Working Paper

"I Went As Far As My Money Would Take Me": Conflict, Forced Migration and Class

Published 1 January 2004 / By Nicholas Van Hear

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This paper seeks to reinstate consideration of class into analysis of forced migration, a consideration somewhat obscured by the current preoccupation in refugee studies with questions of identity, space and place. The paper looks at the part class plays in shaping forms, patterns and impacts of forced migration in societies that have undergone or are emerging from conflict. Drawing on Bourdieu’s elaboration of the relations between various forms of capital and the formation of social classes, the term ‘class’ is used here as a shorthand for endowments of different forms of capital – economic, social, cultural, symbolic and human. I argue that as the costs of migration to escape conflict have increased, largely as a result of the construction of an increasingly stringent international migration regime, migrants’ socio-economic background determined by control over or access to various forms of capital has become ever more important in shaping the forms, patterns and impacts of their movement. Drawing on case material from Sri Lanka and Somalia, the paper first explores how class affects routes taken, means of migration and destinations reached. The paper next looks at how class determines the kinds of influence populations abroad can exert on their countries of origin. The third section explores how class shapes patterns of return and the differential impact such return may have. The conclusion attempts to refine the argument about the connection between forced migration and class.Keywords: Migration, refugees, conflict, class.


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