Last update: 2022-04-22 09:49:47

By ‘migration’ is meant the moving of the centre of interests of an individual (the so-called ‘habitual dwelling’ or ‘life area’ or ‘experienced area’) between two territorial contexts that are significantly distant from each other. In contemporary society this movement usually takes place between countries located in different continents and involves for the person who acts elements of fracture and discontinuity as regards the previous arrangement of his or her life. Migrations can be divided into: internal/international migrations, if we use the political entity ‘state’ as the territorial context of reference; temporary/definitive migrations, referring to the level of duration; individual/family/group migrations (a typical example of group migrations is to be found in the case of refugees, displaced persons, persecuted minorities, and victims of wars or natural catastrophes); and voluntary/forced migrations (e.g. those migrations brought about by differential demographic pressure rather than political and/or religious persecutions). Country of Origin and Country of Residence The definition of international migrants adopted by the United Nations Population Division refers to individuals who live in a country that is different to the one in which they were born (1). The difference between the country of origin and the country of residence is conventionally adopted as a defining criterion because it is one of the few aspects that is objectively verifiable within the context of international mobility. So-termed 'displaced persons' are included within the context of international migrations. This is an Anglo-Saxon phrase that refers to those who have been forced to leave their countries of birth in a so-termed 'forced migration' (2). Asylum seekers and refugees (3) who are in a foreign country to escape persecutions, war, terrorism, extreme poverty, famines and natural disasters, also belong to this category. With respect to the last forty-five years, the United Nations (4) has observed a constantly rising trend as regards international migratory flows: from 1960 to the present time the number of people who have moved has grown by about 250%. In 1960 the number of international migrants was about 75 million individuals, whereas according to the most recent estimates of the United Nation in 2005 there were slightly less than 200 million international migrants, that is to say about 3% of the world population (one person in every thirty-four), even though the phenomenon is distributed in a way that is not homogenous and has specific characteristics that vary from country to country. Estimates relating to 2005 indicate that in the most developed areas of the world (Europe, North America, Oceania and Japan) the number of international migrants amounts overall to 115 million individuals (out of a total of a little less than 200 million migrants in the world), that is to say that about 60.5% of international migrants live in these areas of the globe. This also means that they represent about 10% of the population of the most developed countries of the world. In North America alone migrants number forty-four million people and make up 13-14% of the population (as opposed to the 3% world average figure), that is say one in every 7-8 inhabitants is a migrant. These calculations bring out two interesting facts. On the one hand, the high percentage of female migrants (52.2% of the total) in these parts of the world and, on the other, the condition of refugees. According to the surveys of the United Nations, the number of refugees in the world is about 13,472,000 individuals and these make up 16.7% of international migrants. In the space of forty-five years the number of refugees has increased by 650%, rising from 2,164,000 in 1960 to 13,471,000 in 2005. Sociological Interpretations The traditional approaches to the study of migrations in general are marked by influences connected with a hypo- or hyper-socialised conception of human action and can be traced back to two principal lineages: the holistic lineage, based upon the theorisations of authors of the calibre of E. Durkheim and K. Marx, and the individualist lineage, derived from Weber and Simmel (5). According to the individualist approach, the actor is hypo-socialised and migratory action is seen as self-interested. In contrary fashion, within the holistic approach, the so-termed push/pull factors have been of great relevance: choices relating to migration are to be attributed to the predominance of push factors in the areas of origin or pull factors in the areas of destination. Mobility is thus explained on the basis of: wage imbalances; differences in access to capital in its various forms; disparities at the level of available technologies; and significant gaps in the density and rhythms of demographic growth. However this approach does not take into account subjective factors such as the push to improve the conditions of life of a person's family nucleus which