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International Migration: Geography, Politics, and Culture in Europe and Beyond


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European Forum, academic year 1997-1998



Directed by:

Christian Joppke, EUI Political and Social Sciences Department

René Leboutte, EUI History and Civilisation Department




Migrations are once more a major challenge to the developed nation-states of the West, particularly Europe. The dramatic increase of migratory flows is caused by a complex mix of 'push and pull' factors: push factors include the demise of the Soviet empire and communist multinational states, and an escalation of third-world misery and tribal warfare; on the pull side, the world has become smaller and more traversable, as electronic images and cultural icons of first-world riches reach the non-Western hinterlands, transnational corporations set up dependencies in Asia and Africa, and cheap airline tickets lower the barriers to 'trying one's luck' in the rich North-West. A characteristic of this push-pull migration is the collapse of any neat categorisation: economic migration, which was synonymous with 'immigration', is no longer easily distinguishable from ethnic homeland migrations, where whole categories are forced to move due to violent regime changes, war, or conquest. It is no accident that after closing the European 'immigrant' door in the wake of the first oil crisis, the 'refugee' door was slammed wide open. Today the social sciences are faced with the task of debunking the populist image of the 'fake refugee' and of unravelling the complexities that characterise and drive contemporary migrations. Today, migrations also constitute a major academic challenge because a proper understanding of their causes and impacts cuts across the disciplines of demography, history, economics, law, politics and sociology, and anthropology, all of which deal with a slice of the migratory phenomenon, but only their combination allows us to see its complex totality. Moreover, current realities and deep-seated mechanisms may be rooted in a distant past, making a long-term perspective (1700-2000) an essential element for an interdisciplinary approach.

The 1997-1998 Forum tackled these questions from a broad historical comparative and cross-disciplinary perspective focusing on the following three themes:

1 - The Phenomenology and History of Migrations

The history of migrations and migrants allows us to detect successive migratory phases, places of origin and destination, and the mechanisms and motivations at work. The historical approach helps clarify the complexity of the migrant personality (gender, age, education, religion etc.). It examines the regulatory bodies dealing with migration, and the responses to migratory phenomena proposed by the societies of origin and receiving societies.

The dynamics of contemporary migrations are little understood. A characteristic is the conflation of voluntary and forced migrations, of individually based voluntary immigration and collectively imposed, involuntary homeland migrations. We need to know more about the spatial distribution of migratory flows. The broad categories of South to North, and East to West conceal the specific territorial linkages of population transfers: from 'which' South to 'which' North, and from 'which' East to 'which' West? Populist scaremongering often forgets that the large majority of the world's refugees end up in close proximity to the battered zones of the Third World, and only a trickle reaches the core countries of the West. The same holds true for voluntary migrations: an altogether new phenomenon is increasing immigration to the Southern and Eastern peripheries of Europe, such as the settlement of Albanians in Southern Italy or of Russians and Eurasians in Eastern Europe.

A proper knowledge of the spatial aspects of contemporary migrations requires a better understanding of the trajectory of migrations. What motivates migrants to leave their place of origin; which networks structure migrations, such as family, kinship, and neighbourhood ties; are there generational effects of older migrant cohorts setting precedents for younger potential migrant cohorts; what is the rate of return of specific migrant flows; are there distinct patterns or is there convergence, e.g. toward permanent settlement in the receiving societies? The question of migration trajectories is closely linked to the need for empirically grounded typologies: voluntary vs. forced migrations; temporary vs. permanent settlement; long vs. short-distance migrations. In addition, a recent phenomenon is the change of gender composition of migrants as an increasing proportion are young women, which poses demographic and social imbalances in both the place of origin and the receiving society. 'Gendered' migration is a major topic of recent American migration research. We need to determine how much of this is intellectual fad (in the 'race, class, gender' mantra of American sociology), and how much indicates important transformations in the family structure fuelled by migrations. Finally, contemporary migrations must be seen in a long-term historical perspective. Current migrations differ from past migrations. What, for instance, distinguishes the migratory flows after the collapse of communism from the mixing and unmixing of people generated by the collapse of the Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov Empires in the early 1900s. A distinct characteristic of contemporary migrations is that they occur in the context of an established nation-state system. A Sicilian peasant migrating to New York City before WWI would have had little awareness of his 'Italianness'. Today's migrants tend to arrive with passports that certify them as card-carrying members of national communities. Thus, migration in an established nation-state system means a certain resistance to becoming fully absorbed and integrated into the host society, and has given rise to the new phenomenon of 'long-distance nationalism' (B. Anderson), where opposition to a military or ethnic regime in South America or South Asia is steered from New York or London. A historical perspective throws a stronger light on contemporary migrations, and helps us detect continuities that are not detected in a 'presentistic' perspective.

