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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


Migration and its Enemies: Global capital, migrant labour and the nation-state
Robin Cohen

(Ashgate Publishing Ltd: Aldershot, 2006) 242pp, PB, 19.99, ISBN 0-7546-4658-0

Political, economic and social discussions can no longer be had without the inclusion of migration and migrant labour in a global society. Nor can migration be discussed in isolation. These ideas ring true throughout Migration and its Enemies, wherein Cohen looks at migration - its history, causes and consequences - through a variety of lenses. In the introduction, three predominant themes are made clear to the reader: the exploitative nature of the systems to which migrant labourers are often tied; the increasing demand for cheap and illegal labour in spite of neo-liberal claims that capitalism provides equality of opportunity; and the misguided attempts by government policy to manage border control, resulting in the social exclusion of migrants.

Cohen first sets the scene by providing a history of ?unfree? labour ? outlining the concepts of indentured servitude, apprenticeships and colonialism. Refuting the Marxist idea that capitalism is reliant solely on free labour, Cohen argues that global capitalism requires free labour coupled with the unfree. By breaking migrant labour into categories, each with their own level of rights and privileges, Cohen demonstrates how unfree labour exists within a free market system. According to chapter six, labourers comprise three groups: citizens, who have full access to rights and protection; denizens, who cannot participate politically, but are the more privileged migrants; and helots, the class of unfree labourers who are denied rights and are vulnerable due to lack of legal status in the host society. Cohen argues that ?capital logic? depends on the existence of a class of helot workers, both to replace migrants as they achieve more secure status, and to keep current workers ?in line? through threat of replacement (60). The final theme of the book examines government response to migration management by reviewing past and present British deportation policy, various types of social exclusion of migrants, and the impact of aid and trade on immigration. Through a series of case studies of aid and trade agreements to countries with high emigration rates, and the examination of familial networks which impact directly on the likelihood of migration, Cohen determines that there are too many uncontrollable factors, which make control of immigration through these means impossible. He likens British deportations to a ?malevolent game of pass the parcel,? (87), and concludes that immigration policy does little to manage the influx of migrants, but rather serves to maintain their status as ?others?. Ultimately, Cohen argues that traditional responses to migration control will be ineffective in dealing with the modern context.

While the book does not offer new research or data, its theoretical contribution is clear. The strength of the argument lies firmly in its multi-disciplinary approach, borrowing from economic, political, sociological, anthropological and psychological theories; there are few perspectives from which the primary themes are not examined. The use of historical parallels points out the fundamental issues that bring about migration, while the exploration of present day contexts, such as the introduction of cosmopolitanism, a global market, and post-9/11 immigration policy reveals the problems modernity brings. Cohen?s work is certainly a testament to the need for ?cross-pollination? of ideas in dealing with migration in a global context.


Bethany Waterhouse-Bradley, PhD Researcher, Policy Studies, University of Ulster



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