Migration through the prism of inequality

While international migrations are often seen as security, economic or cultural problems, Mirna Safi invites us to think about the migratory phenomenon from a different angle: that of social inequalities.

By making a strong connection between two objects of analysis in the social sciences that are traditional but often treated according to distinct methods and theories, Migration and Inequality Its aim is to demonstrate the consubstantial relationship between social inequality and migration. To do this, it uses a theoretical synthesis of work existing at the intersection of multiple disciplines, such as sociology, political economy and social psychology, to propose a new analytical framework of international migration as part of more general inegalitarian processes. The book thus identifies some fundamental mechanisms covering on the one hand the processes of categorizations that is to say the assignment of groups by classificatory system and the processes of distribution of resources on the other hand, which together produce two fundamental inegalitarian dynamics: exclusion and exploitation. This theoretical implementation allows the analysis of three dimensions through which the links between inequality and migration can be fully understood, and which organize the heart of the book: the dimension economical and the position of migrants in a world characterized by a globalized and unequal division of labor, the dimension legal law and state administrative categories which organize the movements of migrant populations, and finally, the dimension ethnoracial subjective distinctions of belonging and perceived differences between “them” and “us” on the basis of ethnic, linguistic, or racial markers depending on the context.

Thinking about migration from the perspective of social stratification and vice versa

The object of Migration and Inequality is not so much the statement of a particular sociological thesis as the articulation of a programmatic vision on the way in which researchers think and study migrant populations. This gives the book a didactic character which makes it a potential teaching tool. Together, the three analytical axes (economic, legal, ethnoracial) allow Migration and Inequality to propose a general and comparative theoretical framework while remaining relatively easy to follow in its conceptual approach. Thus, the work undertakes an impressive overview, both geographical and intellectual, in order to highlight the role of social inequalities in the genesis of migratory projects using political economy, which allows us to think of the migrant as a type of worker, while trying to make take into account the complexity of this condition in light of gender and social categories of difference (such as race and ethnicity). Despite influential critiques of “methodological nationalism” or the tendency among researchers to naturalize nation-states as the default units of analysis of migratory processes, the book demonstrates that we nevertheless cannot think of the link between inequality and migration without the legal apparatus of state categories, such as citizenship, which are commonly accepted as being “normal”, legitimate, and therefore operative. For example, a significant literature in the United States shows the lasting effect of legal categories and mode of entry into American territory on the fate of immigrants and their children, for whom the absence of a social security number translates into outright exclusion from the labor market. Furthermore, this same literature shows that “illegals” (presumed irregular migrants) have become the object of a particular stigma and a strong political issue, as evidenced by the emphasis of former President Donald Trump on the construction of a wall at the border. In other words, it is the law and the categories it produces which organize not only formal access to migrant resources but also their moral valorization as human beings (“deservingness”).

Thus, one of the strengths of the interdisciplinary analytical framework proposed by the book is to provide keys to thinking about the links between the economic, legal, and cultural dimensions of inequalities in the origin and reception of migratory projects. A long intellectual tradition finding its origins in Marx makes it possible to conceive of migrations as products of economic power relations between central and peripheral regions in a global system where, as shown by the economist work on global inequalities cited in the work, the majority of the population salary variation between individuals on a global scale is linked to their state of residence and to salary inequalities between states (rather than intra-state wage inequalities). These inequalities of opportunity depending on the accident of the place of birth, themselves ratified by the privileges and constraints associated with different passports, are a well-known driving force of migratory movements. Migration and Inequality enriches these perspectives by crossing them with other work allowing us to conceive of inequalities between migrants and non-migrants in terms of social valuation (honor, status, etc.) granted to different categories of people and professions, in line with Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, Pierre Bourdieu, but also the sociology of gender. This comprehensive approach thus makes it possible to connect migration and inequalities in a dynamic way, and to see, for example, how international migration is closely linked to social stratification by gender and its evolution: the massive entry of women into the labor market in Western societies. was not accompanied by an equivalent change in the division of domestic labor, and therefore largely contributed to the creation of global care chains » and feminized migrations from developing countries to take over. In return, other works cited in the book show that these migrations have in turn contributed to changing gender power relations in immigrant families where women gain autonomy through their entry into the labor market in host societies. Generally speaking, the work shows that the relationship between migration and inequalities is fundamentally endogenous: inequalities create migrants, whose presence in the countries of destination (and the absence in the countries of origin) in turn contributes to the reconfiguration of inequalities on different fronts. multiple.

