Thursday, June 26, 2008


Stephen Castles is the other half of one of the early seminal works on the politics of migration, The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Listen to his public lecture here. The lecture neatly summarises the different aspects of migration, stressing a need for an interdisciplinary approach.
Crossing a national border may seem a simple enough act for an individual – a matter of course in a globalising world.

But it is actually part of one of the great dramas of our time: the contradiction between the national principle upon which the sovereignty of states is founded, and the transnational principle of global mobility.

States try to control flows of people – it is a vestige of sovereignty at a time when liberalised markets erode the power of states to regulate corporations, manage labour markets and maintain welfare states.

Employers, by contrast, want to draw freely on a global labour force. The states versus markets dilemma is escapable.

Where the policy-makers get it wrong, the result is irregular migration: 12 million irregular migrants in the USA, 3-7 million in Europe, over a million in Malaysia.

Irregularity suits some employers well, but means exploitation of workers, undermining of labour standards for competing local workers, and erosion of the rule of law.

States, however, are more concerned about supposed security threats through uncontrolled migration, economic inefficiency through survival of marginal firms, and the popular backlash against immigration.

Discourse on emigration in the Philippines is still very much framed through modern (i.e. nationalist) lenses. Every able-bodied, often well-educated, emigrant is seen as a national loss. While we may beat our chests over these perceived national losses, the globalisation of labour markets is, for the moment, inevitable (if not irreversible). When everything else has gone global - ideas, goods, patterns of consumption, culture and production, labour is perhaps the most problematic for both sending and receiving countries. Some problematics arise from issues of political identity, bounded by citizenship and its relationship with the nation-state, issues of international development and a globalised milieu of wealth-creation, issues of human rights protection and of justice.

The Philippine nation-state building project is still incomplete - and simultaneously it must find a way to deal with the postmodernising world in which it is perhaps irreversibly embedded.

The 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development will be held in Manila on October. If it is open to the public, you might want to go.

Edited to add:

The Philippines, of course, has special mention. INTERESTING analysis and interpretation.

Asked whether he can cite instances of policy "success with" regard to migration, Castles responds: "The Philippines has had a mass emigration policy for years and years. It was started by the Marcos dictatorship deliberately to get rid of the forces of change, not to develop the country. With migration instead of development, I think it always has been in the Philippines."

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