Migration Infrastructures: Pinning down an emerging field of research

2019-10-28 12:46:15

How do people migrate? Which routes do they take? How do they organise their journeys? Which organisations, institutions and technologies support them in doing so?

Migration Infrastructures represent a relatively young field of research that seeks to address these questions. It looks at the actors that facilitate migration such as visa brokers, work recruitment agencies, marriage migration platforms, human smugglers, and humanitarian organisations. It also explores the logistics of migration, including routes, transit hubs and means of transportation. Last but not least, it investigates how digital technologies like social media support migration and mobility.

On 14 June 2019, the DeZIM Institute in Berlin hosted an expert workshop on migration infrastructures. The most pressing question was: How can this relatively young and still incohesive field of research be structured? What should the taxonomy branch for Migration Infrastructures on the Migration Research Hub look like? 

It was a challenging task to break down the theme into the various topics that can now be explored on the Migration Research Hub. Eight international experts helped define 14 subtopics, ranging from “Routes, hubs and sites of migration”, to “ICT facilitating travel and migration”, and “Human smugglers”. 

The final structure of the hub was subject to interesting debates that are invisible to the user looking at the taxonomy today. One discussion reflected the often blurred distinction between human smuggling and human trafficking. While human trafficking is defined as an act taking place against the will of the trafficked person, human smuggling is in the interest of an aspiring migrant. Although violence and abuse can be part of human smuggling too, it is important to keep in mind that some smugglers are seen as reliable businessmen or even as heroes by their refugee clients. Melting the two topics together to one (“Human smuggling and trafficking”) would have blurred this distinction and reproduced the false assumption that smugglers are per se immoral or exploitative. Therefore, the user will find two separate topics on the Migration Infrastructure taxonomy: Human Smugglers and Human Traffickers

Other challenges discussed at the expert meeting were the distinction between migration industries and migration infrastructures; the overlap of travel, tourism and migration infrastructures; and the over-emphasis on irregular as opposed to regular migration in academic literature. 

To find out more about migration infrastructures and its subtopics, have a look at the Migration Research Hub’s taxonomy here

The experts on Migration Infrastructures from left to right: Ursula Trummer (Center for Health and Migration, Vienna), Franck Düvell (DeZIM Institute, Berlin), Olaf Kleist (IMIS Osnabrück), Sophie Cranston (University of Loughborough), Maybritt Jill Alpes (Radboud University Nijmegen), Carlotta Preiss (DeZIM Institute, Berlin), Rianne Dekker (Utrecht University), Guri Tyldum (Fafo Institute, Oslo); not on the picture are Max Hirsh (The University of Hong Kong) and Marina Khan (Western Sydney University) who contributed via skype.

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