Organization-Led Migration, Individual Choice, and Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.: Seeking Regularities

By Forrest, Tamar Mott; Brown, Lawrence A. | The Geographical Review, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Organization-Led Migration, Individual Choice, and Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.: Seeking Regularities


Forrest, Tamar Mott, Brown, Lawrence A., The Geographical Review


A primary goal of migration research has been to identify basic forces that underlie its initiation, directionality, volume, and the like, often seeking generalizable constructs or conceptual frameworks. At the heart of this is the understanding that migration represents individual decisions that reflect differences in place utility (indicated, for example, by wages, employment opportunities, housing, and lifestyle amenities), and information/knowledge concerning such differentials. Although refined in a variety of ways, the basic framework is longstanding, being rooted in studies such as Ernest Ravenstein (1885, 1889) and neoclassical economics (Sjaastad 1962). Related to this concern is the aggregate effect of migration on areas, regions, nations, and the like, partly under the assumption that it relates to spatial equilibrium (Plane 1980; Cushing and Poot 2004; Partridge and others 2012). Embedded within these frameworks, but especially relevant here, is the migration-chain concept whereby current migrants settle in or near places where their predecessors already reside, following the paths of relatives, acquaintances, and community members who migrated earlier, and who are the primary source of information to facilitate settlement (Hagerstrand 1957). More generally, Douglas Massey discusses these chains in terms of social-capital theory, defining them as a network of social ties that link potential migrants to people and institutions in receiving communities, with an associated decline in both risk and cost (Massey and Espana 1987; Massey 1990; Massey and others 1993).

Underlying this system is a collage of intermediaries who shape the aforementioned factors. In this vein, and apocryphally, John Friedmann and Richard Wulff note that "migration to cities reflects merely a demographic adjustment to changes in the spatial structure of economic and social opportunities ... the exercise of power, capital movements, and innovation diffusion ... a derived phenomenon, a symptom ... and not the thing itself' (1976, 26). Hence, classic approaches that highlight wage/job-opportunity differentials and information flows simply recognize the materialization of institutional, government, and/or business decisions regarding where to locate, what to locate, and under what circumstances. Such intermediaries have received a good deal of attention, but primarily those operating in the economic realm, for example, the Fordism/ Post-Fordism debate, as in the Great U-Turn (Bluestone and Harrison 1988), and Allen Scott's (2011) recent treatise on the rise of cognitive-cultural or technology-intensive capitalism.

Other types of intermediaries have been given scant attention, even though they play a major role in population shifts today. Further, whereas entities highlighted in earlier research only have indirect impacts, such as wage differentials, today's intermediary actors actually move masses of people from one location to another. Purposes include populating the destination, providing labor, resettling refugees, and providing asylum. Such actors play an increasingly important role in the geography of migration and, ultimately, the spatial distribution of population and its components. Accordingly, general constructs pertaining to migration and/or research approaches need to incorporate the role of intermediaries and their complementarity with prevailing paradigms that emphasize individual and/or household choice. In this regard, our purpose is not to articulate a framework so much as to illustrate the need for such an endeavor.

THE CONTEXT AND RESEARCH OUTLINE

Prior to World War II, intermediaries left a relatively small, but continuous, footprint on the United States. Obvious examples include the slave trade and labor-procurement agents or agencies orchestrating Chinese and Japanese migration to the West Coast for railroad construction and mining (Dinnerstein and Reimers 1999). Filipinos were directed to Hawaii and California for sugar cultivation, while San Francisco and Seattle emerged as regional centers where immigrants provided essential labor for agribusiness (Fujita-Rony 2003). …

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