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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/jyfz-f804

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Migration: Culture, Politics, and Policy


public policy


Recent anthropological work has stressed how fundamental mobility is to the human condition. People move in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons. Even in the most sedentary societies there is often great mobility: young men move for trade and war and sometimes marriage; young women move for trade and marriage and sometimes war. In other societies, movement is more endemic and expanding. The conventional categories for all this mobility tend to distinguish movement as temporary or permanent, but the truth often lies in between. There are also conventional categories for the reasons for mobility•particularly economic versus sociopolitical and forced versus voluntary•but once again the truth often lies in between. The complexities of migration are even more forbidding when we remember that mobility is not only an aspect of individual lives but of family and group lives over multiple generations. As they move through space, migrants also move through analytic and legal categories that are anchored in a range of political and cultural contexts: their home country, their destination country, all the places in between, and an international regime that sometimes aids and sometimes hinders their movement. This makes human mobility a difficult topic in general, but particularly for an anthropology of policy. How do we analyze in an academic manner this intertwining of culture, politics, and policy in local, national, and transnational contexts? How do we also aim for more instrumental goals, such as a rational policy model that is more inclusive of the range and complexity of human mobility? Furthermore, how do we balance unpacking policy for analytic purposes and repacking it for instrumental ones? The panelists in this session address this conundrum for a range of migrants and a range of contexts in which policy about migrants is formulated, implemented, and assessed. The range of migrants discussed in the panel is great: from high-skilled migrants, to refugees, to deportees, to undocumented border-crossers, to people who are treated as migrants even when they are not. The range of issues faced by the migrants is also great: from how to obtain entry, to social inclusion or hostility on arrival, to zones of exclusion after entry in which even legally established rights are frequently abridged. As well, the contexts in which anthropologists must work are subject to rapid change because of political tumult (as with Donald Trump) or with unexpected social conditions (as with Covid-19). Those contexts (and their frequent changes) affect migrants but also affect how anthropologist engage with migrants and with migration policy. Anthropologists must learn from migrants how migration works on the ground, but also how to explain to migrants how formal migration policy is intended to work. They must learn how to engage within the migration system on behalf of migrants but also how to contest that system from the outside. For anthropologists involved in migration culture, policy, and politics, the truths and obligations are inevitably both of understanding and action.


Transcript English (automatic)

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