriate (1994:58). Secondly, that a distinction between voluntary and involuntary movements is ‘untenable’, partly because human behaviour is always constrained and enabled by the structuration process (1994:58).
Richmond considers that a better description would be a continuum between ‘proactive’and ‘reactive’migration (1994:59, 1988). The less choice a person has places them closer to the ‘reactive’ pole, so refugees who have little choice but to flee persecution are situated here. Other forms of international migration such as retiring to another country would therefore sit at the other end of this continuum, closer to the ‘proactive’ pole. In other words, the amount of control and choice a person has dictates whether they migrate reactively or proactively. This is important for displaced populations who may have few alternatives available at the point they migrate. Where people sit in terms of motivations for migration being economic or socio-political is also discussed. Refugees would be aligned with the socio-political pole, whereas retirees would be closer to the economic pole.
Although there is some reference in the book to what would be regarded as outdated terminology — for example, the ‘Third World’ - this book made a number of key points useful in contemporary debates. For example, Richmond argued that the new world order requires rethought so that short-term interests yield to policies promoting the long-term interest of all (including developing countries) (1994:205). Today’s SDGs have this idea at their core. He also argued that the nation-state and state sovereignty could not be maintained in an era of international migration, that all boundaries and borders are permeable and could not therefore be defended with walls, armed guards, iron curtains or computer surveillance systems. These arguments continue today, be they in alternative language and terminology.
Key references — Anthony Richmond
Richmond, A.H. (1988) Sociological Theories of International Migration, Current Sociology, 36(2), 7-25.
(If interested in reading more about theories of migration, this early paper makes a clear distinction between macro and micro theories of international migration and provides details of several key theories, including Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory.)
Richmond, A.H. (1994) Global Apartheid: Refugees, Racism and the New World Order, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
(As previously outlined with extensive empirical analysis and comparative studies)