2 - Migrations in the Modern State System

Receiving societies experience both forced and voluntary migration as aggregate immigration, which has to be controlled and curtailed to levels commensurate with the cultural and social fabric of such societies. Western societies have distinct types of immigration systems to control new entries: temporary guest-worker systems (Germany, France II, Switzerland ); post-colonial regimes (Britain, the Netherlands, France I); or the 'classic' North-American model. These systems have been studied, but little is known about their recent adjustments to migrations that are largely involuntary, no longer limited to a few (solicited) source countries, or conditioned by the needs of a global economy. Immigration policy is a nation-state domain, thus we need to know more about distinct national responses to these recent challenges. How do individual states reconcile the conflicting, internationally monitored imperatives of respecting the human rights of refugees (which put breaks on 'restrictionist' responses), keeping inflows at levels commensurate with domestic peace and welfare (which mandate restriction), whilst keeping borders sufficiently permeable for the highly-skilled personnel of a global economy and culture? How are immigration and refugee policy arenas linked and institutionalised by individual states (e.g. extreme separation in the USA; conflation in Germany and Britain ), and which 'linkages' work best?

In the domain of immigration policy the nation-state remains the dominant actor, while political authority is increasingly being transferred to emerging transnational arrangements. As the European unity transforms itself from a common market into a common polity, along with the creation of a new European citizenship, it is forced to build and secure its external borders, and to delimit members from non-members. The expression 'Fortress Europe' obscures the real problem of creating a European immigration and refugee system, which, in a turbulent world context, must by definition be a system of 'control'. How is the stubbornly guarded sovereignty of nation-states to be reconciled with the need for transnational regulation of migration in the EU? This is an extraordinarily rich, albeit protean, field of research. Similar, if distinct, transnational migration arrangements are emerging in other parts of the world, particularly in North America (NAFTA), and Southeast Asia using a broad comparative perspective in order to obtain a clearer view of the specific features of the European case.

3 - The Rights of Migrants and Immigrant Integration

Modes of integration and admission are closely interrelated, as the quality of domestic, state-provided resources is negatively correlated with the generosity of admission (European welfare states are more restrictive than the American non-welfare states, because they have more to share out). The study of integration, particularly cultural integration, is a one of the busiest in recent migration research. Alongside distinct national models (British pluralism, the Republican French, and explicit Canadian multiculturalism), there are also key local variations at the sub-national level, because immigration is clustered in a few metropolitan areas of receiving societies—'local' citizenship is a new theme in research on immigrant integration. At the same time, migrant group loyalties increasingly by-pass the national level, and lie in communities, such as religious communities, which extend beyond the nation-state.

Thus, the integration of Muslim communities in Europe poses a set of unprecedented challenges. There is convergence in liberal states, powerfully reinforced by mutual monitoring and international human rights conventions, on respect for the cultural and religious identities of particular groups. However, carrying group particularism too far threatens the shared bonds of citizenship and cherished Western principles, such as the equality of women with men and the separation of church and state. The 'minority rights' question raised by new migrations is complex and contested: can the principles of homeland minority rights, invented by international jurisprudence to smooth the crushing of empire and the rise of new nation-states after WWI, be applied to migrant minorities with no territorial basis?

An important, but often overlooked, aspect of integration includes the adjustments and internal transformations of migrant communities in the receiving societies. With the exception of France and the USA, there is little high-quality scholarship on the internal economic, political, and cultural structure and dynamics of migrant groups. There is much armchair theorising about multiculturalism, but little solid ethnographic knowledge of the shape and organisation of ethnic migrant communities. 'Ethnic entrepreneurship' is an established domain of migration research in the USA, but is almost unknown in Europe. Reorienting scholarship from a stigmatising focus on cultural difference to a mundane view of the rich and varied forms of economic self-organisation is of more than academic relevance, because it is a counterpoint to popular myths of the 'costly' immigrant or the 'parasitic' Asylant


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