September 22, 2005

Prof Remaps Migrations

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Prof. Russell King, geography, University of Sussex, England spoke to a mix of faculty and students at the A.D. White House about the “new maps” of European migration yesterday, as part of the yearly Luigi Einaudi lecture sponsored by the Institute for European Studies.

Prof. Lillian Holst-Warhaft, Institute of European Studies, introduced King, remarking that it was perhaps the first time that the institute had invited a geographer to give the Einaudi speech. “Geography is not what it used to be. It has become a field of social and societal movement as opposed to merely the study of topography,” Holst-Warhaft said.

King began his speech, which was based partially on his paper “Towards a New Map of European Migration,” speaking on many of the misconceptions and attitudes that the global community holds towards migrants. According to King, 175 million people are international migrants, accounting for about three percent of the world’s population.

“The hubris of old migration is still dictated by an old style of migrations … we are led to the assumption that migrants are poor, that they are not educated, that most are labor immigrants,” King said.

King focused the majority of his speech on criticisms of the “old maps of migration” that he viewed as flawed in many ways.

“Some borders are melting away just as some are being reinforced, migration is becoming both voluntary and forced … migration has become a dichotomized, fragmented field of inquiry,” he said.

King said the boundaries between legal and illegal immigration are breaking down, and the lines of migration between different countries in Europe is becoming blurred.

“Many illegals become regularized and convert to citizenship, and many legals do not review their visas or permits and become illegal,” King said.

King also remarked that the physical routes and trends of migration are changing from older maps, and become increasingly harder to decipher.

“I would not be able to show you a modern map showing migration routes; it would look like spaghetti,” he said.

King also had harsh words for the modern media, which he said created new myths and stereotypes about modern migrants, displaying the cover to a book on migration that showed a boat overcrowded with Albanan refugees.

“Today, we see migration through the lens of tragedy, a crisis, victimhood, or as a flood, a ‘wave,’ if you will. It is dishonest, possibly even irresponsible for modern migration to be viewed in this light,” King said.

King claimed words like “crisis” bring on military connotations, and give the impression that migration is an “unstoppable and undesirable” problem in modern society. King offered alternatives to many commonly used phrases, suggesting the term “crisis migration” should be renamed to “migrations of systemic turbulence.” And although King claimed that some publications have begun to view migration as positive for Europe, the overall trend is an emergence of an hegemony between European states and the media.

“Dreams of migration for many [to Europe], which might have been realized for many decades ago, are frustrated and crushed by the regimes of control,” he said.

King then moved the topic from criticism to “new maps” of migration, giving examples of new or overlooked forms of migration. He introduced one as “skilled and professional migrations,” saying that a larger number of migrants are skilled workers, but instead prefer to take low-status jobs that pay more in a new country than their high-status jobs in their home country. King called this phenomenon “brain waste.”

“We have these people who might be teachers or professors in their own country, yet decide to migrate for a low-status, unskilled job. While it is true that they oftentimes lack the connections and regularized states that their foreign colleagues might already have, their main goal is to increase their source of income,” King said.

King said two new commonly overlooked forms of migration are “consumption-led migrations,” and migration as a “rite of passage.” “Consumption-led” migrations consist mainly of North Europeans migrating down to Southern Europe for extended vacations, eventually settling into a permanent retirement phase.

For a field study on this new form of migration, King traveled to the Tuscany region in Italy, which has attracted many British retirees in what he called an “rural, idyllic community.” He showed a real estate advertisement promising a number of luxuries “waiting for you in Tuscany.”

“Needless to say, that was some of the most interesting and relaxing work I ever did,” King said.

King said that many “rite of passage” migrants are in fact university students who travel across Europe to attend school. A European program known as the Erasmus Scheme has helped over one million students migrate into and across Europe.

“This group would not think of themselves as migrants, which they would probably view as poor and seeking work, but if we look at the original, broad definition of migration, they do meet the criteria of migrants,” he said.

King introduced a final form of migration, “love migration,” meant to filter out the emotional side of migration.

“People migrate for many reasons. It might be for love, a relationship, or an emotional attachment to a person or place. We must not overlook these facts,” King said.

King concluded his lecture by urging that new types of migration require new data sources, new research strategies, and new literature.

“We must appreciate migration as linked to wider social phenomena. It is embedded in the lives of individuals, in the lives of families. It is embedded on a wider scale, with a changing society and its processes,” King said.

King has taught at the University of Sussex since 1993, and has been the co-director of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research since 1998. He is a recipient of the Royal Geographical Society’s Edward Heath medal for his work on the geography of Europe and the Mediterranean. He is also the current editor of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. King will be speaking again tomorrow on Albanian Migrants in Italy at 4:30 p.m.

Archived article by William Cohen
Sun Contributor