Lecture 4 (spring semester).Why and how people migrate within and beyond national borders

Migration reasons, networks and scale (infra, international, global)

  • What is a migrant?
  • Do people migrate because of push or pull factors? Or sometimes Both?
  • Does the political economy structure their choices/actions?
  • Migration Networks
  • How can we characterize migration  in relation to internal mobility, international mobility and globalisation?

King, R (2012) “Theories and Typologies of Migration: An Overview and Primer”

Who or what is a Migrant?

  • International migrant: “any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born, and has acquired some significant social ties to this country.” (United Nations)
  • Citizens, residents, settled immigrants (ius sanguinis), irregular/undocumented/illegal migrants
  • Internal migration: rural to urban migration; world cities, displacement, immobility

Ritzer, George; Dean, Paul. Globalization: A Basic Text (p. 264).Tthe UN estimates there are 232 million international migrants, or about 3.2% of the world’s population (UN 2013b).

Who or what isn’t a migrant?

The Immobility Paradox

  • Wage + unemployment differences in diverse locations suggest many more people should migrate.

Why don’t they?

  • Positive choice; people are rooted: family ties, jobs, culture, feeling at home
  • Lack of choice: poverty, political, institutional barriers

Malmerg, G 1997

Is it because they do not want to, or cannot? “It is one of the ironies of globalisation that whilst goods, capital, knowledge, entrepreneurship and the media are free to flow across borders, labour, that other crucial factor of production, is not. In fact, on the whole people are less free to migrate now than they were a hundred years ago”

King, R 5-6.

Why do people migrate: push-pull theory (based on neo-classical economics)

Push factors operating from the region or country of origin

  • Poverty, unemployment, landlessness, rapid population growth, political repression, low social status, poor marriage prospects etc.

Pull factors operating from the place or country of destination:

  • Better income and job prospects, better education and welfare systems, land to settle and farm, good environmental and living conditions, political freedom

Neoclassical economic paradigm

  • Economics paradigm, based on principles of utility maximisation, rational choice, factor-price differentials between regions and countries, and labour mobility.
  • Macroeconomic: migration results from the uneven spatial distribution of labour re other factors of production (land, capital).
  • Micro level, migration: the result of decisions made by individual ‘rational actors’ who weigh up the pros and cons of moving relative to staying, based on abundant information about the options.
  • Cost-benefit calculus) decisions based on returns to the individual’s investment in his or her human capital (Sjaastad, 1962; Borjas, 1989).

Criticisms of the neoclassical approach

Neoclassical approach neglects:

  • why so few people actually migrate, despite the apparent incentives to do so;
  • why some countries have high rates of out-migration whilst others (with the same structural economic conditions) have very low rates (Arango, 2004: 19-20)
  • personal, family or socio-cultural factors
  • multiple barriers to international movement
  • post-colonial pathways: histories of colonialism that linked certain countries together and not others
  • dependency and underdevelopment in the world economy
  • Other theoretical frameworks: Marxist political economy, historical developmentalism, systems theory, ‘new economics’ of migration (1970s -1980s).King, R (2012:14)

Historical-structural models

Causes of international migration; historically formed macro-structural forces, exploitative + inequitable global capitalism (Morawska 2012: 55).

Marxist interpretation of capitalism, (under) development, and the structuring of the world economy; dual and segmented labour markets, dependency theory, and world systems theory.

Dual Labour Market

Migrants are pulled (not pushed): international labour migration primarily driven by demand for cheap and flexible labour in advanced industrialised countries (Piore M. J. 1979)

Dual labour market  (advanced industrialised countries):

 primary labour market = secure, well-paid jobs for native workers; secondary labour market = low-skill, low-wage, insecure and generally unpleasant jobs in factories and the service sector, filled mainly by migrant workers because such jobs are shunned by local workers.

The very presence of migrant workers reinforces the undesirability of these secondary-sector jobs for the local labour force, which in turn enables employers to drive down wages and working conditions even more.

Segmented labour market; creation of these jobs precedes the migrants who fill them (Samers 2010: 65). UK, post war transport, health; 1990s-2000s… agriculture, service, food prep, construction, ….

Why do Foreign workers accept these poor positions?

a)Lack of bargaining power (especially if they are undocumented)

b)poor wages and jobs preferable to poverty/unemployment

Global Cities

  • Clustering of corporate headquarters, financial centres and related producer services. London and New York , Sydney, Shanghai, ….
  • Very low-income inhabitants geared to serve the needs of high-income inhabitants.
  • High end; finance, investors, professionals
  • Low-end; restaurants and hotel workers, cleaning office and house cleaners, carers (children, elderly, disabled); “precariat work” (Standing 2011); mainly undertaken by immigrants from poor countries

World Systems Theory

Global market economy + ‘new international division of labour’ NIDL (Froebel et al. 1980) asymmetric ties of trade, capital penetration and migration

