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Theorizing the Evolution of European Migration Systems

One of the central problems for migration theory is the separation between theories that are (a) concerned with explaining the initiation or ‘root causes’ of migration and (b) those that aim to explain why, once started, migration processes tend to gain their own momentum due to network and other internal dynamics, leading to the establishment of migration systems. A related problem is the inability of current theory to explain why many initial migration moves do not set in motion self-reinforcing migration dynamics. By sampling on the dependent variable, empirical work typically ignores the counterfactual cases, in which pioneer movements do not evolve into full- blown migration systems. Current theories also fail to explain adequately the stagnation and weakening of established migration systems.

In order to fill these theoretical and empirical gaps, this project will explore the conditions under which initial moves by pioneer migrants to Europe result in the formation of migration systems and the conditions under which this does not happen. This will be achieved through (1) a substantially improved theorization of migration system dynamics by integrating theories on the initiation and continuation of migration and (2) a comparative, multi-sited, and longitudinal study of the evolution of heterogeneous migrant groups following different settlement trajectories from a range of origin countries to 8 European cities in the UK, Norway, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Principal Investigator
Professor Robin Cohen, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

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