Newsletter of ISA (International sociological association) – Research Committee on sociology of migration, Autumn 2010. 


Immediately after his election at the World Congress in Gothenburg in July, I approached the new ISA President, Michael Burawoy, to congratulate him. I introduced myself as the President of RC 31 “Sociology of Migration” since we had never met before. I remember clearly one sentence of our brief conversation: “migration is THE issue of the 21st century”. Well, our new ISA President is not the first observer to say so. All of us, sociologists specialized in the study of migration and related issues, are convinced of the centrality of migration in the contemporary world. Every day, somewhere in the word, the news confirms that migration and human mobility indeed remain at the top of the media, political and policy agenda. In the recent month, we can name the immigration law in the Arizona, the Roma issue in France, the electoral success of the far-right in Sweden thanks to an openly anti-immigration programme to illustrate this statement.

Consequently, the social and political demands explicitly or implicitly presented to us, are enormous. A lot of pressure is put on our shoulders to help solve “the problem of immigration” as it is too often still framed nowadays. What can we do? What should we do? As sociologists, permanent reflexive thinking is in my view, an obligation. We need to question our position in a rapidly evolving migration field including different worlds (academia, media, politics, policy, NGO’s, migrant associations, corporations, etc.).

In my view, two extreme positions are totally inadequate. The first one would be to refuse dialogue and discussion with all these other worlds in order to defend some idealistic vision of a pure sociology of migration. There are at least two reasons for that. The first reason is that we need that dialogue in order to better our sound understanding of global migration dynamics. Theorizing migration without first-hand knowledge of the experiences and expertise of all the other actors involved in migration would be suicidal. The second reason is that most of us are paid by public money. We therefore have an obligation to work for the public. The second position would be to allow the social and political demands to determine our research agenda, the ways to construct our objects of enquiry and sometimes even our “research” results. That would be the end of sociological research, transformed into consultancy.

The only realistic position is to be open and available to rethink the partnership with journalists, NGO’s, politicians and policy makers and often migrants themselves.  Obviously, there are many reasons why this is not easy at all. But I don’t think we have any choice. We should try to convince all our partners that research that combine theoretical and methodological rigour, as well as empirical wealth is most likely not only to generate the advancement of knowledge but also to generate policy-relevant results in the long run and maybe also keys for social and political action.

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