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Why Do People Migrate? Part 2: Theories

21 Feb 2017, 02:08 PM
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Read carefully this chapter. You will find a summary of the main migration theories and some criticism to the current state of the art.

Do you agree with the author that we should have one unifying theory of migration? What would be the pros and cons of going that way?

Write your opinion in your journal! and don't forget that you can also look what others' have written in their journal and give your comments.

One theory to rule them all

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Read carefully this chapter. You will find a summary of the main migration theories and some criticism to the current state of the art.

Do you agree with the author that we should have one unifying theory of migration? What would be the pros and cons of going that way?

As noted by O'Reilly in this reading, the history of migration is as long as the history of human life itself, and the size and scale of international migration that we have seen the last few decades is now a normal feature of contemporary society. Coinciding with these flows and counter-flows of people, a great deal of research in various academic disciplines have turned their attention to migration, resulting in a wealth of empirical knowledge about the subject, as well as the development of numerous theoretical frameworks from which to better organize and explain what has been observed.

Broadly speaking, O'Reilly divides the different theories that have emerged with regards to migration into three categories: theories that emphasize the role of agents, theories that emphasize structural roles, and theories that attempt to do both.

The oldest and most widely known migration theories emphasize agency, or the role of the individual and how rational decision making drives migratory patterns. These theories include Neoclassical Economics, New Eonomics of Labor Migration and even Dual-Market theories. All of these theories describe push and pull factors, and depending on the theory in question, the theories may include more or less variables that weigh in on decision making processes beyond the standard of simple wage differentials and perceptions of economic benefit.

The World Systems theory, differs from the previously mentioned theories in that it focuses on widers systems or structures--specifically, how the penetration of capitalist markets into peripheral countries causes social, cultural and economic disruptions that make migration inevitable. Much like the other theories, however, the World Systems approach is also biased towards economic explanations, often overlooking important political and cultural factors.

Lastly, O'Reilly discusses theories that attempt to analyze migration under the lens of both agency and structure, as exemplified by
Migration Systems and Networks Theory. These theories acknowledge that moves tend to cluster, can be circular in shape, and can take place withing wider contexts and systems.

The number and nuances of the many theories on migration are far beyond what is stated here, and many have questioned whether or not there is a need for a single unified theory of migration to bring all of these elements together.

Some scholars have concluded that there is no need and that a synthesis of the existing theoretical approaches is sufficient. Others have argued that a unified theory is not necessary because existing social theory is enough to understand social change without the need for a specific approach for migration.

O'Reilly, along with other scholars, argues that specific theories on migration are necessary, and that a simple synthesis of existing theories becomes problematic because they can incorporate major contradictions. In contrast, they argue that what is needed are better theoretical explanations of the interaction between structure and agency, and how individual choices take place within the limits of structures, but the cumulative effect of these choices often changes the structures themselves, which in turn present new choices to new migrants.

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