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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


The Volume and Dynamics of International Migration and Transnational Social Spaces
Thomas Faist

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
380pp. Index. Biblio. Pb.: 18.99; ISBN 0-19-829726-2.



"Why are there so few migrants from so many places and so many from only a few places?" Referring in the first sentence of the book to what he views as the contradiction of relative immobility of migrants on one hand and migration on a mass scale, or "chain migration" on the other, Faist raises the first of two puzzles he seeks to answer. The second puzzle he refers to as the "concomitant ties" between both the countries migrants left and the countries they emigrated to (p.8). Faist identifies these two puzzles as providing crucial answers to the contradictory reasons why people migrate.

In answering them, Faist adopts a "meso level" approach in his analysis in order, as he puts it, to focus "more on the form and content of the relationship rather than on the properties or attributes of the actors or positions" (p.33) and to overcome the limitations of "micro" and "macro" understandings of migration.

This ambitious study also addresses post-conflict scenarios faced by ethnic communities and how they fit into "transnational spaces", which Faist defines as "migrant networks cutting across discrete organizations, such as nation-states" (p.11). Faist expands on this idea later on in the book, challenging the validity of established theoretical frameworks for immigrant adaptation, namely assimilation and ethnic pluralism, and claiming that "transnational ties do indeed coexist with continuing immigrant adaptation" (p. 242).

Ethnic conflict forms part of his analysis, and Faist deals in some detail with the Turkish Kurds, and the disproportionate response by Turkish authorities to Kurdish aspirations for political and cultural autonomy, a situation which generated considerable numbers of refugees, many of whom obtained protection in Germany (p. 89-93). But with the exception of the Kurdish refugees in Turkey, Faist's study does not delve much further into the causes / origins of ethnic conflict, and his analysis of the failure of the nation state and 'social revolution' (p. 65-66) are, in contrast with the rest of the book, quite limited and narrow in scope. The book is also very much 'northern' in its perspective, focussing on South-North migration.

This said, Faist's study does produce a fascinating and critical overview of the dominant theories of migration that is well worth reading, and adds valuably to the increasing contemporary literature on this subject.

1. Another recent, similar study is Bimal Ghosh, Huddled masses and uncertain shores: Insights into irregular migration, Kluwer Law International, 2000


Jeff Handmaker, Rea Hamba Advice.



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