1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Migration and Social Development: Organizational and Political Dimensions



Collective pressure exerted by migrants on governments in both origin and destination countries to address a variety of migration- and work-related issues and concern has been mounting in recent years, as evidenced by both recent studies on this topic as well as concrete “action” taken by a variety of civil society organizations (CSOs). Because public policies tend to give low priority to targeting migrant populations, migrant associations, trade unions and other relevant CSOs have an important role to play in providing crucial services and political advocacy for migrants to put their issues on the map—a role that has been recognized by academics and policy makers alike.

The different types of organizations involved in migrant issues have their historical and institutional strengths and weaknesses. Recent years have seen the emergence of new strategies in the form of intra-organizational policy shifts or reform processes, and inter-organizational alliances within and across borders. The question is to what extent these processes manage to integrate the changing landscape of economic migration into political activism aimed at social justice—and whether they relate to broader social development concerns in the attempt to address the causes and consequences of international migration.

As migration today is becoming less and less a one-off phenomenon (in the sense of emigrating and settling elsewhere) but is instead characterized by high levels of fluidity and insecurity, transnational—if not global—connections need to be made to address migrants’ concerns and grievances. The feminization of migration and women’s position in mainly informal sector jobs is another area that traditional organizations, such as trade unions, have long neglected.

By providing a broad assessment of the state of research on the political dimensions of migration with specific relevance to intra-regional migratory flows between non-Western countries, this paper’s main aims are to: (i) identify organizational and political linkages that could have a bearing on social development in a broad sense, and social policy and service provisioning in particular; (ii) suggest an analytical framework that combines a number of concepts and perspectives deemed relevant; and (iii) point to areas for future research.

This paper attempts to investigate the various formal and informal mechanisms through which migrants can and do attempt to influence political structures and decision-making processes in origin and destination countries at multiple levels, that is, local, national and regional. More specifically, the objective is to explore to what extent and how migrants attempt to influence social policy and service provisioning through organizations, in both host and origin countries, that defend the interests of migrants and their families and communities. The analysis shows that these processes, and the choice of or obstacles to certain organizational channels, are shaped by varying opportunity structures.

The paper is divided into three parts. The first outlines the theoretical framework of analysis, which draws mostly on political science and sociological literature on political activism and social movements. It also refers to labour relations scholarship in its broad assessment of labour as a social force, of which migrant labour is a specific subcategory. This part of the paper discusses the types of social justice organizations—that is, trade unions and non-governmental or community-based organizations—which participate in the struggle for allocation of resources and in decision-making processes by trying to enter policy-making circles through state institutions.

The second part relates this framework to the specific situation of foreign migrant workers and offers a summary of the existing literature on the various organizations involved in migrant issues, in an attempt to assess these organizations’ capacity to influence policy-making processes. The third and final section links this discussion to gaps in existing scholarship by suggesting directions for future research.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 15 May 2009
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8208
    From: UNRISD