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Sociology of Migration

Anna Amelina and Kenneth Horvath

Crossing Borders and Boundaries: context, there is a vast range of top-

The Sociology of Migration as a ics of potential interest. The sociology of
Research Field migration is therefore not a closed, well-
defined field of resea rch, but is rather
International migration has become one of open and diverse and characterized by
the most important and most contested often. intense conceptual and methodolog-
issues of our times (Castles and Miller 2009). ical debates. These debates are nurtured by
In response to this development, the sociol- three forms of permanent "boundary cross-
ogy of migration has, over the past decades, ing" in the r search field itself - between
developed into a dynamic and multifaceted disciplines, b etween methodologies, and
fi eld of research. ln this chapter, we present between migration research and other social
key characteristics of this field, introduce fields of practice.
the historical trajectories that have influ- First, migration research is a highly
enced its development, and discuss current interdisciplinary field that brings together
debates and prospects for future research. different th eoretical and analytical tra-
Migration transcends political, social, ditions (Brettell and Hollifield 2014). In
symbolic, economic, and legal boundaries. the past, there has been a rather strong
Unlike demographers, for example, soci- divide between researchers who investi-
ologists are rarely interested in the phys- gate migration-related social practices and
ical crossing of the territorial borders of those who investigate the politics of migra-
nation-states as such. Rather, they investi- tion (Zolberg 2ooo; Guiraudon and Joppke
gate processes that go beyond this aspect, 2001). Alongside cultural anthropologists
such as changes in global and local orders and human geographers, for example, soci-
of ineq uality that structure migratiOt\ the ologists studying migration have focused
social construction of boundaries of belong- mainly on the former, whereas comm uni ca-
ing, and political conflicts linked to dif- tion scientists and political scientists, among
ferent forms of human mobility. In this others, have co ncentrated on the latter.

Over the last few years1 these disciplinary links to other social fields of practice (e.g.
boundaries have become blurred: som e governments non-governmental

have called for a sociology of migration tions and th e media) have left a distinct
1 1

politics (Sciortino 2000) while others have

1 mark on the sociology of migration. Over
argued that the role of migration politics in th e past decades various profound debates

structuring global human mobilities should and conceptual shifts have had a major
b e put centerstage when researching migra- influence on this research field and these

tion practices (see e.g. Oe Genova and

1 developments have mirrored societal trans-
Peutz 2010) . Many scholars have argued that formations and ch anged epistemological
the necessarily interdisciplinary character of and meth odological approaches. In this
migration research be not only acknowl- chapter we first introduce historical tra-

edged but actively promoted in order to jectories th at characterize the sociology of

capture the complexity ofhuman mobilities migration and then move on to current
(Arango 2004). debates challenges and prospects.
1 1

Second 1 migration research is also a dis-

tinctly multi-methodological :field (see e.g.1

Vargas-Silva 2012). Migration poses major Historkai Trajectories

challenges to both qualitative and quanti-
tative m ethodological fram eworks; hence 1 The issue of migration has informed soci-
migration research has become a kind of ological thinking since its beginnings. For
laboratory in which to refin e the toolkit example in his seminal essay "The Stranger"

of sociological methods. Recent examples (1950[19o8 n G eorg Simmel discussed issues

include discussions of multi-sited ethno- that co ntinue to be relevant to migration
graphies in qualitative contexts (Amelina scholars to this day. According to Simmel 1

and Faist 2012) and innovative sampling "spatial relations are the condition ... and
procedures in quantitative settings (Hor- the symbol ... of human relations" (Simmel
vath 2012). Since many migration-related 1950[1908]: 402). He pointed to the interplay
research projects combine quantitative and of social orders and territorial relations and

