Guest post by Cristián Doña-Reveco, PhD. Cristián is Director of the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) and Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His research deals with immigrant construction of their migration intentions and decisions in different socio-historical contexts. In addition, using immigration to Chile as a case, he uses newspapers representations of immigrants and available surveys to research the influences of processes of nation-state construction on the immigrant perceptions. Besides these two themes, he researches migration policies in Chile and South America at the national and regional levels. He is on Twitter @cristiandona.

Review of Migration, Citizenship and Identity. Selected Essays by Stephen Castles (Edward Elgar, 2017)

international migration
For many of us who study international migration, Stephen Castles is one of the most important scholars in the field. His work has been central in my own development as a researcher, ever since I first entered the field as an undergraduate student in Chile twenty years ago. Reviewing his collection of essays was like listening to a “Greatest Hits” album of your favourite musician: reading again those pieces that you already enjoyed and discovering others that you had missed. There is no doubt of the quality of the articles presented in this edited volume. I would have liked, however, to know why Castles selected these specific articles and chapters, and not others. Moreover, while developing the connections between the articles myself was an interesting and useful exercise, I would have liked some guidance from the author or perhaps a concluding chapter connecting the main ideas presented. Beyond these small shortcomings, the book is a welcome addition to migration studies.

The 19 articles and book chapters that form Migration, Citizenship and Identity were published between 2002 and 2015 and, in Castles’s words, correspond to his work “on developing what might be called a social transformation analysis of human mobility” (p. xiii). The book is divided into five sections: Theory and Methods, Global Migration in the 21st Century, Migration and Development, Asylum and Refugees, and Citizenship and Identity. The book opens with an introduction written specially by Castles in late 2016 or early 2017. The introduction is heavily informed by the “Syrian refugee crisis” and the European nations’ responses to this crisis.

The four pieces that form the first section on Theory and Methods expand on the concept of ‘social transformation’. Starting from Polanyi's notion of the Great Transformation, Castles defines social transformation as a “convenient label to facilitate discussion of the complexity, interconnectedness, variability, contextuality, and multi-level mediations of global change” (p. 4). By approaching migration as a central component of social transformation and social change, Castles is able to connect the decision to migrate and the local emigration experience with macro changes at the global level. Structural inequalities that lie at the core of neoliberal globalization shape migration decisions in a context were Global North countries perceive migration control as necessary for maintaining their economic system. While highly educated immigrants as well as those coming from other Northern states are desired, lower income immigrants are undesired and controlled. The direct connection between social transformation, globalization, and global systems of inequalities leads Castles to argue that migration processes need to be studied “holistically” (p. 87). This means contextualizing migration experiences within social transformation in sending and receiving nations, as well as wider global trends.

The second section presents some of the main characteristics of global migration in the twenty-first century. For me, the core of this section is the article “The Factors that Make and Unmake Migration Policies,” originally published in 2004 in the International Migration Review. This article connects and further explains Castles’s analysis in this section’s remaining articles and book chapters. In this section, Castles examines the failure of Europe’s attempts to develop new guest worker-like programs, the lack of analytical connections between climate change and migration, and increased unemployment and labour market disadvantage of migrant workers resulting from the 2008 Global Recession. Central components of rectifying these failures, he argues, include a better scientific understanding of migration processes and the development of a global migration governance initiative centred on promoting development, reducing inequality, and improving governance in the country of origin.

The third and fourth sections are shorter in terms of number of articles. Here, Castles revisits two themes that have been central to migration studies and, at the same time, have been highly contested in terms of their analytical frameworks and policy impact. Using a social transformation perspective, Castles argues in the third section that to understand the relationship between migration and development, we need to move away from unicausal models focusing on a single level of analysis. He criticises the remittances mantra of many international organizations and argues that analysis of migration and development should look to broader trends in social science research on globalization, question states’ understanding of development, and incorporate human rights discourse into the debate. In the fourth section, Castles’s approach can be summarized by his argument that “violence and forced migration also causes social transformation” (p. 287). His analysis centres on three themes: the need to agree on definitions; a critique of policies that discursively and legally separate labour migrants from refugees, without consideration of “the forces driving human mobility”; and the influence on receiving states’ policies by the increasing politicisation of migration. These three themes, however, cannot be analysed in a vacuum. Similarly, in the case of migration and development, forced migration is a facet of North-South relationships, which cannot be addressed without connecting it to other global issues and to the global governance instruments developed to address such issues.

Lastly, the articles and book chapters included in the citizenship and identity section consider the “buzzword of the first decade of the twenty-first century”—transnationalism (p. 335). Notwithstanding the development of transnational communities connecting a migrant’s origin and destination, Castles focuses on three approaches to transnationalism in receiving countries. In particular, he considers the connections between transnationalism and citizenship. To me, the leitmotif of this section is the exploration of how states going through a process of social transformation attempt to ‘convert’ immigrants into citizens. This is not a trivial question; integration polices are grounded on the idea that migrants have allegiances to just one nation-state. Transnational communities at the national and the global level have become an alternative ‘from below’, i.e. from the migrants themselves, to more classical explanations of immigrant incorporation led by the receiving society and state. In this context, transnationalism becomes a migrant-led response to assimilation, differential exclusion, and multiculturalism. These strategies disrupt the receiving state’s effort to ‘control the difference’ and render useless attempts to prevent ethnic diversity.

Migration, Citizenship and Identity is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Castles’s oeuvre of the last 20 years. While all these pieces have been published elsewhere before, the book presents a set of readings curated by the author himself. Throughout the 19 journal articles and book chapters, the author showcases some of the central concepts in migration studies today from the perspectivca of social transformation. By doing this, Castles continues establishing this concept as one of the most important theoretical approaches for migration studies.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Doña-Reveco, C. (2021). Book Review: Migration, Citizenship and Identity. Available at: [date]