Academic journal article Population

Contemporary Migration Theories as Reflected in Their Founding Texts

Academic journal article Population

Contemporary Migration Theories as Reflected in Their Founding Texts

Article excerpt

This article explores the development of contemporary migration theories as reflected in some twenty founding texts that have marked the field over the last fifty years.(1) Before proceeding further, two points must be made clear. First, by founding texts, we refer to the landmark articles or book chapters that have shaped the progress of migration studies. They are constantly recurring references, both in the theoretical frameworks used by scholars in their empirical studies, and in the numerous literature reviews offering critical overviews of these theories. The second point concerns the period covered, namely the decades from the 1960s up to the year 2000. Of course, by choosing this period, we exclude many great figures of sociology and economics - Comte, Durkheim, Weber, Marx and Smith, to name but a few. Yet while these major classics have marked the social sciences, their contributions to the field of migration are few. It would be of utmost interest to explore the conception of mobility in these great works, but our purpose is elsewhere.

Our first question concerns the very definition of migration. The first selected text is by Alan Simmons (1987*). It is a pioneering study which aims to clarify the various definitions and typologies and, above all, to place migration theories in their historical context. He suggests using three major dimensions to define migration: a change in residence, a shiftin employment and a shiftin social relations. In general, the first dimension - a change of residence - is the main criterion used. Simmons suggested that this definition be broadened, and his innovative idea rapidly gained ground, notably in research focusing on macro-structural dimensions.

Simmons also observes that the field is highly fragmented because migration theories cover specific types of migration grounded in particular social and historical contexts. This fragmentation is especially discernible in an area that has dominated migration research, namely the distinction between the causes and effects of migration. But it also affects the levels of analysis, be it micro, macro or meso. In the presentation of the founding texts, we address this fragmentation by distinguishing between causes and effects on the one hand, and between micro-individual and macro-structural approaches on the other.

I. Origins and causes of migration

Micro-individual approaches

One of the very first explanatory approaches to both internal and international migration focused on individual decision-making. Before deciding to leave their place of residence, individuals examine the costs and benefits of migrating. This approach is often associated with the paper by Larry Sjaastad published in 1962*, in which he sought to identify the costs and returns and to determine the "rate of return on resources allocated to migration". He sees migration as an "investment increasing the productivity of human resources, an investment which has costs and which also renders returns". Costs can be broken down into money and non-money costs.

Without doubt, Sjaastad's greatest contribution was to introduce the notion of human capital into migration theory to get around the problem of estimating returns. For Sjaastad, "it is particularly useful to employ the human capital concept and to view migration, training, and experience as investments in the human agent". The basic postulate of his approach is explicit, namely that the analysis of private costs and returns is valid only in the case of voluntary migration which, in a competitive economy, satisfies the requirement of "optimum" allocation of resources.

Sjaastad's paper laid the groundwork for the general schema for migration presented by Everett Lee in 1966*. Under this schema, migrant characteristics provide a means to explain volume of migration, migration streams and counter-streams. He begins by postulating that migration is the result of an individual calculation based on positive factors at destination and negative factors at origin. …

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