Migration and Development: A theoretical perspective

01 January 2008

Hein de Haas

IMI Working Paper. International Migration Institute, University of Oxford

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This paper aims to put the debate on migration and development in a broader historical perspective of migration theory in particular and social theory in general. The scholarly debate on migration and development has tended to swing back and forth like a pendulum, from developmentalist optimism in the 1950s and 1960s, to structuralist and neo-Marxist pessimism and scepticism over the 1970s and 1980s, to more nuanced views influenced by the new economics of labour migration, “livelihood” approaches and the transnational turn in migration studies as of the 1990s. Such discursive shifts in the scholarly debate on migration and development should be primarily seen as part of more general paradigm shifts in social theory. The shift that occurred over the 1990s was part of a more general shift away from grand structuralist or functionalist theories towards more pluralist, hybrid and structuralist approaches attempting to reconcile structure and actor perspectives. However, attempts to combine different theoretical perspectives are more problematic than sometimes suggested due to incommensurability issues and associated disciplinary divisions.