  • ‘Core’ = dominant capitalist powers
  • ‘Periphery’: dependent on ‘core’ through.
  • ‘Semi-periphery’ intermediate in terms of their wealth and interdependent status

Wallerstein, 1974, 1979

  • Capitalist penetration into periphery dislodges rural labour and traditional patterns of employment and subsistence, creating possible mobile labour
  • This re/production of a ‘reserve army’ (Marxist term) enabled ‘core’ to pull this labour wherever it was needed (e.g., low-wage, low-status labour in global cities
  • A historically continuous global market serving capitalism’s demand for exploitable slave-like workers (Cohen, R. 1987; Potts, L. 1990)

Criticisms of the historical-structural model

  • Neglecting agency via historical determinism

Migrants ‘passive pawns in the play of great powers and world processes presided over by the logic of capital accumulation’ (Arango 2004: 27).

Millions of migrants exploited “but others make progress, succeed, and prosper” (King, R, 2012)

Sisters in Time ….

  • The role of the state neglected

Political economy models

Labour-demand + state or supra-state [EU]) make immigration policies – quota and admission systems, regulations of entry, duration of stay, work permits, citizenship rights etc. –  shape the volume, dynamics and geography of international migration.

Hegemonic stability model

Global economic system; political + military power of dominant nations regulates global trade, finance, and international migration.

(Morawska. 2007:4).

Hegemonic (neoliberal) receiver-states regulate global trade, finance, and international migration. (Morawska. 2007:4).

Growing connectivity between migration, globalisation, +  ‘social transformation’ – ‘major shifts in dominant [global] power relationships’ (Castles + Miller 2009:54)

Challenge to hegemony through transnational societies (Castles and Miller, 2009:12)


  • Multiple analytical focus on structure, linkage and process.
  • Derived from general (scientific) systems theory
  • Flexible in scale + ideology
  • Moves beyond a linear, unidirectional, push-pull movement to migration as circular, multi-causal and interdependent (Faist 1997a: 193).
  • Self-feeding systems (like chain migration)
  • Self-regulating systems (correcting themselves in response to a ‘shock’ to the system)
  • Self-modifying system (e.g. shifting to a different destination when blocked).
  • critics of the systems approach pointto its mechanistic, positivist nature and to its neglect of the personal and humanistic angles.


  • Migrant networks: interpersonal ties connecting migrants, non-migrants and former migrants
  • Webs of kinship, friendship and shared origin.
  • Forms of social capital stretched across migrant space
  • By providing information and contacts, they direct migrants to destinations where help is available (accommodation, jobs financial support)

…. information lowers the costs and risks of migration (Massey et al. 1998: 42-43).

Three main types of migrant networks:

  • family and personal networks
  • labour networks
  • illegal migrant networks (Samers (2010: 87-93) .

all networks gendered; women often active in developing and sustaining personal networks (Boyd and Nowak 2012: 83-86).

Samers (2010: 87-93) argues that smuggling and trafficking networks, are halfway between social networks and (criminal) business networks transporting migrants across borders, and subsequently (in the case of trafficking) exploiting them by holding them in a bonded and indebted state, notably sex-work. However,  as we will discuss in the lecture on trafficking, others argue that sex work migration is generally made of up informal networks such as friends, family and colleagues supporting migration and work.

Migration networks theory:

  • contribute to understanding the dynamics of differential migration;
  • help to predict future migration since networks ‘reproduce’ migrants through time;
  • help distinguish between initial causes of migration and its perpetuation + diffusion (Fussell 2012).

New Economics of Labour Migration (NELM)

  • Migration decisions taken within the household (micro level)
  • Migration decisions taken within extended families and wider communal groups (meso level) (Massey et al. 1998: 21).
  • Decision-making includes income diversification and risk reduction; (who goes, where to go, for how long, to do what etc.) (for instance, crop failure due to drought or hurricane, or sudden unemployment)
  • Risk reduction is important in poor sending countries where ‘market failures’ cannot be compensated by savings, insurance or credit (because none of these are available).
  • Diversifying income-earning and livelihood resources into different activities, spreading their labour resources over space and time. Different family members can thus be allocated to different tasks: work/care locally; internal migration; international migration.
  • Remittances from international labour migration to a wage-labour destination can be used to cover risks, or to invest

Criticisms of the NELM model.

  • NELM disappears household/extended family/community conflict/patriarchy
  • NELM is a partial theory, focusing on push not pull? But does any theory need to be total? (Van Hear, 2010:1535)
  • NELM does not address entire household migration
  • NELM shows that returnees may have greater social/economic capital and be viewed as successful. Is return always a sign of success? Is non-return a sign of success? Does successful migration always aid the household/extended family/community?


migrant activities ‘that take place on a recurrent basis across national borders and that require a regular and significant commitment of time by participants… These activities are not limited to economic enterprises [such as sending and receiving remittances, or setting up a business ‘back home’], but include political, cultural and religious activities as well’ (Portes, 1999).