remains in the country of origin, and it is not able to explain exhaustively the absent reorientation, contrariwise, of migratory flows. A declination of the theory of push/pull factors in relation to demographic dynamics brings out that were it is evidently impossible for the indigenous labour market to absorb the juvenile workforce, those young people who form part of a more determined elite tend to escape an employment reality that is in progressive deterioration (6). However, to see in emigration the only solution to the imbalances of the labour market (in the countries of origin) means to commit the error of simplification: the migratory plus, in fact, acts only in part to attenuate the increase in the population of working age. It appears evident that in the future migratory flows from the south to the north of the planet will grow stronger, and will involve Europe in an increasingly significant way. A significant contribution to understanding the phenomenon of migrations is offered by the so-termed meso approach (7) which is able to lay emphasis on social ties. From the 1980s, in the wake of growing interest in networks and latticework, the sociology of migrations, as well, has begun to see the phenomenon of migrations in terms of social relations established between migrants and non-migrants. A 'self-pushing' (8) aspect of migrations becomes clear, that is to say the capacity of flows to maintain themselves over time despite the changing conditions of the country of origin and the country of destination. In other terms, the movements of migrants follow traced latticework: the networks created by those who have preceded them (9). These forms of latticework generate a patrimony in terms of social capital on which future migrants can draw, with the effect of reducing the time, costs and risks of migration and therefore of making it more likely. At the same time, the significant retro-effects produced by the migrations in the countries of origin make other migrations more likely. In the case of migrants, these networks are based upon kinship, friendship, common origins, and the sharing of a culture or a relationship (10). The concept of 'ethnic network' has thus advanced which helps to explain why international migrations take place notwithstanding policies of closure and continue over time despite the diminished opportunities offered by the countries of destination. Today these networks often have a transnational configuration and are able to spread information, knowledge and strategies that are made available to every new potential migrant. In a dynamic way these networks connect populations in the societies of origin and populations in the societies of destination, acting as a mechanism for the interpretation of information and available resources in both directions. For this reason, migration has been defined as a 'network-mediated' phenomenon (11) that is strongly structured by kinship ties and by ties of friendship. 'It is not individuals that emigrate but networks' (12). In addition, the notion of an ethnic 'network' leads on to the great questions connected with the pathways of integration and the outcomes of inter-ethnic co-existence, allowing us to go beyond the American so-called assimilationist model (13). The relational theory (14) in taking up the assumptions of the network perspective, offers an original point of view for the study of migratory phenomena by observing them in terms of relationships and their social generativeness. In particular, the relational paradigm allows a focus on the multiplicity of ties that connect the social actors before/during/after the exodus (15). The examination of the variable of time enables us to understand the different functions performed by the network in relation to changes in the needs of the migrant. If, indeed, at the outset, the network has a function that is principally directed internally (psycho-cultural support for its members, mutual help in order to met the most urgent need (16)), subsequently the network has to address the outside and take on forms of aggregation and representation which are of a universalistic rather than a family-based kind. The relational approach 'sees' and appreciates both the structural dimension (re-ligo axis) specific to networks and the cultural dimension (re-fero axis) and relates them in order to bring out that unforeseen and unpredictable ex-ante effect that goes under the name of relational surplus. It then adds a third semantic of a generative kind (17), which is aware of the morphogenetic and/or morphostatic aspects of the social relationship (18), which migratory processes specifically are. A typical example of the peculiarity of the relational approach to the study of migrations emerges when we introduce the notion of social capital (19). In the relational approach (20), social capital is a quality of the social relationship if and the extent to which it is seen and employed as a resources for the individual and/or society. Its primary