The study of migration has transformed and expanded massively, especially over the last 30 years, as issues of migration have moved from the relative margins to the core of politics and global societal change. This is not to say that migration and ethnic relations are more important today than before, but issues about movement, mobility, and the increasing cultural, ethnic and religious diversity this brings, are seen as important challenges to states, legal systems, international relations, and how people live with one another. Migration as a topic has become an important interpretive lens through which societies and people understand the core changes that we experience as a consequence of the increasing globalization processes that shape the contemporary world. This can be ‘for good’, for example, in public mobilizations to support refugees and people displaced from their homes by international conflicts, or ‘for bad’ in the reactionary populist politics that attempts to justify anti-immigration policies by stigmatizing groups on religious, ethnic or racial grounds, such as ‘Muslim bans’ and ‘Building walls’. Here is not the place to unpack these complex developments nor explain the role of migration as a driver and outcome of globalization processes. None the less, it is important to flag up the moving target that our research is trying to understand, because this informs our approaches to teaching migration, and shapes the range of perspectives and topics that we select and group together under the label ‘migration studies’ at a particular historical moment. It is important to ask where migration should rightly sit within teaching programmes today. How can we adapt to keep pace with advancing understanding of the world developments that drive, and are driven by, migration, on one side, and the institutional changes within the university sector that delivers teaching and learning, on the other? While migration is not a discipline, a focus on migration provides opportunities for scholars to cross disciplinary boundaries, in thought and through collaboration, and produce research that is potentially more innovative than that conducted from within a single discipline. In my view, this coming together across disciplines is a dynamic that drives intellectual understanding and migration is a field of inquiry that provides one of our most fertile grounds. I suspect that this is also a reason why migration has transformed from being a relatively marginal, and often largely descriptive, topic 30 years ago to its current position as a field of inquiry that addresses questions that are central to the societal changes that shape our world today. It also offers an explanation for the wide diversity of intellectual approaches that exist for studying migration and the intense disputes and debates within the field. I thank the Editors for the opportunity to reflect on these issues, and participate in a public dialogue with colleagues from other regions and institutions. Here I outline some thoughts based on my experiences at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) at the University of Sussex (UK). My Sussex-centrism is not intended as an act of self-advocacy, but my experiences at Sussex, and previously at Bristol and Leeds, and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), have shaped my thinking on teaching migration. In the following, I outline why in my view the distinctiveness of Sussex compared to other British Universities has made it a suitable environment for migration scholarship and a pioneer for migration teaching. Knowledge production requires an institutional framework that supports it, and in my view the Sussex’s historical commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and a global outlook explains why migration research has thrived. Then, I try to consider what teaching ‘migration studies’ means today, working from this interdisciplinary setting, and see it as teaching a ‘way of thinking’ about migration and ‘doing’ migration research. Historically, the University of Sussex has been an important player in research and teaching on migration long before the topic moved from the periphery to the core of sociological inquiry. The Sussex Centre of Migration Research (SCMR) celebrates its twentieth anniversary this academic year. Many of you who read and contribute to this journal will have passed through, collaborated with, and engaged with leading Sussex migration scholars. You probably need little introduction to the intellectual and strategic contributions to advancing the migration field made by earlier SCMR Directors and the long list of distinguished scholars from across the disciplines and departments, who built Sussex into a sizeable hub of migration research well before my time. Perhaps less well known is that Sussex established the first ‘Migration Studies’ programme in the UK, offering Masters and Doctoral research, in 1997. In this sense, Sussex was instrumental in establishing the idea of ‘Migration Studies’ first in the UK, and then in Europe, for example, through collaboration in the EU-funded IMISCOE network (International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion in Europe) from its inception. During this period research and teaching was largely led from the Geography department and this was reflected in approaches that focused on mobility, migrants’ experiences and the transformative societal processes of migration from perspectives in human geography and demography. Topically, scholars made important contributions on return migration, migration and development, and forced migration and refugees, reflecting an emphasis on mobility and migrants that was distinctive in Europe, and which remains a core pillar of Sussex research today. Other important hubs for advancing migration and ethnic relations in the UK, including the CRER (Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations) at Warwick from John Rex onwards, and COMPAS (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society) at Oxford from the early 2000s until today, are different in that they were core-funded over a series of years by very large grants from the national funding body with the explicit aim of advancing knowledge in this field. They have been largely UK and policy focussed. The emergence of migration at Sussex was pioneered by leading scholars and