The importance of continued social relations in conceptualizing migration

Conventionally, migration is defined as a “change of usual residence of sufficient distance and duration to disrupt everyday social relationships” (Brown 2009:21). This definition limits the migration phenomenon only to a collective or individual shift from one place to another at a given time. Nevertheless, in his examination of the determinants and effects of migration in the US, Europe and other developed regions of the world, Brown (2009) supports the view that there has been an evolution in the understanding of migration from the traditional theories and methods of addressing human mobility to a more integrated approach that takes into account the everyday interrelationships among people both between migrants and their community from origin society, and with other people at the destination locations. According to this scholar, “migration and rural community are interrelated” and this link represents a fundamental aspect of the contemporary migration reality and of rural development.


 In his paper, Brown uses several examples to emphasize and demonstrate that theoretical concerns on migration have to be constantly re-adjusted to contemporary social interactions, which are of great interest and importance in today’s social demographic studies. Actually, the decision of an individual or a group of persons to move from one place to another one at a given time is determined by economic, political, cultural, professional and/or social motives. Brown claims that instead of inducing a break up his/her existing social connections the migrant keep in touch with family and friends, and also creates new contacts which shape his/her daily life and decision making. Such migration networks are diverse in their forms and values, and facilitate the flow of information and cultural mixing. They are dynamic and may progress into community in the long term. Moreover, migrants are influenced by the experience of living and working in other economic, social, political, legal, institutional and cultural contexts. By way of migration, they also acquire precious information concerning how to settle, move around and get a work, hence reducing the risks and costs related to mobility, and as a consequence determining the likeliness to migrate of others. Furthermore, all these social interactions and processes are expressed through globalization. For instance, in the context of the European Union, as it might be the case in other regions of the world, the ongoing transnational agreements, restrictive policies towards immigration and limitations rights for foreigners, and the hierarchy of powers between the member states shape migration and mobility dimensions. Ultimately, from this perspective, migration theories and concepts have to be redefined with regards to empirical observations and social changes, or what Zolberg (1989) called “ongoing processes in the world at large”.


David L. Brown (2009), ‘A Perspective for Examining Rural Migration During the 21st Century’, Paper presented the ESRS 2009 in Vaasa.

Aristide, R. Zolberg (1989), The Next Waves: Migration Theory for a Changing World, International Migration Review, Vol. 23, No. 3, Special Silver Anniversary Issue: International Migration an Assessment for the 90’s (Autumn, 1989), pp. 403-430.

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