While the first two chapters of the triptych forming the heart of the book are clearly centered on formal institutions such as the labor market as well as the legal and administrative state apparatus, the third chapter on “ethnoracial” classifications is resolutely cognitivist, largely adopting the new comparative sociology of symbolic boundaries emanating from the founding works of American sociologists, such as Rogers Brubaker, Michle Lamont and others. This angle allows this chapter to show in a fine manner that the economic and legal domains are inseparable from the subjective and historically situated distinctions of belonging to an imaginary community (in the sense of Benedict Anderson), and that migratory movements are fundamental for these classification processes between “them” and “us”. Concretely, this means that migrants are typically confronted with subjective and essentialist criteria of belonging (that is to say presupposing a homogeneous and fixed collective identity), such as they are stated for example in the prerequisites for naturalization. These criteria of belonging and the limits of the imaginary community of “we” also play out in the longer term, in relation to the place of migrants in the collective memories of the national communities involved in their movements, as is the case during debates on identity. national in France and elsewhere. For example, a strong political issue for waves of immigration to XIXe century in the United States was that immigrants and their children could gradually be perceived and considered “white”, as shown by the work of Noel Ignatiev on the history of the assimilation of Irish immigrants. In this sense, migrant populations and their politicization reveal the full symbolic and cognitive weight of national categories, and the capacity of these to sustainably assume the monopoly on modes of apprehension of collective identity, very contrary to certain intellectual currents of the 1990s announcing the advent of a “postnational” moment.

Merits, limits and criticism

By therefore proposing to put inequalities at the heart of migratory movements, of what happens to migrants and their children in the context of reception, and of the transnational relations thereby induced between countries of origin and destination, Migration and Inequality is an analytically ambitious book, and should be praised as such: it is relatively rare in the field of Anglophone sociology of migration, largely dominated by a strong degree of empiricism, to read generalist essays. One of the merits of Migration and Inequality is his virtuoso synthesis of various literatures, covering methodological approaches (in-depth interviews, statistical analyses, historical works, etc.) and varied empirical fields in an accessible and parsimonious theoretical framework, as illustrated by the conceptual diagrams and tables dotting the work on relationships between migrations, categorization and distribution. Despite its high degree of abstraction, the work uses accessible language, without ever falling into the temptation of abandoning the ambiguity of high-sounding but vague concepts that exempt the author from rigorous explanation. The reader will find there a rigor as characteristic of Mirna Safi's other works, mainly published in the form of articles in major international journals and which have contributed to making the author of Migration and Inequality an inspiring and recognized figure in the study of the future of migrants and their children, particularly and among others on the themes of discrimination and ethnic segregation, where the quantitative work of Mirna Safi was among the very first in France to provide answers rigorously empirical questions of questions long vampirized by political-media debates and their fantasies.

Despite these qualities, the work opens itself to criticism on several aspects. The first is that of abstraction and the sometimes excessive generality of the content. This is particularly the case of the chapter on ethnoracial classifications, which seeks to put multiple social categories of difference in a common perspective without taking the time to discuss, or even mention the fundamental divergences between dynamics of identification and marginalization on the basis race, language or religion. More generally, it is not always easy when reading to connect the very general theoretical points put forward, and alternating in turn micro and macro levels of analysis, with a particular empirical practice. Illustrations using case studies would have brought the work to life. Its excessively abstract and analytical character raises the question of application: how to make the proposed perspective bear fruit in terms of research questions or specific analysis, and this other than by continuing existing work already cited in reference? For example, the text would have gained depth and dynamism by more systematically discussing the causal links (demonstrated or assumed and thus inviting future research building on the foundations laid by the book) between the economic, legal, and ethnoracial domains of the migration binary. -ingalit. Likewise, it was desirable to include testable theoretical propositions to stimulate and influence future empirical work on the links between migration and inequalities. For anyone familiar with some of the literature covered in the book, it is clear that one can generally only agree with the synthesis presented. And yet, we would like the work to be sometimes a little less smooth to offer a more critical theoretical vision, and thus perhaps more radically innovative. Migration and Inequality should nevertheless become a useful reference for researchers and students in search of a coherent perspective putting power relations at the center of our way of conceiving of migrant populations and the issues of diversity with which they are often associated.