  • Migration is a part of the process of transformation of social structures and institutions, and of the entire global political economy (Castles, 2010:1596)
  • Not only is migration affected by broad dynamics of national and global social change, but it is part and parcel of that change” (King, 2012: 24).
  • Shift from focus on causes of migration to experience of migration influenced by the ‘cultural turn’ in sociology, anthropology, human geography, cultural studies (and interdisciplinary) King, R (2012:25)
  • Transnational approach questions the linear, push-pull, no-return model; builds on theories of migration networks; and poses questions for existing literature on integration + assimilation of migrants in host countries


  • A minority of international migrants live transnational lives or occupy transnational social spaces’ (Faist 2000; Portes, 2003: 876).
  • Changes generated by migration do not alter but buttress the fundamental constitutive elements of the host society (Portes,2010: 1556).

Migration Characteristics

  • Internal vs. international
  • Temporary vs. permanent
  • Regular vs. irregular migration
  • Voluntary vs. forced migration, for instance ‘economic’ migrants vs. refugees.

Three ‘core groups’ temporary labour migrants, settler migrants and refugees have dominated the study of migration

Human trafficking and people smuggling are two forms of (often) labour migration

Blurred categories

Sales (2007: 47) theoretical distinction between refugee migration and ‘voluntary’ economic migration neglects conflicts producing economic devastation which forces people to leave who do not satisfy the requirement of a well-founded fear of persecution under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees

Globalized typologies?

  • Globe-spanning migrations without historical precedent (i.e. Chinese in Italy);
  • Local-scale crossborder shuttle migration,
  • ‘residential tourism’, extending tourist stays to several months;
  • Business visits and work contract migration (Salt 1992).
  • international migrations connected with family reunion and childcare, marriage migration, student migration, retirement migration, high-skilled migration and brain drain,
  • Environmental and climate-change migration,
  • Human trafficking and sexual exploitation

Some theorists argue that new types of migration and international mobility form important elements of the increasingly complex global map of population movements (King 2002; King et al. 2010; Martiniello and Rath 2012). Post-fordism, space-time compression, and the embeddedness of migration and mobility in the forces of globalisation and the New World Order have introduced new mobility forms where none existed before. This may not, however, actually represent a discontinuity with colonial era migration.


  • Castles, S. (2007), ‘Twenty-first Century Migration as a Challenge to Sociology’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33: 351-71.
  • Dickinson, E, (2016), Globalization and Migration: A World in Motion, Chapters 3 and 4
  • Ritzer, G. and Dean, P (2014) Globalization, A Basic Text, 2nd Edition, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell (Ch. 10)
  • King, R (2012) “Theories and Typologies of Migration: An Overview and Primer”
  • Arango, J. (2004). Theories of International Migration. In D. Joly (ed.), International Migration and the New Millennium. Aldershot: Ashgate,15-36.
  • Boyd, M. and Nowak, J. (2012). Social Networks and International Migration, in Martiniello, M. and Rath, J. (eds.). An Introduction to International Migration Studies. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 77-103.
  • Borjas, G.J. (1989). Economic Theory of International Migration, International Migration Review, 23(3): 457-485.
  • Castles, S. (2010). Understanding Global Migration: A Social Transformation Perspective, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(10): 1565-1586.
  • Castles, S. and Miller, M.J. (2009). The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (4th edition).
  • Cohen, R. (1987). The New Helots: Migrants in the International Division
  • of Labour. Aldershot: Avebury.
  • Cohen, R. (1996). Introduction, in Cohen, R. (ed.) Theories of Migration.Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, xi-xvii.
  • Cohen, R. (2008). Global Diasporas: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2nd edition.

Author: shabbycheek

Lecturer and researcher in intersectional cultural studies, historical sociology, American and migration studies. Working in China on America, British, Australian and Chinese social justice issues using Feminist materialist, post-Marxist (Gramscian), Critical Race Studies and post-colonial perspectives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

London Wlogger

Walking blogger exploring London's hidden gems, parks, bridges, landmarks, sights and history!

Golondrinas 21

Movilidades y migraciones en contexto de crisis

Refugees World

This is a blog created by Afghan refugee Mehdi Shams to give insight into life as a refugee on Lesvos, Greece.

The Indigenous Resistance Writers

Amplifying space for all past, present and future generations of Indigenous Writers and Storytellers.

Reflections on Gender and Postcolonial Issues

the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off--gloria steinem

settler colonial studies blog

A blog for the advancement of settler colonial studies

Postcolonial Text

Introducing the sociology of migration and im/mobility

Sex Work Research

For researchers, students, activists and anyone interested in research on sex work and related topics, including human trafficking

looking beyond borders

foreign policy and global economy

Border Criminologies blog

Introducing the sociology of migration and im/mobility

Social Abjection

new site now at: stigmamachine.com


for the love of things home, in-between, and away

%d bloggers like this: