Racism and Migration

Published 6 November 2020 / By John Solomos

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Recent events such as the Windrush scandal, Black Lives Matter movement and the Rhodes Must Fall initiative have sparked a global conversation on racial inequality and systemic violence. As an interdisciplinary research centre, COMPAS recognizes the urgent need to build upon this momentum by critically reflecting on issues of race, racialization and ethnicity as embedded in, shaping and transforming diverse contexts of migration and mobility across the world. John Solomos recently joined a panel discussion as part of the COMPAS seminar series Race, Ethnicity and Migration . This blog reflects his contribution.


In the early stages of the development of scholarship on race and migration in the UK, many scholars tended to see questions about race relations and migration as interrelated. Scholars such as John Rex, Sheila Allen and Michael Banton saw themselves as doing research about the emerging field of race relations, but they also tended to frame their work as being focused on the new migrant communities from the colonies (Solomos 2019). In this sense for much of the early period of research on race relations it can be argued that there was no hard and fast distinction between research on race relations and research on migration as such. The legacy of this intellectual tradition can still be felt today in at least some of the work in a range of social science disciplines.

Yet, it has also become clear that over time we have also seen a clear bifurcation of research and scholarship on race and migration. The rapid expansion of specialist journals that focus on migration, and sometimes specifically on refugees, can be seen as one outcome of this trend. It is also evident in the efforts to create distinct theoretical and conceptual frames for migration studies as a field of scholarship that is seen as distinct from bodies of research on race, racism and ethnic relations. This trend towards bifurcation has in practice been part of a process that has led to the creation of distinct intellectual agendas and research funding, and to a lesser extent somewhat different teaching programmes. This is not to say that we do not see efforts to bring the two fields together, and this is evidenced in the efforts to explore how to bring these fields of scholarship together in a fruitful dialogue (Erel, Murji and Nahaboo 2016; Golash-Boza, Duenas and Xiong 2019).

It is important to move beyond the creation of artificial boundaries between these two fields of scholarship. A starting point would be to develop a conversation, or perhaps a series of conversations, across these evolving bodies of research and scholarship that can tease out issues that are common to both bodies of research. Rather than position the two fields as separate from each other there is a need to explore what we can learn both from a dialogue about theories and concepts, methodologies and from collaboration on evolving research agendas. If we take the recent example of the ‘Windrush Scandal’ that been much talked about over the past few years it seems to make little sense to analyse this issue without reference to race and racism, and the long history of public debate about migrants from the colonies and commonwealth. Yet it is also evident that an important factor in the construction of this situation can be traced precisely to the efforts of both New Labour and Conservative led governments to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants and refugees in order to assuage popular fears and concerns about immigration and its impact on social cohesion (Peplow 2020; Taylor 2020). Current preoccupations about the arrival of refugees across the Channel, and more generally within a European frame, across the Mediterranean, highlight the complex ways in which questions about race, racialisation and migration have become entangled and it is therefore important to explore much more fully what we can learn from collaborations between race and migration scholars. From a very different angle the recent debates about Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have also served to highlight the ways in which antiracist mobilisations have a reach far beyond the specific events that give rise to them.

In terms of where we go from here it will be important for scholars and researchers on race and migration to use such conversations as a way to bridge the intellectual gaps that have emerged between them. Give the continuing salience of both race and migration in the current conjuncture it will be important to move towards new and innovative research agendas that allow us to explore areas of common interest and possible avenues of collaboration and dialogue.

John Solomos is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and his research focuses on race and ethnic relations in Britain.


Erel, Umut, Murji, Karim and Nahaboo, Zaki (2016) 'Understanding the Contemporary Race–Migration Nexus' Ethnic and Racial Studies 39, 8: 1339-1360.

Golash-Boza, Tanya, Duenas, Maria D.  and Xiong, Chia (2019) 'White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Global Capitalism in Migration Studies' American Behavioral Scientist 63, 13: 1741-1759.

Peplow, Simon (2020) ' ‘In 1997 Nobody Had Heard of Windrush’: The Rise of the ‘Windrush Narrative’ in British Newspapers' Immigrants & Minorities1-27.

Solomos, John (2019) 'After Michael Banton: Some Reflections on his Contributions to the Study of Race' Patterns of Prejudice 53, 4: 321-336.

Taylor, Charlotte (2020) 'Representing the Windrush Generation: Metaphor in Discourses Then and Now' Critical Discourse Studies 17, 1: 1-21.