( pn29 )

World on the Move – Reframing perspectives on migration and displacement


    Edward Liebow

    United States of America

    University of Washington

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Olajide Oloyede

    United Kingdom

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

WCAA Affiliation: WCAA Making Anthropology Global Task Force

IUAES Affiliation: Migration


migration, displacement, policy studies, structure vs agency


The panel presentations will demonstrate how anthropologists can help reframe public conversations about migration and displacement. The panel will characterize the ways in which research on migration and displacement have been used (and misused) to support public policy, and the lived experiences of individuals, families, and communities on the move. We hear a great deal of talk these days about how people move around much more than they used to. We also hear about what this moving does to our communities—and it often is not good news. Economic hardships, a shortage of affordable housing, religious persecution, the threat of disease, and even the effects of climate change may force people to move. People may also move in search of economic and educational opportunity. At the end of a migrant’s journey, sometimes the reception is a hearty embrace. But the reception is not always with open arms. In some places, there is concern that "too many" immigrants will take away jobs, or change “the character” of a place beyond recognition. Drawing on a range of case studies, the panel will complicate the orderly sense of place and time packed into a linear narrative that begins with a privileged “we,” most typically corresponding to the imagined community of a nation-state, and the challenges presented by the arrival of a foreign “they.” The cases also call into question the tensions between structure and agency, pointing out the problems of relying too heavily on a rational choice-making model of individual decision-making to account for when, where, and why people move. The linear origin/destination model does not account for cyclical movement over seasonal, annual, lifetime, and inter-generational patterns. It cannot neatly account for agricultural, construction, and tourism workers who shift locations with short-term employment prospects, for children who shuttle between rural and urban family members along with the yearly school calendar, for retirees and pensioners who divide their time between places, or who relocate for care-giving or cost of living accommodations, or for refugees and asylum seekers who retain a strong inclination to return—or enable their children to return once conflict subsides. The use of “push-pull” factors to explain migration dismisses altogether the coercive conditions of enslavement and trafficking, while discounting the widely prevalent circumstances in which the social production of vulnerabilities leaves individuals and families with no good options. Our decisions to move are often influenced by forces beyond our control, such as where and when we were born and what political, economic, and environmental conditions are like in our area. Migrants are often forced to choose between equally bad options. Stay and you may face difficulties and danger. Leave and you may face an uncertain future in a place you know nothing about and where you know no one. A narrative that involves the origin/destination binary, when coupled with the push-pull rational choice model, reinforces inequities that must be dismantled. It reinforces the structure of hierarchies—people from some places of origin and for selected reasons are more worthy than others of a welcome reception at their intended destination. In a world where practically everyone has a story of migration or displacement somewhere in their family history, it is time to change the narrative, and the public conversation, to better understand our own stories and the stories of others.