qualitative components a debate has been

1 on this basis identified the figure of "the

ern erging about the use of mixed methods stranger" - "the person who comes today
in migration research (Gamlen 2012; Hor- and stays tomorrow" - as a key subject of
vath et al. forthcoming). sociological interest. Simmel thus cites two
Third 1 migration schalarship · has long crucial aspects of migration processes: the
been situated on the margins of academic "coming" and the "staying" of those who are
institutions - for example in specialized
considered strangers. This distinction corre-
research centers (Castles 2010) - and has sponds to two of the main traj ectories along
thus tended to maintain close links to which the sociology of migration has devel-
other fields of practice. Most importantly1 oped over the past decades: (1) research that
many migration researchers have sought to fo cuses on population movements as such
actively engage political actors. The catch- and (2) research that concentrates on post-
phrase "migration management" expresses migration (settlement) processes.
the influence that migration experts have The first key aspect of "immigration/'
gained in this respect (Geiger and Pecoud the "coming" of "th e stranger/' has been at
2014). Partly in response to current political the heart of migration research for a long
developm nts many scholars have grown
time. Ernst Ravenstein (1885; 1889) was th:
suspicious of these links and have called for first to attempt to identify "migration laws
more critical stances on current migration that capture th e logic of human mobility. _In
politics (Huysmans 2oo6). hindsight Ravenstein's laws may seem tnv-
1 h t
The interdisciplinary and multi- ial (e.g. 1 that most people move only s ?r
methodological character of the field of distances) but his general endeavor contm-
1 1 . 1
migration research 1 as well as its manifold ues to be reflected in current neoc asstca

models that attempt to explain migratory tion scholars remain wary of their valid-
movements based on rational-choice the- ity and their normative underpinnings (see,
ories of human agency (Borjas 1989). The e.g. , Jung 2009).
identification of economic, environmental, These two study traj ectories - of pop-
or cultural push-and-pull factors (Lee 1966) ulation movements and of post-migratory
is a key element of these models. Neoclas- incorporation processes - have strongly
sical push-and -pull models have been criti- influenced th e development of the sociol-
cized on numerous grounds. First, scholars ogy of migration. A third historical traj ec-
have maintained that migration decisions tory in theorizing about migration focuses
are not usually made by isolated individu- more on structural-historical settings of
als but by groups of people, mainly within migration processes. These approaches cut
families (Stark 1991). Second, this concept is across the distinction between the "coming"
closely linked to the notion that migration and the "staying" of immigrants and focus
usually takes place within existing networks on hQw the social and political status of "the
(Arango 2004) or within established migra- stranger" is tied to securing a pool of cheap,
tion systems (Kritz et al. 1992). Third, schol- fl exible labor. In this vein, a nurober of
ars have argued that push-a nd -pull models scholars, inspired by Marxist thinking, have
fac e an "immobility paradox" (Malmberg analyzed labor migration processes with a
1997) of why some individuals decide to focus on their embeddedness in global eco-
migrate while so many others who fac e sim- nomic and political relationships, arguing
ilar structural conditions do not (Carling that labor migrants serve as a "reserve army
2002). of labor" (Castles and Kasack 1973). A nuro-
The second key asp ect, th e "staying" of b er of influential strands of th eory building
"the stranger," has gained major prominence have emerged from this tradition, includ-
in migration research over th e past decades, ing Michael J. Piore's (1979) theory of seg-
owing in part to the emergence of "new eth- mented labor markets (see also, e.g., Sassen
nic minorities" (Castles et al. 1984) in th e 1988). In combination with Wallerstein's
context of the large-scale migration of labor world-system theory (1974), these studies
to the Global North after World War II. have contributed to our understanding of
Early work on post-immigration incorpora- the complex historical and structural entan-
tion processes was undertaken by Thomas glements that affect the center, semip eriph-
and Znaniecki, who argued, in their mono- ery, and periphery of the world-economy.
graph The Polish peasant in Europe and Although they provide convincing accounts
America (1918), that Polish migrants nei- of the position of migrant workers in global
ther remain "Polish" nor beco me "Ameri- capitalism, these approaches have proved
can" but rather form a new ethnic group to be less well equipp ed to deal with the
of "Polish Americans. " Schalars have drawn complex matters of post-migration iden-
on this first "assimilation theory" to develop tity politics. Moreover, in th e late 198os,
increasingly refin ed theories of immigrant these critical structural approaches were rel-
assimilation (or incorporation) processes. egated to the background when qualitative
Milton M. Gordon (1964) proposed a mul - migration researchers in particular shifted
tistage model that defin es phases through their research interests to matters of identity
which migrants pass during a typical assimi- building (Modood 1992). This shift mirrored
lation process, finally leading to full identifi- political debates on multi-culturalism and
cation with the hast society. More recently, th e emergence of new social movements
Alba and Nee (2oo3) introduced their "new (B enhabib 2002) .
assimilation theory" in which they empha- The analytical approaches described thus
size that assimilation also entails adapta- far defined th e key research areas in the
tions by the hast society and its institutions. sociology of migration up to th e late 198os
Although som e current ass imilation theo- and early 199os, a period th at, in retrospect,
ries are highly sophisticated, many migra- might b e considered a watershed era for this

