The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World (2Nd. Edition)

By Bancroft, Angus | Capital & Class, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World (2Nd. Edition)


Bancroft, Angus, Capital & Class


The Age Of Migration: International Population Movements In The Modern World (2nd. Edition) Macmillan Press, London 1998. pp. 336. ISBN 0-333-73245-6 (pbk) L15.50

In early 1998 a case of shoplifting was being heard in the London Courts. A wealthy banker had taken to lifting commodities from Harrods and Harvey Nichols as a form of stress relief. Her lawyer, pleading in mitigation for the sticky-fingered yuppie, said that `this is not some Gypsy who has come here from Czechoslovakia to steal with a gang.' He was referring to the few hundreds of Czech and Slovakian Roma who had attempted to claim asylum in Britain the previous year. In that one sentence he encapsulated the extent of the prejudice and hatred that citizens of the richest countries of the world project onto unwanted migrants. Although they were undoubtedly escaping racist violence, discrimination and poverty in their home countries, the Roma were stigmatised by the British government and press as scrounging `Giro Czechs' (in The Sun's memorable phrase).The scape-goating of migrants for various social problems-crime, anti-social behaviour and so on-has long been valuable political currency in Europe and the USA. The authors of The Age of Migration identify it as a growing trend in the more economically dynamic Asian countries.This is the new racism of global society.

Europe's pre-eminent social theorist, Zygmunt Bauman, suggests that the most pressing social division between individuals in the modern world is between what he calls 'tourists' and 'vagabonds'. Tourists are individuals who move with ease from country to country. Their currency is acceptable in every port of call, their travel is only ever held up by mundane delays at airports. Vagabonds are the underclass of the new world order, sometimes servicing the needs of the global economy for cheap labour, sometimes displaced and rendered stateless. They can only travel surreptitiously or semi-legally. They are the asylum seekers, the `guest workers' who are put on the next charter flight home the moment their job is done, the domestic maids whose employers keep them in conditions between serfdom and slavery. The governments of the European Union feel they have fewer obligations to guarantee some basic decency for these individuals than they do to ensure the humane treatment of veal calves in transit. It is they who are included within the subjects of Stephen Castles and Mark Miller's excellent book.

Though it documents the ways in which they are an important part of the global order of migration, and emblematic of the way migration is playing an ever stronger role in shaping politics and society, the book's scope extends far beyond the new world underclass. It rightly places their experience in the context of the centrality of migration to global society. There have been population upheavals in the past-huge displacements took place after the two World Wars, for example-but these were events in themselves were singular. …

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