function, as a relationship sui generis, is not that of being an instrument to obtains something but to foster social relationality, that is to say the reality of exchange that produces a shared good, from which derive particular resources as secondary effects. Social capital in the relational approach is not only a competitive advantage for the individual who 'uses it and consumes it', and/or for society which has to rely upon it to regenerate itself as a society; it is a good in itself that can be seen on the side of the individual as a resource that the individual utilises for his or her action and on the side of society as a set of relationships that constitute a shared world. An Overly Neglected Dynamic The relational approach because of its peculiar characteristics allows migratory phenomena to be read as relational events and specifically as family events. The family dimension is still in large part neglected by the principal organisations that deal with migratory phenomena and questions that are closely connected with them (human rights etc.). The centrality of the family emerges during the various stages that make up the process of migration, for example at the moment when the decision is taken to emigrate and the family strategies of survival and/or maintenance are assessed (21). In addition, the family establishes mutual obligations between the migrants and the members of the family that remain in the country of origin. Subsequently, it is again within the family itself that the decision is taken to return to the country of origin or to settle definitively in the country of destination. The identity of the person who emigrates is thereby confirmed (or vice versa exposed to the risk of uprooting) by the ethical dimension brought into play by the family investiture. The relational approach, as has been observed above, allows an appreciation of the dimension of time in the choices of the family because it places emphasis on the ties and relationships in which the migrant participates, which can support his or her growth or, in contrary fashion, obstruct it (22). Some research has brought out how one can speak about connection with, and re-elaboration of, the dimensions of the past and the future only beginning with the third generation of migrants (23). In this case, the family as a relational subject of genders and generations plays a primary role as the site of the elaboration and transmission of cultural meanings. The tri-generational approach allows us to see how the needs of the family culture of belonging and those of the new social environment are connected, overcoming thereby the symbolic and real separateness experienced by the first generations. The need to reconsider migratory phenomena as family events leads on to the possibility of having a better understanding of the complexity of this phenomenon but at the same time raises a series of questions of an ethical and cultural character which it is no longer possible to neglect. The family perspective imposes, first of all, a consideration of a whole series of problems connected with the difficulties that families experience in migration: the challenge of left-behind families and attending to ties at a distance (the case of parenthood at a distance, which increasingly happens when it is the women of the family, the mothers, who migrate, is peculiar); the challenge of transnational families which experience a dual membership and place the very concept of citizenship in crisis, imposing reflection on, and a revision of, the assumption that citizenship coincides with the concept of nation state; and the challenge of the second generations which increasingly put to the test the concepts of incorporation and inclusion so as not to create disadvantaged and 'reactive' minorities. It is evident, therefore, that it is necessary to centre on the family dimension in thinking about the ways in which migrants and the societies that receive them can integrate, in line with a logic of reciprocal openness that is a marked by parity between subjects. This, in addition, means promoting an idea of tolerance that is not based upon the belief that all truths are relative but rather on the fact that truth, because external to and above individuals, can never be understood completely: an idea of starting tolerance, as Seligman defines it (24).