some important research grants, but this occurred in a more generic and ‘bottom-up’ way. In my view this results from the commitments of Sussex University to a specific type of knowledge production and a framework for delivering it. Institutional context shapes opportunities for generating knowledge and advancing learning and in some ways it was no accident that migration took root at Sussex. Set up in the 1960s, the University of Sussex has upheld a tradition for international engagement, doing things differently, and creative thinking ‘outside of the box’ throughout its half century. Sussex was interdisciplinary in a genuine sense, long before this became a marketing brand of British universities. Sussex was outward looking and structurally engaged with universities across Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as with North America, through research and student exchange programmes, long before this became the norm and a requisite for a modern university. The University became attractive for researchers and students alike with international outlooks and experiences, not something especially notable among Brits. These features, being genuinely interdisciplinary and global in outlook, provided a structural framework for individual scholars with research interests in people, mobility and global interconnections to come together. Even more important perhaps, for the current discussion, is that Sussex was a pioneer in structurally embedding interdisciplinary approaches into teaching programmes that included a strong global topical focus. This matters because at other Universities in the UK, at least judged by my experiences, migration and ethnic relations is often simply another subject matter on the menu of a disciplinary programme in sociology, geography or politics. It means that migration can drift in or out of fashion according to the public salience of the issue, or depends on the interests of an individual scholar who happens to be in the department, but who may move on. Of course, in an era of intensive research evaluation (REF) there are incentives for universities to set up themed research centres, and many have joined the migration bandwagon; however, a paradox of the UK's research evaluation is that it runs along strict disciplinary lines and this militates against an interdisciplinary framing for research. This logic for corralling migration within a single-discipline department by the REF is not conducive to supporting interdisciplinary programmes for teaching migration. The social sciences are limited in their predictive capacities; our attempts to understand the world remain at best a few steps behind developments. Few predicted a ‘Trump presidency’ or ‘Brexit’ yet these events have radically and quickly transformed opportunities for migration and mobility, as well as the legal and popular understandings of the value of people on the move, across broad sections of the globe. So how do we try to teach a ‘tool-kit’ for understanding migration topics in this rapidly changing world? Teaching migration requires trying to convey a ‘way of thinking’ that appreciates the benefits of working across disciplines to try and understand the interrelatedness of the distinct parts of the migration process, and its outcomes, globally. It is especially important that ‘migration studies’ involves teaching about how to ‘do’ migration research. This means starting from a clear research question and drawing from across approaches to see how this might be answered. While retaining an interdisciplinary perspective is challenging, one important way of conveying the research options available to students is through a detailed engagement with the key controversies that have shaped ‘migration studies’ over the last two decades. At Sussex we examine key modern classic texts on important controversies that allow access and insight to the conceptual ‘tools’ for migration research. As the disputes occur across and within disciplines, this is a useful way to relativize the value of a single interpretive lens. For example, we examine the crucial debates over transnationalism and the nation-state, citizenship and post-nationalism, multiculturalism and the liberal state, superdiversity, and migration and development, while also discussing relevant empirical research addressing these issues in different regions of the world. From a methodological point of view, we emphasize the value of comparative approaches and include critical insights from perspectives on methodological nationalism. The idea is that a grounding in the basis of these important intellectual disputes provides the starting point for learning how to think like a migration researcher. The emphasis of teaching at Sussex is on trying to help students develop their critical intellectual skills to be able to understand, design and put together an original research project. Interdisciplinary commitment is reflected in the structure of the Sussex MA programmes that offer an almost unlimited choice for students in their selection of optional courses from across the social sciences. So while in the first term students take core modules that are designed to develop their intellectual engagement with key thinkers and policy approaches on distinct aspects of the migration process, in the second term they are able to select courses from a migration portfolio, on any course that has a migration theme offered by an MA from any of the departments and disciplines: geography, anthropology, sociology, development, economics, law, politics, education and psychology. While this dizzying array of choices can at first glance appear chaotic, and certainly presents organizational challenges for delivery across the University, it allows the student to lead their own intellectual, disciplinary and topical orientation precisely in the term when they move towards the stage of developing an original research for their thesis dissertation. The same interdisciplinary approach is applied in the PhD programme, where doctoral students have two supervisors, to give them the opportunity to shape their own learning through engagement with insights from distinct disciplinary, regional and topical expertise. This in a sense is the cornerstone of our teaching aim—to provide an institutional framework that allows for self-led and motivated learning within a supportive community