Working Papers – Center on Migration, Citizenship and Development
This paper aims to put the debate on migration and development in a broader historical per-spective of migration theory in particular and social theory in general. The scholarly debateon migration and development has tended to swing back and forth like a pendulum, fromdevelopmentalist optimism in the 1950s and 1960s, to structuralist and neo-Marxist pessi-mism and scepticism over the 1970s and 1980s, to more nuanced views influenced by thenew economics of labour migration, “livelihood” approaches and the transnational turn inmigration studies as of the 1990s. Such discursive shifts in the scholarly debate on migrationand development should be primarily seen as part of more general paradigm shifts in socialtheory. The shift that occurred over the 1990s was part of a more general shift away fromgrand structuralist or functionalist theories towards more pluralist, hybrid and structuralistapproaches attempting to reconcile structure and actor perspectives. However, attempts tocombine different theoretical perspectives are more problematic than sometimes suggesteddue to incommensurability issues and associated disciplinary divisions.Since 2000, there has been a remarkable, and rather sudden, renaissance of optimisticviews, in particular in the policy debate, as well as a boom in empirical work on migration anddevelopment. This has coincided with the rediscovery of remittances as a “bottom up” sourceof development finance and the celebration of the transnational engagement of migrants withthe development of their origin societies. However, such optimism has tended to go alongwith a striking level of amnesia of decades of prior research. Migration and development isanything but a new topic. The accumulated empirical and theoretical evidence stress thefundamentally heterogeneous nature of migration-development interactions as well as theircontingency on spatial and temporal scales of analysis and more general processes of socialand economic change, which should forestall any blanket assertions on migration-development interactions.Current policy and scholarly discourses naively celebrating migration, remittances and trans-national engagement as self-help development “from below” also shift attention away fromthe relevance of structural constraints and the important role states and other institutions playin shaping favourable general conditions for social and economic development to occur. Thisraises the fundamental question whether the recent shift towards optimistic views reflects averitable change in (increasingly transnationally framed) migration-development interactions,the use of other methodological and analytical tools, or is rather the deductive echo of a gen-eral paradigm shift from dependency and state-centrist to neoliberal and neoclassical viewsin general.