Topics: Economics, Human migration, Development Pages: 92 (30063 words) Published: July 24, 2013

Hein de Haas*

Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective
Paper presented at the conference on ‘Transnationalisation and Development(s): Towards a North-South Perspective’, Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Bielefeld, Germany, May 31 - June 01, 2007

COMCAD Arbeitspapiere - Working Papers No. 29, 2007


* International Migration Institute, James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford. Draft Paper, comments welcome:

Working Papers – Center on Migration, Citizenship and Development

de Haas, Hein: Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective, Bielefeld: COMCAD, 2007 (Working Papers – Center on Migration, Citizenship and Development; 29)

The COMCAD Working Paper Series is intended to aid the rapid distribution of work in progress, research findings and special lectures by researchers and associates of COMCAD. Papers aim to stimulate discussion among the worldwide community of scholars, policymakers and practitioners. They are distributed free of charge in PDF format via the COMCAD website. The opinions expressed in the papers are solely those of the author/s who retain the copyright. Comments on individual Working Papers are welcomed, and should be directed to the author/s.

University of Bielefeld Center on Migration, Citizenship and Development (COMCAD) Postfach 100131 D-33501 Bielefeld Homepage: 2

Working Papers – Center on Migration, Citizenship and Development

This paper aims to put the debate on migration and development in a broader historical perspective of migration theory in particular and social theory in general. The scholarly debate on migration and development has tended to swing back and forth like a pendulum, from developmentalist optimism in the 1950s and 1960s, to structuralist and neo-Marxist pessimism and scepticism over the 1970s and 1980s, to more nuanced views influenced by the new economics of labour migration, “livelihood” approaches and the transnational turn in migration studies as of the 1990s. Such discursive shifts in the scholarly debate on migration and development should be primarily seen as part of more general paradigm shifts in social theory. The shift that occurred over the 1990s was part of a more general shift away from grand structuralist or functionalist theories towards more pluralist, hybrid and structuralist approaches attempting to reconcile structure and actor perspectives. However, attempts to combine different theoretical perspectives are more problematic than sometimes suggested due to incommensurability issues and associated disciplinary divisions. Since 2000, there has been a remarkable, and rather sudden, renaissance of optimistic views, in particular in the policy debate, as well as a boom in empirical work on migration and development. This has coincided with the rediscovery of remittances as a “bottom up” source of development finance and the celebration of the transnational engagement of migrants with the development of their origin societies. However, such optimism has tended to go along with a striking level of amnesia of decades of prior research. Migration and development is anything but a new topic. The accumulated empirical and theoretical evidence stress the fundamentally heterogeneous nature of migration-development interactions as well as their contingency on spatial and temporal scales of analysis and more general processes of social and economic change, which should forestall any blanket assertions on migrationdevelopment interactions. Current policy and scholarly discourses naively celebrating migration, remittances and transnational engagement as self-help development “from below” also shift attention away from the relevance of structural constraints and the important role states and other institutions play in shaping favourable general conditions for social and economic...
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