Migration Regimes: Approaches to a Key Concept

Project outline by Andreas Pott, Christoph Rass and Frank Wolff

In the last years, in migration studies concepts of “regimes” have inspired a multitude of publications. This holds especially true for “migration regime”. Under the influence of transnationalism, it allows to reconsider the shaping of migration. Instead of focusing on individual factors, like the state, norms or migrant networks, it asks for the involvement of most heterogeneous actors. It mainly goes beyond the former and narrow understanding of politics as main regulative forces and attempts to examine the relation between state and non-state actors in the international arena. Grounded in classic approaches from International Relations studies, recent research on migration regimes aims to incorporate into one picture the international constitution of migration and mobility, the relevance of state and non-state actors, the formative power of discourse and, to some extent, migrants’ agency. The concept, however, has inspired very different usages. Without artificially separating recent and more classical approaches into schools, three main tendencies of research can be found. First, there is a classically inspired line of research which develops the theoretical impulses from International Relations towards a theoretical understanding of migration regimes at the macro-level. Second, a newer school builds on such approaches, yet develops them further towards applied politics. A third and very recent approach takes a critical position. Focusing on micro-level situations, it examines how the regime, mainly the border regime, interacts with the constitution of local society and migration movement.

Without exaggeration one can say that on the one hand each of these approaches uses the concept in a productive way. But when we put prominent approaches side by side, important questions appear. Is a migration regime an actor by itself? Is it a field wherein actors negotiate and if so, which actors are perceived as relevant? Is it a mere heuristic category? Or is it a power constellation whose character research should either problematize or help to improve? Furthermore, even within many studies themselves there are striking discrepancies between the proposed concept and the empirical elaborations. As of now the controversial potential between the different approaches is rather implicit. Hence in research there is a growing demand to clarify the concept. Perspectives are often framed by certain undisclosed disciplinary assumptions and cross-citations between different lines of thought are few. Most importantly there is no satisfying theoretical nor methodological debate between the various groups of researchers.

This is the starting point for this collected volume. The hypothesis of our venture is that there is not only a broad conceptual heterogeneity. Most researchers share a certain language but assign different meanings to the terms used. Also they tend to work in and according to different political stances or disciplinary traditions. We consider this an inspiring situation that, given the right platform, can become highly productive. All participants share the interest to advance our understanding of migration across disciplinary boundaries. But in order to spur the dialogue and to bring together the loose ends, we suggest to attune the debate through a set of shared questions. By doing so, this edited volume aims to substantiate and clarify the concept. This offers the space to bring together different perspectives and enables them to engage in a fruitful discussion.

We invite contributions from all disciplines in humanities and social sciences. The collected volume will facilitate interdisciplinary debate by first bringing together the heterogeneity of voices at one table and within one frame set of core questions. Subsequently, it asks the contributors for methodological considerations.

Guiding questions for all contributions are:

  • What is the meaning of migration regime as an analytical concept?
  • What are the concept’s empirical boundaries?
  • How can research on migration regimes be operationalized?

Supplementary question can include issues such as:

  • What is the migrants’ position in a migration regime?
  • What does the concept draw from other analytical concepts and how does it relate to them?
  • Who produces the migration regime?
  • Are there other concepts that should be preferred in order to achieve similar goals?
  • Is there one or are there many migration regimes?
  • How is the relation between various regimes of different kind (including for instance border regimes, welfare regime, regimes of belonging, etc.)?

While contributors may write in English or German, we recommend to use the language of greatest proficiency. Entries (length about 30,000-40,000 characters) should foremost address conceptional and theoretical issues in relation to existing research. This should include active engagement with differing or even contradictory positions. Subsequently, entries should develop their findings toward methodological questions. Even though general thoughts are preferred, the latter can be achieved by working with empirical evidence, yet without focusing too closely on individual cases. They should rather serve to demonstrate methodological approaches or raise relevant questions than to illustrate or to substantiate theoretical standpoints. General observations, theoretical theses and methodological conclusions are highly welcome. We hope that this volume will inspire the ongoing debate by asking leading voices to proceed toward interdisciplinary reflection. As a result, the aim is to orchestrate the polyphony into one debate with increased awareness of existing positions.

© Andreas Pott, Christoph Rass and Frank Wolff, published May 20, 2014.

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