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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .


Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Migration Research: Interdisciplinary, intergenerational and international perspectives
Biko Agozino (ed.)

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000
268pp. Biblio. Hb.: 35.00; ISBN 1-84014-557-9



If book titles were to be subject to the UK Trades Descriptions Act, then this book would have some serious legal problems. Whereas its wide-ranging chapter topics do indeed span multiple perspectives, one looks in vain for substantive theoretical and methodological issues. One also struggles to find any unifying features other than the fact that most of the papers were given at a Summer School on Hydra, Greece and financed by the European Commission's TMR programme.

The book has ten chapters divided into four sections - Epistemological and Conceptual Issues; The Family and Migration Research; Socio-Legal Studies; and International Relations. The first consists of a chapter by the editor on 'Data Reception' and by Andreas Demuth on conceptual issues. That by Agozino is remarkable for its claim that "the experience of going to prison is very much like that of migration" - a remark which is neither developed nor justified, but simply left as a self-evident truth which baffled this reviewer. The social science methodology of data collection is, of course, central to the empirical testing of theory. Agozino spends much energy on anecdotal explanation of why the term 'reception' is more appropriate, but fails to deal with the major issues of state manipulation of data, the implicit power relations in not only statistical data but also the vocabulary of migration. The categorisation into 'illegal immigrant', 'asylum-seeker', 'refugee', 'economic migrant', et al. is a central part of socio-political discourse, and seems to be 'received' (to use Agozino's term) uncritically by rather too many 'migration experts'. Thus a whole area of rich possibilities is simply ignored in this opening chapter. In the succeeding chapter, Demuth attempts to deal with these and other issues, but his approach is rather too formulaic and didactic to offer any new insights.

Section Two, on the Family, consists of three chapters. The first, by Baldassar and Baldock, is an interesting foray on migration and the care of elderly parents, but is largely descriptive and lacking any theoretical innovation. The following chapter by Breckner looks at the phenomenon of East European refugees returning to the East after 1990; this research uses a biographical approach, the advantages and problems of which methodology are mentioned nowhere in the book. The third chapter in this section, by Ribas Mateos, adopts a labour market and welfare state regime approach. Although more promising theoretically, this is not adequately developed and leaves the reader floundering on the last two pages, with their cryptic listing of variables for a possible comparative analytic framework.

The third section has three papers. The first, by Agozino, is a reasonable account of 'strangers' (mainly black) and imprisonment policies, but is really confined to the UK and USA. The chapter by Moore is an ethnographic approach to the study of German policy toward Russian emigrants, and again has no linkage with any other part of this book. That by Apap, 'Legal Labour Migration from the Magheb in the 1990s', starts out as a latter-day European social citizenship approach to Maghrebi, but rapidly mutates into a baffling pot-pourri of almost every aspect of migration.

Finally, the concluding section has two chapters -- by Conway on transnationalism and US - Caribbean migration, and by Demuth on Russians in Estonia. The former is an erudite essay based on secondary literature, but fits ill with the rest of the book; the latter is a somewhat unfocused account of recent developments in the collapsed USSR region.

Overall, this book is a testament to the EU TMR programme: funding for young researchers is readily given, but those over 35 are expected to have achieved their position in the global clientelist networks of funding. Whilst these tenets of funding policy remain, the participation of experienced researchers is very limited, leaving unreconstructed papers by younger academics as the major output of most contemporary conference programmes.


Martin Baldwin-Edwards
Mediterranean Migration Observatory




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