Academic journal article International Journal of Population Research

Transnational Involvement: Reading Quantitative Studies in Light of Qualitative Data

Academic journal article International Journal of Population Research

Transnational Involvement: Reading Quantitative Studies in Light of Qualitative Data

Article excerpt

Erlend Paasche 1 and Katrine Fangen 2

Recommended by Shirlena Huang

1, Peace Research Institute Oslo, P.O. Box 9229, Grønland, 0134 Oslo, Norway 2, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1096, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway

Received 20 April 2012; Revised 19 July 2012; Accepted 23 September 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Introduction

The exact meaning of "migrant transnationalism" has agitated otherwise calm academics for roughly two decades. The challenges inherent in defining and operationalizing it may partly explain the relative paucity of efforts to quantitatively map the phenomenon, meaning that we still know relatively little about the scope and frequency of migrant transnationalism today. This paper is based on the premise that we need more quantitative studies to break this vicious circle. We contextualize our own qualitative findings by drawing on quantitative studies, as a vantage point for cross-camp dialogue and for reflecting on how our own data from the qualitative EUMARGINS research project can be of use to future quantitative research. A conclusion offers a few generalizations on the two methodological frameworks in the context of studies of migrant transnationalism.

It is fair to say that the whole transnational paradigm shift across the multidisciplinary field of migration studies emerged on a platform of qualitative research, being catalyzed by certain key anthropological works in the early 1990s by Georges, Grasmuck and Pessar, Rouse, Glick Schiller, Basch, Szanton, and Kearney [ 1]. Later, mainstream sociology joined the trend [ 2], and forceful contributions were made by both qualitatively and quantitatively oriented scholars such as Portes, Guarnizo, Itzigsohn, Glick Schiller, Wimmer, Levitt, and Faist [ 3]. Early studies tended to see transnational migration everywhere and frame findings in a celebratory way and suffered from conceptual weaknesses common among innovative approaches [ 3]. There were a number of problems with these early studies in the way they theorized migrant transnationalism, during a period marked by "the excited rush to address an interesting area of global activity and theoretical development" [ 4]. Many of their shortcomings have gradually been addressed [ 5], while some of the initial criticisms continue to be made regardless of how they have actually been dealt with by a variety of scholars throughout a now massive range of literature [ 1]. There has been an increase in the articles key-worded "transnational" or "transnationalism" in the Social Science Abstracts Database from a mere handful in the late 1980s, to nearly 1,300 in 2003, of which almost two-thirds dated from 1998-2003 [ 6]. Illustratively, Global Networks were first issued in 2001. A review of sociological immigration literature conducted by Fong and Chan in 2008 suggested that research employing the transnational approach published in the top three US sociological journals and International Migration Review had increased by more than 20 times since 2000 [ 7]. Against this backdrop, it is surprising that there are few comprehensive and quantitative studies of migrant transnationalism. Also, most studies on migrant transnationalism show remarkably little concern with methodology [ 8].

Ideally, there could be a kind of reiterative feedback loop where qualitative and quantitative studies interact and researchers from both camps build on each other's strengths. We argue in this paper in favor of reading qualitative data in light of quantitative methods, and also in favor of improving surveys according to the insight coming from a qualitative study, in the hope that this could stimulate and guide future survey-based studies and further efforts to re-read qualitative or quantitative data, respectively, in light of data from studies using the opposite method. …

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