Upcoming Highlights in Migration Studies

Alan Gamlen

Ever wished you could predict ‘the next big thing’ in your research field? Doing the regular rounds of conferences and working paper series can provide glimpses of the cutting edge – but it’s a lot of airmiles. Sadly we have no crystal ball, but there is an easy way to look a few months ahead. Like most academic journals dealing with popular topics, Migration Studies has a backlog of Advance Articles. Despite recently increasing from 3 volumes per year to 4, we have around 80 such pieces, including some 50 full-length research articles, and 30 Reviews. They have all passed through the gauntlet of peer review, but remain under the radar, and provide a sneak peak of what will make waves in the coming months. Here are five highlights from this emerging body of research;

 How public opinion steers national immigration policies, Tobias Böhmelt

The rise of anti-immigrant political leaders is often interpreted as a major shift in public opinion about migration. But the relationship between immigration policy, politics and public opinion is complex, especially in today’s diverse media landscape. We’re receiving a new crop of articles on public opinion concerning migration, which seeks to better understand the reassertions of national sovereignty over migration. Böhmelt’s is a great example, especially as it probes and builds on prominent previous theories that focused on client politics and what was thought to be the inexorable liberalization of migration policies.

Immigration detention: An Anglo model, Cetta Mainwaring, Maria Lorena Cook

Rather than increasing openness, the big trend in migration politics and policies is currently one of rapid closure. Border walls are on the rise, use of offshore jurisdictions is becoming normal in asylum processing, and deportation is a growing global industry. Politicians claim they are pushing back “negative globalism”, “taking back control”, and making migration policies for “the people” as opposed to unaccountable experts. But ironically, they are often copying or buying policy models off the shelf from these same global experts. As a result, migration policies are starting to look the same everywhere. Mainwaring and Cook’s fascinating piece looks at the ‘Anglo model’ of deportation, which seems to be catching. (Also look out for Mainwaring’s recent book, At Europe’s Edge).

Communicating borders—Governments deterring asylum seekers through social media campaigns, Jan-Paul Brekke, Kjersti Thorbjørnsrud

A fascinating and entirely new way in which borders and sovereignty are being reasserted is through the increasingly dominant digital domain of social life. This is an area that migration scholars have been far too slow to take seriously. We now realise rather late in the day that we need far more attention to how sites like Facebook are being used to monitor and manipulate migration. Brekke and Thorbjørnsrud’s article outlines the intriguing example of the Norwegian Facebook campaign called ‘Stricter Asylum Regulations in Norway’, designed to deter migrants by disrupting and dominating the information about opportunities that now sustains a great deal of cross-border movement.


On the way from misery to happiness? A longitudinal perspective on economic migration and well-being, Fabian Kratz

It is not merely because of my own part-Scottish heritage that I appreciate this article, which takes its title from the 1989 hit by Scottish duo The Proclaimers. It also provides a welcome focus on the things that really matter in life – in place of the eternal dreary focus of economists on alpha, or beta, or whatever other obscure parameter we are supposed to be building society around. Does migration make people happier? Now there’s a question that anyone who has considered crossing seas can easily comprehend. Kratz’s excellent piece builds on a series of articles on migration and wellbeing in this journal. It turns out, he finds, that migration does indeed often seem to make people feel happier, although the effect is inconsistent: for example, it is short-lasting for women, and delayed for those who move long distances or return ‘home’.

Mapping migration studies: An empirical analysis of the coming of age of a research field, Asya Pisarevskaya, Nathan Levy, Peter Scholten, Joost Jansen

In the seven years this journal has been in print, migration studies has developed from a substantial interdisciplinary niche into a large discipline-like field with its own international Master’s and Doctoral programs and tenured professorships at top universities. This intriguing new article by Pisarevskaya, Levy, Scholten, and Jansen performs what seems to be the first rigorous analysis of this trend, using computer-based topic-modelling. It’s sure to become essential reading for aficionados of migration. We couldn’t agree more with its contention about the ‘conceptual coming of age’ of migration studies – but then again, we could be a bit biased.


Alan Gamlen is a COMPAS affiliate and Founding Editor-in-Chief of Migration Studies.


Asylum and RefugeesDetention and DeportationPublic Opinion