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Who is a Migrant? Abandoning the Nation-state Point of View in the Study of Migration

by Stephan Scheel; Martina Tazzioli

Submission summary

As Contributors: Stephan Scheel
Preprint link: scipost_202109_00005v1
Date submitted: 2021-09-05 22:11
Submitted by: Scheel, Stephan
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics


This article develops an alternative definition of a migrant that embraces the perspective of mobility. Starting from the observation that the term ‘migrant’ has become a stigmatizing label that problematizes the mobility or the residency of people designated as such, we in-vestigate the implications of nation-state centered conceptions of migration which define migration as movement from nation-state A to nation-state B. By asking ‘Who is a migrant in Europe today?’ we show that nation-state centered understandings of migration rest on a deeply entrenched methodological nationalism and implicate three epistemological traps that continue to shape much of the research on migration: first, the naturalization of the in-ternational nation-state order that results, secondly, in the ontologisation of ‘migrants’ as ready-available objects of research, while facilitating, thirdly, the framing of migration as problem of government. To overcome these epistemological traps, we develop an alternative conception of migration that, inspired by the autonomy of migration approach, adopts the perspective of mobility while highlighting the constitutive role that nation-states’ bordering practices play in the enactment of some people as migrants. Importantly, this definition al-lows to turn the study of instances of migrantisation into an analytical lens for investigating transformations in contemporary border and citizenship regimes.

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Submission scipost_202109_00005v1 on 5 September 2021

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