Academic journal article Migration Letters

Migrant Agency and Community Structure: Competing Explanations for Economic Decline in Migrant Sending Communities of Rural Central Mexico

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Migrant Agency and Community Structure: Competing Explanations for Economic Decline in Migrant Sending Communities of Rural Central Mexico

Article excerpt


In response to Giddens' structuration theory, this study attempts to unravel the linkages between migration and local economic growth by moving beyond the household to the community level of analysis, and by considering lagged relationships over several years. The case study-24 towns in central Zacatecas, Mexico-concludes that remittances from US migration play an ambiguous role, providing basic income but at the same time resulting in more expenditures outside the community, which results in a lower multiplier effect and lower growth rates (measured by population growth). The reason for the externalization of expenditures is not so much the migration experience itself, as the socio-economic structure of sending communities, including their small populations and poor employment structures, which put overwhelming constraints on their growth and development.

Keywords: migration, economic growth, structure, agency, Mexico.


Structure is not to be equated with constraint but is always both constraining and enabling. This, of course, does not prevent the structured properties of sodai systems from stretching away, in time and space, beyond the control of any individual actors (Giddens 1984:25).

Anthony Giddens argues that structure and agency occur at different scales, and are part of a recursive process that operates over time. In addition, he believes that certain elements of structure remain present (like genetic markers) even after many recursive cycles, influencing agency deep into the future. His structuration theory offers insights that are useful to migration specialists, and particularly to those working with the broad and ambivalent relationship between migration and development. First, Giddens' ideas are useful methodologically. Between migrant agency (at the individual and household levels), and development (at the community level), there exist considerable time and space over which other factors intervene. Surveys of households in a single (or a few) towns, at a given point in time, cannot hope to reveal how migrant households' use of their remittances, and of their experiences abroad, are related to the growth of their community. Second, structuration theory is useful conceptually. The poor economic and social infrastructure in many migrant communities both compels migration from those communities and influences how economic and social remittances are used - and whether this in turn generates growth and development.

The migration-development process has many strands. In this study, I examine the role of international wage-labour migration on one facet of development - economic growth in towns of origin. I first establish the relationship between community structure (geographic, economic, and social), migrant agency (receipt of remittances), and community growth (population growth being used as a surrogate). Does a community's structure completely explain any effect that migration might have on growth? Second, I investigate how migration affects the rate of local expenditures by households, and how this in turn affects community growth. Do households in communities with high rates of remittance receipt spend more money outside the community (which determines the value of the economic base multiplier), thus resulting in lower rates of growth? Third, I ask how this localization of expenditures is related to a community's stage of migration and to its community structure. Do mature migrant communities (those whose US migrants have cumulated extensive time abroad), and smaller communities, spend less locally? Does migration stage (agency) matter more than the size and economic potential of a community (structure) in where expenditures are made? In the analysis that follows, to capture the likelihood of lagged relationships I examine structural factors in one period, migration/ remittances and expenditures in the next period, and community growth in a subsequent period. …

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