Development and migration or migration and development: What comes first?’
Socio-economic change and human mobility are constantly interactive processes, so to ask whether migration or development comes first is nonsensical. Yet in both popular and political discourse it has become the conventional wisdom to argue that promoting economic development in the Global South has the potential to reduce migration to the North. This carries the clear implication that such migration is a ‘bad thing,’ and that poor people should stay put. In other words, the idea is that encouraging international migration now may help create conditions conducive to eliminating – or at least reducing – it in the future. This belief in the positive consequences of migration for development represents a reversal of dominant views prior to the 1990s, according to which migration represented a loss of labor and human capital likely to hold back development of origin countries. This article explores the processes and reasoning behind changing views on migration and development in the European Union and Asia, arguing that social-scientific and political discourses are often closely linked, and that this can have negative consequences both for the advancement of knowledge and for policy development. The article proposes an alternative view of human mobility as a normal part of social transformation processes. Migrating in search of better opportunities and greater human security is a way in which people can exercise agency to improve their livelihoods. Embedding migration studies in an analysis of contemporary social transformation processes can help overcome the frequent separation between migration research and mainstream social theory, and may contribute to improved international cooperation in the migration field.