fi eld. Two crucial aspects of this develop- mobility turn in the social sciences (Urry
ment were the rising awareness of the long- 2007).
term consequences of former labor migra- 2) Powerful critique of methodological
tion and the large-scale implications of the nationalism (Wimmer and Glick Schiller
end of the Cold War for global patterns of 2003; Amelina et al. 2012) has con-
mobility. Against this background, migra- tributed to the emergence of transna-
tion became the highly politicized issue it is tional approaches that serve as a new
today (Horvath 2014). Accordingly, over the analyticallens through which to examine
past twenty-five years, the field of migra- migration processes (Glick Schiller et al.
tion research has grown significantly in size, 1992; 1995).
diversity, and influence. Today, migration 3) The rising awareness of the gendered
research is divided into manifold special- nature of migration processes has led to a
ized subfields, with important distinctions number of questions regarding the inter-
among (1) th e forms and patterns of migra- play of migration realities and gender
tion (e.g., forced, irregular, seasonal); (2) th e relations.
political regulations of migration and mobil-
4) Scholars have become increasingly sen-
ity ( e.g., migration regimes and migration
sitive to essentializing forms of theory
management); and (3) the societal conse-
building (Brubaker 2002) and have criti-
qu ences of migration, which relate to issues
cized the concepts of "ethnic groupism"
such as the mutual shaping of migration
and stagism in analyses of assimilation
and societal development and identity pol-
processes (Lutz 201o; Am elina 2017a).
itics in the context of migration and post-
migration. With regard to the first stance, contein-
Most importantly, however, migration porary scholars suggest that migration and
scholars have increasingly engaged in dis- mobility be analyzed as routinized social
cussions to try to understand th e very phe- practices in everyday life. This approach
nom enon of migration. Coming back to builds on the recent concept of the mobil-
Simmel's "stranger," we can reflect on three ity turn, or mobility paradigm, in th e social
major questions: Who is construed · to be sciences (Urry 2007). In essence, it ques-
a "stranger" in the first place; how are tions the sedentarist notions of many classi-
th ese constructions anchored in relatio'ns of cal writings on migration, which conceive
power and inequality; and how should soci- of "immobile"/sedentarist ways of life orga-
ologists relate to these common understand- nization as natural but approach geographic
ings? The results of these refl ections are the movements as exceptional (see Büseher and
subject of the next section. Urry 2009; Flamm and Kaufmann 2oo6).
Although different representatives of this
perspective build on different conceptual
bases (e.g., Büseher and Urry on actor-
Key Contemporary Approaches in the
network theory; Flamm and Kaufmann on
Sociology of Migration the individual competence of mobility, or
"motility"), they all suggest a "doing migra-
Contemporary approaches in migration tion/mobility" perspective (Amelina 2017a)
sociology have emerged and are built on because they invite scholars to focus on
four fundam ntal criticisms of existing clas- concrete, everyday practices of mobile (and
sical theories: immobile) individuals. Thus, they high-
light the historically specific and changeable
1) Some scholars have drawn attention to qualities of migration practices. Further-
the sedentarist underpinnings of estab- more, these approaches imply the develop-
lished migration research (see e.g., ment of new methodological strategies, such
Büseher and Urry 2009; Am elin a and as "mobile ethnography" (Büscher and Urry
Vasilache 2014) and have called for a 2009)·

