Migration can be seen as a collective movement produced by individual trajectories. This movement modifies the environment in which those individual trajectories occur. It should be analysed as an ‘object’ of sociology instead of as ‘social problem’ to be resolved, as a historical phenomenon and not as a sideshow of globalisation.
Migrants are often represented as ‘matter out of place’ to be excluded from or integrated into the nation-state. The nation-state is focused on its territory (external borders) and internal classifications (citizenship status). The phenomenon of migration reveals the arbitrary power of the state to decide who is included (‘naturalized’) and who is not. Migration is often perceived as a threat to the cohesion of the nation and the legitimacy of the state to enact its internal and external borders. The idea of ‘integration’ is also problematic due to the impossible ‘assimilation’ of a ‘foreigner’ in a state that constructs its nation as based on territorial belonging (and hence the fear that they cannot really become part of ‘us’).
Abdelmalek Sayad talks about the ‘double absence’ of migrants – their absence from their place of origin and within their host society. This suggests that migration must be constantly legitimated by all concerned, often by economic needs or by humanitarian motivations. In reality, the migrant is a constant presence – refugees, asylum seekers, irregular and regular labour migrants. The second generation of migrants, while being born in the country of migration, also belong to other spaces. They often put into question the relationship between origins, territoriality and citizenship.
In the West, migration is often a consequence of the ‘imperial debris’ left behind after the ambiguous process of decolonization. These migrants blur the clear cut line between the past and present of Europe and embody the return of economic and political colonial histories.
Abdelmalek Sayad 2004 The Suffering of the Immigrant. Preface by Pierre Bourdieu and translated by David Macey. Cambridge UK
Emmanuelle Saada 2000 ‘Abdelmalek Sayad and the Double Absence: Toward a Total Sociology of Immigration‘ French Politics, Culture, and Society. 18 (1) pp.28-49.
Liisa Malkki, 1992 ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees‘ Cultural Anthropology, vol. 7 (1)
Aradau, Claudia; Huysmans, Jef and Squire, Vicki (2010). ‘Acts of European citizenship: a political sociology of mobility‘ Journal of Common Market Studies, 48(4), pp. 947–967
Discuss the relationship between colonialism, decolonization, and migration.
What is the place of the migrant within understandings of nation-states?
Is migration better analysed as primarily a North-South phenomenon or in a global comparative perspective?
Submitted by Raya Cohen