IMI at 10: reflecting on a decade of migration research

26 January 2016

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Between 13 and 15 January, the International Migration Institute hosted The Changing Face of Global Mobility at St Anne's College, Oxford. Welcoming over 50 international scholars, the conference addressed IMI's research themes: the drivers and dynamics of migration; development, inequality and change; and diaspora, transnationalism and identity.

Over three days academics researching in widely varied areas of migration scholarship, across both the so-called Global North and South, joined forces to examine the many faces of global migration, its relationship with development, its drivers and dynamics, and the important lessons policy makers must draw from academic research. These include the need to focus on internal migration, where the majority of movement takes place, as well as on the rural–urban nature of much migration, both often neglected by policy makers. In light of the recent media focus on the migration ‘crisis’ in Europe, it is crucial to consider robust empirical data that reveal how the overall structure of global migration has changed over the past half a century, challenging the idea that there has been a global increase in volume, diversity, and geographical scope of migration, in showing that the main migratory shifts have been directional.

In January 2006 IMI was founded with the aim of developing a long-term and forward-looking perspective on international migration as an intrinsic part of global change. This conference both reviewed the progress made in reaching these aims and explored new conceptual horizons for understanding migration processes and their impacts for origin and destination societies.

IMI director Oliver Bakewell and former co-director Hein de Haas opened the conference by reflecting on IMI's history, its inaugural research agenda, and its development over a first decade of research, noting that its former researchers, many of whom were presenting at the conference, now form a diaspora of their own. IMI co-founder Stephen Castles followed with his keynote, reflecting on whether we need to rethink the relationship between development, inequality and change, asking whether the current 'migration crisis' is actually the new 'normal'. Tim Hatton in his partner keynote raised some difficult questions surrounding how we bring together public policy, public opinion, and responses to the current migration situation in Europe.

Filiz Garip and Ça?lar Özden set the stage for the second day of the conference with keynotes addressing, respectively, diverse mechanisms of international migration and the importance of microdata when examing big picture migration.

Former IMI director Robin Cohen on day three offered a thoughtful assessment of the journey in migration narratives while Uma Kothari challenged the representations of migrants, concluding that 2015 has been the year of the mediatisation of the representation of the migrant.

During its three days of presentations the conference welcomed many international researchers with whom IMI has forged collaborations over its first decade, as well as opening up to a new generation of young scholars. Presenters returned time and again to themes of the availability and accessibility of migration data, paralleled by the launch of the DEMIG datasets, with Hein de Haas, former IMI co-director talking delegates through insights from the project. Elsewhere a 25-minute video titled Life is a Dance received its premiere, presented by former IMI researcher Naluwembe Binaisa. Made by the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University, Uganda, it was produced as part of the project Mobility in the African Great Lakes. New communication channels for perspectives on mobility were also explored by IMI researcher Marieke van Houte in collaboration with theatrical group Justice in Motion, who performed a piece titled Contained, an immersive theatrical performance on decisions, journeys and arrivals. Read Marieke's blog about the performance.

The conference's closing panel reflected on the discourse of the preceding three days and the gaps in scholarship that remain to be filled, plus a focus on the need to include more scholars from the so-called Global South. Panel members Takyiwaa Manuh, Hélène Thiollet, Raúl Delgado Wise and Loren Landau also extended birthday wishes to IMI, recognising its leading position in migration scholarship.

Jenny Peebles is Communications and Outreach Officer at the International Migration Institute.

This opinion piece reflects the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Oxford Martin School or the University of Oxford. Any errors or omissions are those of the author.