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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

This Submission thread is now published as Mig. Pol. 1, 002 (2022)

Submission summary

As Contributors: Stephan Scheel
Preprint link: scipost_202109_00005v3
Date accepted: 2022-04-07
Date submitted: 2022-03-05 19:16
Submitted by: Scheel, Stephan
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics
Approach: Theoretical


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.

Published as Mig. Pol. 1, 002 (2022)

Author comments upon resubmission

Dear Dr. Hadj Abdou,
Thank you very much for your careful reading of our resubmission and for recommending our article for publication. We are really happy about this outcome and that you were mostly satisfied with how we responded to the comments and suggestions of the three reviewers.

In regards to your final requests we would like to respond as follows:
1. in the abstract: “after framing of migration as problem of government, I would add: in need of intervention and control.” We tried to implement this but unfortunately due to lack of space (limit of 200 words for abstracts) were unable to do so.
2. Minor grammatical errors: we corrected these, thank you very much for the careful reading!
3. Request to highlight that also some mainstream migration researchers have at times pointed ‘towards the fact that there would be nothing such as migration without national boders’. Hence, you invite to consider and reference for example the works of Ari Zolberg and Andrew Geddes. Thanks for this observation. However, we do think that we have pointed this out repeatedly. For example, we cite Zolberg (1989) in the following passage on p. 8: “What distinguishes migration from other forms of mobility is that it is the fabrication of clashes with practices of statecraft. ‘It is precisely the control which states exercise over borders that de-fines international migration as a distinct social process’ (Zolberg, 1989: 405).” We also cite and reference other more mainstream scholars such Adrian Favell or Hein de Haas. However, to do justice to your point we have included a new reference to Christian Joppke’s (1998) work by citing him on page 5 in a new sentence included in the section on the three epistemological traps implicated by state-centric definitions of migration: “By representing nation-states as passive spatial units that are crisscrossed by migratory move-ments state-centred definitions of migration ‘obscures that the modern state and system of states have helped [and still help] to produce what they seek to contain: international migration’ (Joppke, 1998: 5).”
4. Your own critical stance on the integration paradigm: To be honest, we were not aware of your contribution to the debate triggered by Willem Schinkel’s book about integration research as a neo-colonial discourse and practice. We cited a passage from your article (Hadj Abdou 2019) published in Comparative Migration Studies to highlight that your proposition in regards to the migrant integration paradigm and its othering effects resonates significantly with our own agenda of making processes of migrantization the main focus of research instead of assuming ‘migrants’ as ready available objects of (integration) research.
5. Deletion of footnotes: We re-read all the footnotes, in particular those mentioned by you as potentially superfluous and dispensable (footnotes 1, 3 and 6). However, with the exception of footnote 6 on borders also being constitutive of ‘internal migration’ (and indispensable for its measurement), we believe that the other two footnotes provide important additional information that is crucial for fully grasping the scope of the argument we are trying to make.

We hope that have now addressed all comments to your satisfaction and would like to tank you once more for you constructive comments and repeated careful reading of our manuscript.

Kind regards,

Martina (Tazzioli) and Stephan (Scheel)

Submission & Refereeing History

Published as Mig. Pol. 1, 002 (2022)

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Resubmission scipost_202109_00005v3 on 5 March 2022
Resubmission scipost_202109_00005v2 on 1 February 2022

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