The second stance encompasses transna- also have been substantiated by a range of
tional approaches to migration (Glick impressive qualitative studies that provide
Schiller et al. 1992; Faist 2ooo; Levitt and empirical evidence of the idea of politi-
Glick Schiller 2004) . Thcir key assumption cal, economic, and symbolic transnational
is that migration can be understood as a ties (Bilecen 2014).
process that inherently connects migration - The third important stance we would
sending and migration-receiving countries like to introduce is related to gender-
or localities. First, transnational approaches sensitive migration studies (Lutz 20Jü;
avoid the sedentarist notions of classi- Amelina 2017a). Approaching gender rela-
cal migration theories in which migration tions as socially constituted (and therefore
is seen as a one-time, one-way process. changeable), these studies analyze gen-
Second, they highlight th e significance of der as a social dimension that interacts
transnationallinkages of mobile individuals with migration processes in many ways.
who cross borders of nation-states in th e Three research areas are significant in
process of post-migration settlement. Con- this realm. First, the global care chain
sidering the variety of new forms of tem- approach (Hochschild 2ooo) is used to
porary migration (e.g., seasonal, circular), analyze female migration from the Global
the advocates of this perspective argue that So uth to countfies of th e industrial North
even so-called one-time migrants may be as being embedded in the international
involved in strong, closely knit cross-border gendered division of care Iabor. Second,
networks (Engbersen et al. 2013) . Third, the concept of care circulation focus es on
these scholars aim to circumvent the prob- multifaceted practices of care provision in
lern of methodological nationalism in their th e context of kinship relations maintained
research by criticizing the equalization of by mobile and immobile individuals across
the categories of nation -state and society th e borders of nation-states (Baldassar and
(Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2003; Amelina Merla 2014). This approach highlights th e
et al. 2012) . They argue that methodologi- inevitably gendered nature of th e transna-
cally nationalist migration resea rch prevents tional circulation of care resources. Third,
a fruitful analysis of transnational - or, as studies of transnational families (e.g. , Lutz
one might call them, multi-locally orga- 2016), including studies on transnational
nized - social ph enomena . motherhood (Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila
To simplify a long and multifaceted 1997) and on migrant femininiti es and mas-
discussion, we would like to cite two culinities that are transformed by (post-)
prominent approaches in this field: (1) th e migration processes (Hearn and Howson
transnational-spaces approach (Faist 2ooo) 2009; Hearn 2015) are used to examin e how
and (2) th e concept of transnational field gendered categorizations not only may be
(Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004) . The first used as a resource in migration processes
of these approaches distinguishes between but also, under specific circumstances, may
short-term cross-border configurations (i. e., produce Situations of subordination both
transnational mass actions and transnational within migrant (transnational) families and
kinship groups) and long-term cross-border between male and female migrants and
configurations (i. e., transnational networks their employers.
and transnational communities and organi- It is important to note that gender-
zations). The second approach adopts Pierre sensitive migration studies often adopt
Bourdieu's theory of social fields to ana- a transnational perspective. Some of
lyze stable and durable social configura- them also rely on intersectional th eories
tions in areas such as economics or politics that approach gender relations as bejng
that t ranscend the borders of nation-states. inevitably linked to and shaped by eth-
Transnational studies on migration not only nicized and racialized, class-related, and
have produced innovative methodological several other "axes of difference" (Anthias
strategies (Amelina and Faist 2012), but 2001) . Thus, migration sociologists inspired

by intersectionalists contribute to both gration context. Focusing on the analysis

the research on transnational inequali- of biographical proj ects involving migrant
ties (Amelina 2017b) and the research of youth (who are often referred to as "the
(post-)migration settlement in countries of second generation"), Portes and Zhou dis-
immigration (Anthias et al. 2013). tinguish between three assimilation out-
The fourth stance consists of a set of comes in immigration settings: (1) upward
currently influential research perspectives assimilation into the middle dass culture
that focus on post-migration settlement, of the immigration co untry; (2) downward
two of which are of particular importance assimilation into the marginalized domes-
in this field: (1) current approaches to eth- tic minorities; and (3) selective assimila-
nic relations tend to avoid an essentializa- tion, which is characterized by a simultane-
tion of - i.e., taken-for-granted naturalized ity of social mobility of migrant youth and
assumptions about - ethnicity (Wimmer the persistent maintenance of "their" ethnic
2oo8); (2) new theories of assimilation seek to reso urces.
overcome the stagist assumptions of previ- The sociologist Richard Alba is another
ous conceptualizations (Alba an d Nee 2003; representative of current studies in
Alb a and Foner 2015). tion who avoids the oversimplifying notions
Regarding the first of these two perspec- of the stagist approaches (Alba and Nee
tives, the most prominent new approaches 2003; Alba and Foner 2015) . Building on a
to the study of ethnic relations suggest that process-oriented understanding of ethnic-
ethnicity be addressed not as an explana- ity, Alba reconceptualizes assimilation as
tory variable but as a process that itself an outcome of social processes of bound-
requires a sociological explanation. Andreas ary shifting. Analyzing recent changes in
Wimmer suggests that ethnic boundary- the US-Am erican context, he provides evi-
making be approached as a genuinely social dence of the emergence of new defini-
process th at results from social interactions. tions of the "American mainstream" and
Wimmer emphasizes the relationality of those outside it (Alba and Foner 2015) . Most
ethnic attributions, since such attributions importantly, Alba illuminates the historical
are a result of continu ous social negotia- changes in societal criteria that have defined
tions. Rogers Brubaker's (2oo2) critique of th e majorities and minorities in the United
ethnic groupism goes along with Wimmer's States over time.
account. Brubaker criticizes migration The perspective describ ed above pro-
researchers who approach ethnicity as a vide a numb er of innovative viewpoints.
group trait, while defining "ethnic groups" The first stance (doing migration/doing
as homogeneaus entities that maintain mobility approaches) views migration as
a specific "ethnic culture" and share a a routinized historically specific activity
common past and future. In essence, his that follows its own specific logics. Regard-
social-constructivist reading of ethnicity ing the second stance, one might say that
denaturalizes processes of ethnicization transnational approaches to migration man-
and suggests that they be approached age to overcome the immigration country
as historically specific and therefore biases of traditional migration studies (for
changeable. criticism of such biases, see Castles 2010),
Regarding the second of these two per- because these studies consider emigration
spectives, the novelty of current writings and immigration settings to be equally
on post-migratory processes of assimilation relevant in analyses of migration, post-
lies in their ability to overcome the stagist migration settlement, and transnational
assumptions of classical concep ts. The stud- linkages. The third stance emphasizes the
ies by Portes and Rumbaut (2oo6) and Portes dialectical relationship b etween gender and
and Zhou (2005) avoid the idea of a sin- migration processes, as is evident in the gen-
gle traj ectory of assimilation in the immi- dered nature of family decision-making on