that shares a common general understanding on interdisciplinary and global nature of migration research. This teaching ethos follows the Sussex tradition for migration research. For example, recent Sussex research has shown that the long-term underlying factors that shape why people are moving from South to North, how refugees experience resettlement, and the conditions and motivations for migrants’ return, are seldom touched by some (even well-meaning) current policies in Western countries.1 Instead of depicting immigration as a ‘crisis’, what we need is policy based on factual and regionally nuanced understandings of the global migration process, and informed public debates about the humanitarian obligations, immigration needs, and development responsibilities of advanced countries. If politicized rhetoric driven by a fear of globalization processes is allowed to define our migration policies, then the policies lose their capacity to address real world problems in a fair and reasonable way. In short, we lose the benefits of migration, and migrants lose their life chances. In our teaching programmes, we try to instil this ‘way of thinking’ about migration as a global process with interrelated and long term consequences, but that can be politically addressed through policy interventions. We also try to keep people—migrants and those who they engage with at origin and destination—centre stage. At the same time, there is often an advocacy dimension: we try to understand the world to change it. Only by giving a ‘voice’ to migrants can we understand their life-worlds and start to conceive policies that meet their needs and ours. Many of our postgraduate students, like the staff, are activists too. This advocacy component is backed up by the many activities, seminars and conferences that underpin the ‘migration community’ at Sussex and embed it within the local community. Locally, for example, our students were instrumental in helping to set up Brighton and Hove as a City of Sanctuary, the ‘Sanctuary on Sea’ movement, in 2015. Each year our postgraduates run their own peer-level migration conference, as well as engaging in the large international annual conference that the SCMR holds as the host of the Journal of Ethnic and Migrations Studies. The SCMR and our postgraduate community hold many ‘migration-focused’ arts and public awareness events, often driven in the first place by individual initiatives. Sussex through the SCMR strongly supports engagement at the interface between academic learning and activism. Such additional activities are a core part of the Sussex migration student experience and often build lasting peer groups and networks. One challenge of offering teaching on migration is to keep up with the changing nature of the research field and contemporary global transformations. This requires programmatic innovations. To the longest running ‘Migration Studies’ MA in the UK, we have recently added the newest with an MA in ‘Migration and Global Development’ starting in September 2017. The main distinction is that our traditional MA Migration focuses more on South–North migrations, also including how Western liberal states and societies have tried to ‘integrate’ minorities of post-war migrant origin and issues of ‘managing’ cultural diversity. The impetus for the new MA ‘Migration and Global Development’ recognizes the need for a stronger focus on South–South migration flows and outcomes, given their increasing importance in shaping the world. Sussex has a long established reputation in migration and development and is ranked first in the world for Development Studies (QS World University Rankings by Subject, 2017). Given Sussex’ research expertise on Asia and Africa we felt that an MA with a clearer South–South migration focus could address these important and distinctive changes in the world. A further innovation in our MA portfolio, starting in September 2018, will be a joint MA with the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University, Thailand, on ‘Migration, Health and Population’. This initiative grew directly our research collaboration in the Sussex Mahidol Migration Partnership (SMMP)2 and provides an opportunity for students to undertake original field research in Thailand as a basis for their dissertations. Given the important scale and regionally distinctive forms of migration and mobility in Asia, we see collaboration with international partners to be an effective way for generating cross-cultural engagement and learning through our teaching. We remain sensitive to the importance of working directly with scholars from other global regions to deliver new teaching programmes. We think that this structure can help stimulate genuine transnational exchanges in both directions between a new generation of researchers, students and migration professionals. It could also be a model for future developments to stimulate more ‘global’ and less ethnocentric (read ‘North’ dominated) perspectives. Like all initiatives in the modern day university, however, the potential for ‘success’ will not only be gauged by the good intentions of academics on both sides, but by the hard-nosed facts of whether there is a market demand to support this activity. Obviously, we all work out of our own specific institutional and financial constraints and within our own University’s idiosyncratic path dependencies. So I do not intend to present Sussex as a way for doing things; challenges will be different elsewhere. In the UK, the challenges of ‘Brexit’ will transform our institutional research and student recruitment possibilities, our orientation in the academic world, as well as transforming what were previously accepted understandings about migration within Europe. The ‘target’ keeps moving, but intellectual curiosity among scholars and students shows no sign of abating. I look forward to reading further contributions and learning more. Footnotes 1. For details see (2016) Sussex Centre for Migration Research, ‘Gaps between Migration Realities and Policies: Sussex Centre for Migration Research Findings’, Global Insights, Policy Brief 11, Global Studies, University of Sussex (www.sussex.ac.uk/global/research/globalinsights). 2. For details visit www.sussexmahidolmigration.co.uk. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 14, 2017
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