(1) The following definition appears at the site /migration: ‘migrants generally represent the persons born in a country other than that in which they live’. Cf. Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat , Trends in Total Migrant Stock: the 2005 Revision. (2) The phrase ‘forced migration’ refers to the forced mobility of one or more people who are obliged – generally because of violence – to leave their own homes or their own life areas. (3) The definition is contained in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted by the United Nations Conference of Plenipoten iaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons on 28 July 1951. In particular art. 1, section 2, defines the term ‘refugee’ in the following way: ‘someone who, as a result of events occurring before I January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it’. (4) Cf. Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, Trends in Total Migrant Stock: the 2005 Revision , ( (5) G. Scidà, ‘Teoria relazionale e azioni migratorie’, in P. Donati - P. Terenzi (eds.), Invito alla Sociologia Relazionale. Teoria e applicazioni (FrancoAngeli, Milan, 2005). (6) G. C. Blangiardo, ‘Scenari e numeri di un mondo in movimento’, Nuntium , n. 30, 2006. (7) T. Faist, ‘The Crucial Meso-Level’, in T. Hammar - G. Brochmann - K. Tamas and T. Faist (eds.), International Migration, Immobility and Development (Berg, Oxford, 1997). (8) L. Zanfrini, Sociologia delle migrazioni (Laterza, Bari, 2007). (9) See on this point the pioneering study on Mexican migrants in the USA: D. S. Massey, ‘Do Undocumented Migrants Earn Lower Wages Than Legal Immigrants? New Evidence From Mexico’, International Migration Review , (21), 1987, 236-274. (10) See on this subject: M. Boyd, ‘Family and Personal Networks in International Migration: Recent Developments and New Agendas’, in International Migration Review , (23), 3, Special Silver Anniversary Issue: International Migration an Assesment for the 90’s (Autumn 1989), 638-670; J. E. Taylor, ‘Differential Migration, Networks, Information and Risk’, in O. Stark (ed.), Research in Human Capital and Development , vol. 4 (JAI Press, Greenwich 1986); D.S. Massey - F. Garcia España, ‘The Social Process of International Migration’,Science, (237), 1987, 733-738; J. T. Fawcett, ‘Networks, Linkages and Migration Systems’, International Migration Review , (3), 1989, 671-680; D. T. Gurak - F. Caces, Migration Networks and the Shaping of Migration Systems. International Migration Systems. A Global Approach (Clarendon, Oxford), pp. 150-176. (11) P. Wilson, Exports and Local Development: Mexico’s New Macquiladoras (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1992). (12) C. Tilly, Transplanted Networks, in V. Yans-Mclaughlin, Immigration Reconsidered. History, Sociology and Politics (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1990), p. 84. (13) See on this subject: R. E. Park, ‘Human Migration and the Marginal Man’, American Journal of Sociology , 33(6), 1928, 881-893; N. Glazer, ‘Il welfare state statunitense. Ancora un’eccezione?’, in M. Ferrera (ed.), Stato sociale e mercato (Fondazione Agnelli, Turin, 1993). R. Alba - V. Nee, ‘Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration’, inInternational Migration Review , (31), 4, 1997, 826-874; M. Granovetter, Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers (Harvard University Press, Harvard 1974); M. Granovetter, ‘Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness’, American Journal of Sociology , (3), 1985, 481-510; A. Portes, Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology , n. 24, 1998, 1-24. (14) P. Donati, Teoria relazionale della società (FrancoAngeli, Milan, 1991). (15) G. Scidà, op. cit. (16) See on this subject: M. Granovetter, Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers (Harvard University Press, Harvard 1974); A. Portes and J. Sensenbrenner, ‘Embeddedness and Immigration: Notes of the Social Determinants of Economic Action’, American Journal of Sociology , vol. 98, n. 6, 1993, 1320-1350. (17) P. Donati, (ed.), Sociologia. Un’introduzione allo studio della società (Cedam, Padua, 2006). (18) M. S. Archer, La morfogenesi della società (FrancoAngeli, Milan, 1997). (19) See on this subject: J. Coleman, ‘Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital’, American Journal of Sociology , vol. 94, 1988, 95-120; J. Coleman, Foundation of Social Theory (Cambridge University Press, 1994); R. Putnam, Making Democracy Work, (Princeton University Press, Princeton 1993); R. Putnam, Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000); R. Putnam, Better Together. Restoring the American Community (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2003). (20) P. Donati, (ed.), Il capitale sociale. L’approccio relazionale (FrancoAngeli, Milan, 2007). (21) See on this subject: C. Regalia, ‘Migrare, un evento a dimensione familiare’, Oasis, III, n. 5, March 2007; C. Gozzoli - C. Regalia, Migrazioni e Famiglie, Percorsi, legami e interventi psicosociali (Il Mulino, Bologna, 2005). (22) See on this subject: A. Portes - R. Rumbaut, Legacies: The Story of The Immigrant Second Generation , University of California Press, Berkley 2001; R. Rumbaut and A. Portes, Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America , University of California Press, Berkley 2001. (23) See on this subject: C. Giuliani, ‘La transizione migratoria: la qualità del funzionamento coniugale in un campione di coppie immigrate’, Ricerche di Psicologia, (25), 4, 2002, 71-95; A. Marazzi, Voci di famiglie immigrate (ISMU, FrancoAngeli, Milan, 2005). (24) A. Seligman, La scommessa della modernità (Meltemi, Rome, 2002).