Social Transformation and International Migration in the 21st Century

Stephen Castles

The first phase of the project consists of theoretical and conceptual work to improve understanding of the relationship between social transformation and migration. A starting point is the book of Karl Polanyi on The Great Transformation of European societies through industrialisation. This work has been updated by Joseph Stiglitz and others to provide a critical analytical framework for understanding the effects of globalisation. This project links such global theories to local and national level studies of change processes: global factors have varying effects in different places, because they are mediated by local and national historical experiences and cultural patterns. An interdisciplinary approach can link the insights of micro-level research in sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, with the more macro-level analyses of economics, politics, political economy, law and geography. Both migration studies and development studies are essentially cross-disciplinary.

A second phase will involve fieldwork in regions strongly affected by both social transformation and migration. Although this applies to many – possibly to most – regions of the world, the decision has been made to focus on Mexico and Ghana as predominantly origin regions for migrants and on the Republic of Korea and Australia as predominantly destination regions. In each country, research will be carried out at first at the national level, using statistical and secondary sources; and second in a selected locality, using mainly ethnographic methods. In each country, a local research assistant will be appointed, and advice and cooperation will be sought from social scientists working on this topic.

In a third and final phase, the national and local case study findings will be used to revise and rethink the conceptual framework. However, this is not to be understood as some sort of universal theory of migration, but rather as a set of middle-range theories that can guide research, while remaining subject to constant revision. This phase will include an international workshop of migration researchers.