International migration as a systemic factor in globalisation

From VCSEwiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The upsurge of interest in migration in recent years obscures the fact that migrations of various kinds were always key factors in colonialism, industrialization and nation-building (Archdeacon, 1983; Cohen, 1987; Moch, 1992; Noiriel, 1988; Potts, 1990). In the post-1945 period, labour migration played a crucial part in the growth and restructuring of industrial economies (Castles and Miller, 1998), while forced migration was an inevitable result of processes of state formation and economic change under conditions of system competition and neo-colonialism (Zolberg et 4., 1989). Thus the public interest in migration in the early 1990s represented a shift in perception, rather than in the real significance of the phenomenon Migration is clearly a systemic element in processes of globalisation, but this is merely a new form of a systemic role that has existed in various guises ever since the beginnings of the capitalist world market around the sixteenth century.

Understanding the key role of population mobility and its corollary — processes of community formation leading to social and cultural change — is important for assessing future perspectives. Yet, if one looks back over the last half-century the most striking feature is the failure of policymakers and analysts to anticipate actual developments. The settler nations of the New World expected modest continuing immigration from their traditional European source countries. The new settlers were seen — often quite explicitly — as a bulwark against cultural change and the perceived threat of non-white immigration. Western European industrial countries saw migration from Southern Europe as a source of temporary manual labor for a boom that was not thought likely to last. Settlement was not expected, with a few exceptions based on demographic factors (France) and post-colonial political regimes ( France, Britain and the Netherlands). No one foresaw enduring flows of migration from increasingly diverse source countries and the resulting emergence of multicultural societies. Yet this is what happened throughout the developed world. The result has been unprecedented social and cultural change. The consequences for national identity and political institutions are still being worked through.

There were perhaps two main reasons why policymakers and academics got it so wrong in the past. First, migration research has been plagued by entrenched assumptions and preconceptions. Problems include rigid disciplinary boundaries; paradigmatic closure between such approaches as neo-classical theory, historical-institutional analysis, social networks theory and ethnographic research; and compartmentalization between social-scientific and policy discourses. The main blinkering factor has probably been the influence of national models based on distinct historical experiences of migration and nation-building. Because border control is at the core of notions of sovereignty, policymakers have often seen migration as something that could be turned on and off like a tap in response to assumed national interests (Casties, 2000e). The result has been a fragmentation of migration research and a failure to accumulate an agreed body of knowledge (Massey et aL, 1998; Massey et al., 1 993). Of course, to some extent this is because ‘migration is too diverse and multifaceted to be explained by a single theory’ (Arango, 2000). Another result has been migration policies that often achieved the opposite of their original objectives.

Second, migration policymakers and analysts have paid little attention to human agency Both the methodological individualism of neo-classical approaches and the legal positivism of bureaucrats have ignored the character of migration as a collective process based on the needs and strategies of families and communities. The rationality of family survival strategies has often ‘Examples include the German policy of importing temporary labor that actually led to settlement and formation of new ethnic minorities; or the Australian policy of bringing in European settlers to keep Australia white and monocultural that actually led to a multiracial and multicultural society Similarly, current labor migration policies in the industrializing countries ofEast and Southeast Asia are likely to have unforeseen results (Castles, 2000d), turned confounded the predictions of economic theories Legal and bureaucratic obstacles to migration and settlement have been seen not as absolute barriers, but as factors to be taken into account in personal strategies, migration networks and community infrastructures.

Any attempt to forecast likely future patterns of migration and setdement needs to take account of the great economic and social transformations of our epoch, as well as the way in which ordinary people cope with these shifts, and in so doing often subvert the plans of the mighty The systemic role of migration in modern society can be seen as a constant, but its character changes in the context ofeconomic and social shifts and developments in technology and culture. It is therefore necessary to examine the specific characteristics of migration under current conditions. Globalization is not just an economic phenomenon: flows of capital, goods and services cannot take place without parallel flows of ideas, cultural products and people. These flows tend increasingly to be organized through transnational networks of the most var- ied kinds, ranging from intergovernmental organizations and transnational corporations through to international NGOs and global criminal syndicates (Held etaL, 1999). Globalization undermines many of the core futures of the nation-state. It means, as Manuel Castefis puts it, a change in the spatial organization of the world from a ‘a space of places’ to a ‘space of flows’ (Castells, 1996:Ch. 6). International migrants have, by definition, always crossed national borders. But in previous times the assumption has been either that they would permanently move from one nation-state to another (permanent settlement migration), or that they would return home after a period (temporary labor migration). In either case, the sovereignty and power of the nation-state was not questioned. Under conditions of globalization, such expectations lose their validity.

  • Migration tends to increase and migrants to become more diverse in social and cultural characteristics. States do their best to encourage certam types (skilled and entrepreneurial migration) and stop others (unskilled labor migration and asylum-seekers) but find it hard to make clear distinctions and to enforce rules.
  • New developments in information and transport technology increase the volume of temporary repeated and circulatory migration.
  • Increasing numbers of migrants orient their lives to two or more societies and develop transnational communities and consciousness.

Such trends are linked to the increasing strength of informal networks as a mode of communication and organization which transcends national borders. This can undermine state control policies and reduce the efficacy of traditional modes of migrant incorporation into society.

Clearly, international migration fits extremely well with the logic of globalization. This is why control strategies based on an older national logic are likely to fail. Migrants have in a sense always moved in what Thomas Faist calls ‘transnational social space’ (Faist, 2000), but under conditions of globalization it becomes increasingly easy for them to do so. This is the context for understanding likely future developments.