migration, gendered organization of care in current shifts from the postcolonial coun-
the context of migration processes, and the tries to th e former colonizer co untries as
resulting gendered inequalities. The fourth shifts that are embedded in discourses on
stance, which focuses on post-migration racism and colonialism. H ence, postcolonial
settlement, suggests avoiding "ethni c thought (e.g., Du Bois 1996[1903]; Bhabha
groupism" in researching migration and calls 1994) opens valuable roads to self-reflection
for a relational and process-oriented read- in th e sociology of migration.
ing of assimilation that yields unexpected A third challenge is precisely this need
perspectives on time-honored res arch to improve reflexivity in migration stud-
subjects. ies. This refers to the positional refl exivity
of migration researchers who must become
aware of their place in social hierarchies
(Amelina and Faist 2012). It also concerns
Avenues for Further Research: theoretical reflexivity, which urges migra-
Challenges and Prospects tion scholars to situate their research within
the universe of social-scientific theory (see
Notwithstanding the innovative and multi- Amelina et al. 2012). Finally, this invitation
fac eted accounts provided by more recent is also about political refl exivity; that is, th e
sociological approaches, sociological migra- requirement that migration scholars refl ect
tion research will have to confront a nuro- on their contributions to the contempo-
ber of challenges in th e future. One chal- rary migration politics and position th em-
lenge is the need to link migration studies selves in relation to these politics. Politi-
to general social theory (see Castles 2010; cal reflexivity implies an ethical dim ension
Amelina et al. 2016). Focusing on the inter- in that it calls for strenger awareness of
nallogics and mechanisms of migration pro- how researchers' findings, if appropriated
cesses and post-migration settlement, schol- by politics, may influence the life-worlds of
ars often have neglected the fact that they mobile individuals. It also entails th e need
must relate their analyses to current socio- to think about the concepts and methods
logical theory. However, this kind of th eo- sociologists may employ to analyze political
retical framing would enable us to trace gen- dynamics and their own role in these politi-
eral societal trends in the analysis of (post-) · cal processes.
migration and could be clone by referring to In addition to furth ering our understand-
grand societal theory such as the varieties- ing of the manifold processes involved in
of-capitalism approach (Menz 2014), cul- border-crossing migration, this potential for
tural political economy (Van Puymbroeck reflexivity is also the main promise the soci-
2016), Foucauldian theory building (Walters ology of migration holds for other sociolog-
2016), and middle-range approaches (see ical research areas and for public discourses
Castles 2010). more generally. Migration, as a social phe-
Another challenge to migration sociol- nomenon that transcends political, social,
ogy is th e need to include the postcolo- and symbolic boundaries, urges us to ques-
nial perspectives as a result of the prevail- tion certain conceptual and methodological
ing dominance of Eurocentric perspectives underpinnings of sociological theory and of
in migration such Eurocentric per- our everyday notions of the social world. In
spectives are apparent in how migration is a world increasingly marked by an interplay
framed as a challenge for immigration soci- of local, national, and global developments,
eties, which "present migrant mobility as questions akin to those debated in migration
a definite sort of 'problem' that implicitly research over the past decades are bound to
threatens the presumed normative good of arise in relation to "transnational" phenom-
'social cohesion'" (De Genova 2016). Euro- ena, such as care work, inequality patterns,
centric notions prevent us from analyzing and labor relations.

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