Migrant Networks: A Summary and Critique of Relational Approaches to International Migration Ch 12, pp. 257-285 in Mary Romero and Eric Margolis (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities, Malden MA, Blackwell, 2005.
Migrant Networks: A Summary and Critique of Relational Approaches to International Migration Steven J. Gold Introduction In recent years, research on immigration andethnic communities has increasingly regarded networks as essential sources of social organization and resource mobilization. Scholars find the examination of networks to be valuable because such arrangements are inherently relational. Their analysis directs our attention towards the location of migrants within broader contexts—kinship groups, communities, economic activities, and nationstates—incountries of origin and settlement, and in-between. In addition, the network approach is better equipped for examining migrants’ experience in light of agency and structure than are single-level neoclassical and world systems approaches that have dominated studies of international migration. This chapter summarizes network-based approaches to international migration (as well as kindredformulations, such as social capital, and ethnic groups and communities) by drawing on a variety of case studies. It then identifies problems in the way that the approach has been applied. Finally, it concludes by asserting that many studies of migrant networks have been limited to the singular topic of resource access and consequently,
have not investigated networks’ broader, noneconomic implications,such as transmitting culture, sustaining inequalities, and shaping meaning systems. Neoclassical, World Systems and Network Approaches to Migration Neoclassical economics depicts wage differentials as determining migration. Its macro formulation sees migration as a consequence of geographical differences in the availability of and demand for labor, such that workers will leave countries withlarge supplies of labor and less capital for locations wherein greater amounts of capital and limited supplies of labor yield higher wages (Massey et al., 1993, p. 433). The micro neoclassical model understands migration to be determined by atomized, choice-making individuals who go abroad with the expectation of enhanced returns on their labor. An alternative macro model, that of the world system,attributes migration to the penetration of capitalistic relations into peripheral, noncapitalistic societies, thus creating a mobile population that is prone to traveling abroad. Rather than attributing migration solely to economic factors, world system theorists see actions carried out by capitalists and states acting on their behalf to take advantage of land, materials, labor and consumermarkets in peripheral countries as the force driving migration (Portes and Borocz, 1989; Massey et al., 1993, p. 445; Burawoy, 1976). The affects of the global system not only dislocate workers from traditional occupations and induce their movement abroad to find alternative means of economic survival. In addition, as a consequence of colonialism, military interventions, media saturation, and themarketing of goods, potential migrants also develop cultural, educational, ideological and economic links to specific capitalist societies as well—India to the UK, Morocco to France, Mexico and the Philippines to the US, and so on (Castles 2
and Miller, 1998). World system theory sees international migration as ultimately having little to do with wage rates or employment differences betweencountries. Rather, it argues that migration is to a large extent the consequence of market creation and the structure of the global economy (Massey et al., 1993, p. 448). Interpretations of migration derived from micro and macro neoclassical economics formulations and the world system perspective maintain several contrasting assumptions. For example, while the choice-based, micro-neoclassical version...
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