Academic journal article Migration Letters

Socio-Spatial Scales as Social Boundaries? Or: How Do Migration Studies Profit from Including 'Space' in the Sociology of Social Boundaries

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Socio-Spatial Scales as Social Boundaries? Or: How Do Migration Studies Profit from Including 'Space' in the Sociology of Social Boundaries

Article excerpt


Starting from the critique of methodological nationalism the article questions the conventional limitation of migration studies on social inequalities imposed by the nation state context. First, it highlights the conceptual shortcomings of assimilation approaches which mainly analyse hierarchies of social positions within the settings of the immigration countries. Second, it reviews migration research which addresses inequality patterns at the global and the transnational scale. It analyses both bodies of literature which have in common their inability to explicitly address the interaction between particular socio-spatial scales. This is the reason for the necessity to include the scale approach in migration studies. Moreover, to adopt the scale theory into inequality research, spatial scales, such as the global and local, the national and transnational must be reconceptualized in terms of the social boundaries approach. In sum, the article exemplifies how migration studies on social hierarchies profit from understanding 'space' as a distinct set of categorical distinctions powerful in social practice.

Keywords: methodological nationalism, scale approach, categorical distinctions, social boundaries, social inequalities.

Introduction: Immigration state as the taken-for-granted framework to analyse social inequalities in migration studies

In social sciences dominant discourses on migration mainly address the subject of migrants' social mobility within the receiving context. They particularly focus on the complex interrelation between the ethnic and class divisions that encourage the economic and political inequality in the country of destination (Alba and Nee, 2003, Portes and Rumbaut, 2006).

Intentionally caricaturising this, one could argue that 'migration studies have to analyse the formation of social inequalities exclusively within the framework of an immigration state.' Hence, this notion is implicitly included in the conceptual arguments of many migration studies that focus on the genesis of social inequalities. The conventional research interests of these scholars are conditions which influence migrants' access to education, welfare or the labour market as well as their social mobility in the country of destination.

The article presented is sceptical to this unquestioned commitment, not only because it equates the nation state with the social unit of society, but also because it overlooks the impacts of transnational and global relationships on the formation of social inequalities in the migration process (Weiß, 2005). To be more precise, recent studies on transnational inequalities point to the simultaneity and multiplicity of migrants (status) in transnational settings (Amelina, 2011, Nieswand, 2011). Moreover, they call for new conceptual tools to better understand the processes and patterns of inequality beyond the framework of national societies.

Seeking to overcome this methodological nationalism (Beck 2007, Wimmer and Glick Schiller, 2003) in migration studies on social inequalities, the article centres on the question of how to analyse the formation of social inequalities without pre-defining the immigration state as a singular research framework. To respond to this question the article links two prominent approaches: the socio-geographical scale approach (Brenner, 2004, Glick Schiller and Çaglar, 2009) and the sociology of social boundaries (Lamont and Molnar, 2002).

The social inequality analysis provides the approach to overcome the modified exclusivity of the nation state by considering the multiplicity of the sociospatial scales such as the national, the local, the global and, to add one more, the transnational. This argument builds on the elements of scale theory (Brenner, 2004, Jonas, 2006) that defines space as socially produced and analyses the multiplicity of socio-spatial scales as being historically specific and changeable. Nevertheless, I would argue that in order to be adopted in migration studies on social inequalities this approach needs to be re -conceptualised in terms of the sociology of social boundaries. …

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