Book Review: The Age Of Migration

The Age Of Migration:  International Population Movements In The Modern World, by Stephen Castles And Mark J. Miller

Reading this book, one gets the sense that scholars of migration in the present world often stumble around dangerously close to gaining insights about the peoples and societies of the contemporary world, only delivered from the threat of enlightenment and wisdom by the power of their misguided assumptions about the inevitability and irreversible nature of what they view as progress.  Of course, these scholars, who represent an alliance between the political science and international relations academics of the United States as well as the refugee studies think tank at Oxford, feel the destruction of national borders and national identity in the face of ever increasing migrations of poor and unwanted masses of people is a given fact.  Similarly, they only dimly recognize the reality of the hostility of would-be host populations who resent the invasion of their country by self-professed asylum seekers and refugees and whose response to the increased migration of troublesome and unsettled peoples is a reflexive and entirely predictable rise of nationalism and a lack of faith in elite institutions that do not serve their interests as well as supranational institutions that threaten national identity and the security of borders.  All of this makes this book a fascinating study of two people whose knowledge of migration and its contexts leads them to the brink of great understanding but not into its realization.

This book is almost 300 pages long and is divided into twelve chapters.  After a list of illustrations and various other matters, and a preface to the third edition and a list of abbreviations, the authors begin with an introduction that provides a discussion of their thematic interests and the aims and structure of the book (1).  After this there is a discussion of the migratory process and the formation of ethnic minorities (2), as well as a discussion of international migration before the end of World War II (3) and the migration to highly-developed countries since 1945 (4).  This leads to a look at the quest for control of international migration on the part of states (5), and the globalization of international migration (6).  New migrations in the Asia-Pacific region (7) are discussed before the authors move on to a look at migrants and minorities in the labor force (8) as well as a comparison of the migratory process for Australia and Germany (9).  After this comes a look at the relationship between new ethnic minorities and their host societies (10), the relationship between migrants and politics (11), and a conclusion that looks at migration in the post Cold-War era (12), as well as a bibliography, author index, and subject index.

What is it that makes migration problematic?  It is not as if migration is viewed uniformly as a negative or as a positive, and the authors, to their credit, recognize that there are elements of migration that are viewed both positively and negatively.  Migrants may be celebrated as energetic people who can help fill an empty land or tame a wilderness, or they can be feared as people who desire to congregate together and preserve a sense of otherness that disrupts cultural unity and national identity and that threatens the safety of people by the encouragement of smuggling and other evils.  If migrants are able to disperse and assimilate to the dominant culture they tend to be viewed in a more positive light.  If they remain distinctive and restive and other, they tend to be more subject to hostile responses from the majority.  And if they become too numerous, they may even swamp an area and change its culture altogether, although long before things reach that point there is likely to be increasing tension, which these authors vaguely sense but sadly do not fully understand.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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