Qualitative Migration Research: Some New Reflections Six Years Later

Article excerpt

The main purpose of this article is a brief presentation of the most crucial stages of a research process concerning migration of foreign workers in Greece. The research (within my doctoral studies at Sussex University, Brighton, UK) was undertaken for a period of almost nine months (1995-1996) in Athens, Greece. In this article I present some important dimensions of the multiple methods used (semi-structured interviews with informational questionnaires, in-depth interviews and participant observation) to obtain information and data, mainly on the employment and housing conditions and situations of immigrants in the city, and take the opportunity to critically reflect on that research's methodology and findings today. Key words: Qualitative Methods, Migration Research, and Critical Realism

Research Context and Research Questions

Greece, together with other countries of Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal) have relatively recently--from the mid 1980s onwards--been transformed from major emigration to immigration countries (Iosifides, 1997). The origins of the new immigration flows are both in the Mediterranean area and further a field, although there is still a relative absence of accurate and credible statistical data. Immigrants into Southern Europe come mainly from developing countries--the Maghreb, Cape Verde, the Philippines, Eritrea, Somalia, Jordan, Egypt, Latin America, Gambia, Ghana and Guinea, and from some eastern European Countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania etc. (Salt, Singleton, & Hogarth, 1994).

This major migratory transformation of Southern Europe to a destination area has been explained by a combination of interrelated factors such as the relative ease of entry, the tightening of controls in other potential destination countries, geographical, cultural and ex-colonial links, economic and demographic reasons and the demand for cheap labour in Southern European countries due to socio-economic restructuring and informalisation (Fakiolas, 1994; Iosifides & King, 1996; King & Rybaczuk, 1993; Pugliese, 1993).

Greece became a de facto immigration country in less than fifteen years. Despite its poor economic performance during the 1980s, Greece has attracted and received hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, and despite the imposing of stricter control measures during the 1990s, the inflow is continuing. Within this context the general topic of research was selected due to a series of reasons (Iosifides, 1997):

* First of all, it was considered to be a challenge to study some important aspects and dimensions of the migratory transformation of Greece and its impacts on economic, social and labour market systems of the country.

* Secondly, the phenomenon, at the time of research, was relatively new in Greece. There were limited studies at that time although the need for better understanding of the complexities and impacts of immigration into Greece were (and still are) great. Migration studies at the time of research were mostly descriptive and based on secondary data or census data about legally resided immigrants in the country, leaving the vast majority of foreign labour (the undocumented immigrants) unconsidered. Consequently, an in depth qualitative account of the important dimensions of the phenomenon of immigration in Greece, was missing.

* Finally it seemed to be extremely interesting to try to connect contemporary international socio-economic and migratory changes with the peculiarities of the Southern European countries in general, and Greece specifically.

Within the above general framework the specific research questions and objectives of the study were the following (Iosifides, 1997):

* The first research objective was related to the presentation and analysis of the general characteristics of the immigrant groups selected for the study (see next part) in order to highlight lines of similarity and differentiation between them. …