Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Turbulence of Migration

I stumbled across the work of Nikos Papastergiadis a few years ago.  The title of the book, The Turbulence of Migration, intrigued me and I purchased it hoping to find some original ideas on the topic.  I was not disappointed - this book is an attempt to rethink migration in the context of the late 20th century modern world and globalization.

Why does Papastergiadis say that migration has become “turbulent”?  Not too long ago, he says, one could trace the recent mass movements of people in fairly well-defined patterns:  the slave trade, guest workers, colonization.  (A quick look at my photo at the top of this blog reveals a product of several centuries of European immigration to North America.) 

While some vestiges of those old patterns remain (there are still many North Africans in France, for example), “The diversity of paths, and the complexity of forms of migration, have meant that it is now almost impossible to map movement with a series of arrows, on a flat two-dimensional representation of the world.”  There would be so many arrows flowing in so many different directions from north to south, east to west, across borders, across oceans and continents that one would be hard pressed to assemble some order in the chaos. 

Capital today flows at the speed of light and people follow in spite of all the barriers that nation-states still put in their way.  And opportunity or advantage may be just next door, not halfway across the world.  A quick look at the migration patterns in Africa reveal that many more people move within Africa than ever end up in the United States or the European Union.

For the person who fears the competition from immigrant labour or the nation-state that sees its national borders have become permeable (and the raison d’être of the nation-state is to protect its borders), this is a very frightening state of affairs.  Mass uncontrolled movements of people also strike fear in the hearts of well-meaning people who believe that a rational design of the social map and “sedentarization” are pre-requisites for institutions that improve people’s lives, the very foundations of social progress. How do you build national health programs or school systems for people who refuse to stay in one place?

As sympathetic as I am to these arguments, I am firmly on the side of the “people who move around”.  Every migrant sets off on his journey with trépidation and ambivalence.  Economic advantage may be one factor in his decision but it is never the whole story.  He must be willing to face a life far from family, to learn another language, to be a cultural novice and to face hostility and violence.  That people are willing to do this in greater and greater numbers says to me that there is something so fundamentally human in this desire to move, it is virtually unstoppable. 

We must force the government to stop the bird migration. We must shoot all birds, field all our men and troops... and force migratory birds to stay where they are. 
Vladimir Zhirinovsky 

1 comment:

Pascal said...

Jacques Attali wrote a book « L’homme nomade » in which he explained that humans have ever been nomads, and will be forever. Even if at the human scale, it is not easy to observe it around us (for some people), the history shows us that movement never stop. Where does the blood in my veins ? From Spain, Germany and probably from the UK also. Far away, my ancestors came from Viking ? What is the root of the French people ? Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Romans, Moors, Gallic, Vikings …. Jean Raspail re-edits a book (novel) written 38 years ago, about huge migration by boats from Africa to Europe. Actually, the migration has been done and will continue. In 2050, more than 50% of the European people under 55 yo will have an extra-European origin. In 2030 more than 50% of the population of the city of Brussels will be Muslim. There is a cycle for everything in the universe: the sun system, the sun, the earth, the dinosaurs, the civilization, the human life, the play of our life (transactional analysis from E Berne), the cells regeneration; maybe one thing is not a cycle: the expansion of the universe since the Bing-Bang ! Or maybe I should say: nobody found the cycle of the universe expansion… It seems unlimited !

I think, there is no antinomy between migration and ‘sedentarization’, because even if migration has ever existed, it concerns a so few people (except for mass migration due to of war, or which concerns the two firsts level of the pyramid of Maslow). Actually, I think migration is welcome or has to be, it brings to every society or culture, a renew from outside that enriches it, by genes and memes. Think about a pond, without a water source to renew it, how the eco-system can develop ? No way !
In every continent, every country, every society, every company, every group of people, migration is an opportunity of renewal……the source of life !

Seeing the movement of humans as global, within a long period of time.