migration, sociological studies of

Migration involves the (more or less) permanent movement of individuals or groups across symbolic or political boundaries into new residential areas and communities. Sociological studies of migration are diverse and usually form part of larger problems in (for example) research into kinship , social networks , or economic development . It is conventional to distinguish push from pull factors in the analysis of migration. The former (for example high rates of unemployment in the area of origin) are usually viewed as inducing migration of a conservative, security-maximizing nature, while the latter (economic expansion in the host country or region) are said to encourage risk-taking and income-maximizing migration. A distinction is also made between external migration (between countries) and internal migration (between regions).
There is a considerable literature on rural-urban migration in developing countries, and this has confirmed the importance of family and friends in the destination area, as an explanatory variable for the rate of migration out of particular areas of origin (see for example, ‘Rural-Urban Migration and Family Ties’, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 1981). Employers have often made use of kin networks in recruiting ‘green labour’ from one area or country to another. (This topic is discussed fully in’s Keeping it in the Family. 1987).
The issue of kin-connected entry and recruitment strategies is also addressed in the other major sociological literatures on migration in the fields of employment studies and ethnic relations. Studies of job-search behaviour have identified the practices of chain employment and chain migration, where the successful migration of one family member creates a chain of opportunities for the whole kin network, as for example in Gary Mormino's study of early twentieth-century Italian emigration to Tampa, which shows that the core of the local Italian community originated from only three villages in south-west Sicily and one community in Palermo (‘We Worked Hard and Took Care of Our Own’, Labour History, 1982). This literature often has an ethnic dimension, evident also in Tamara K. Haraven's study of Irish, Italian, and French-Canadian emigration into the New England mill-towns during the same period (‘The Labourers of Manchester, New Hampshire, 1912-’, Labour History, 1975). A less benign view of the nature and consequences of ethnic migration is offered in Stephen Castle's and Godula Kosack's controversial and much-discussed thesis that the extensive foreign migrant workforce that moved to the advanced industrialized countries of Europe during the years of post-war affluence in the 1950s and 1960s served the twin functions of dividing the indigenous working class and creating a new reserve army of labour (Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe, 1973). Others have argued that such immigrants form part of an underclass , since they are discriminated against in markets for employment, labour, and housing, and therefore cannot be assimilated into the indigenous class structure. One specifically Marxist interpretation is that migrant labour (in Britain and elsewhere) constitutes a ‘racialised fraction of the working class’, the explanation for which cannot be reduced simply to the existence of labour shortages which migrant labour power often serves to address. (These differing interpretations are reviewed in, Racism and Migrant Labour, 1982).
It used to be believed that migration implied separation from kin, a thesis consistent with the functionalist view that the extended family was in decline in urban industrialized countries, although it is now accepted that the relationship between family, employment, and migration is more complex and historically contingent than hitherto suggested. As early as 1940, Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball (Family and Community in Ireland) pointed out that geographical dispersal did not destroy familial bonds of obligation and affection, so that (for example) Irish peasants having emigrated to urban America still sent back money to relatives at home. See also cultural theory ; diaspora ; labour-market segmentation.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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