Subfield Exam: Immigration and Stratification Theory

Transnational Migration (7)

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Transnational Migration (7)

Date: 09.15.2011

Title: Transnational migration: Taking stock and future directions

Author: Peggy Levitt

Source: Global Networks, 2001; pp 195-216 V1No3

Category and Keyword: Transnationalism (economic, political, and socio-cultural); immigrant adaptation; national development; social networks; technological development; social capital


  • Give an overview of everyday transnational practices, the institutional actors that facilitate or impede them, and outlines questions for future research.


  • Migration spreads through networks.

  • The more diverse and thick a transnational social field is, the greater the number of ways it offers migrants to remain active in their homelands. The more institutionalized these relationships become, the more likely it is that transnational membership will persist.

  • Social field: more complete, i.e. more institutionalized (political, religious, social), the greater are the transnational practices (and reverse).

  • Second, focusing on social fields also calls attention to non-migrants and those who move only periodically but who also enact aspects of their lives within these arenas.

  • “core transnationalism” (frequent traveller); “expanded transnationalism” (periodic traveller); those who stay in one place;

Table 1: variations in the dimensions of transnational practices


  • Transnational communities from above: global governance and economic activities

  • Transnational communities from below: everyday grounded practices of individuals

    • Rural to urban transnational village: arise when a large proportion of a relatively small community leaves a well-defined rural locale and settles near one another in a specific receiving-country neighborhood or town.

    • Urban to urban transnational villages: In the Valadares/Massachusetts case, it is primarily elites who have promoted transnational community formation. It remains to be seen whether ordinary individuals, who earn their livelihoods or raise their families across space, will heed calls to organize collectively.

  • Definition: Transnationalism generally refers to the cultural, economic, and political linking of people and institutions within a variety of contexts including business and organizational practices, foreign investment and production, or cultural interchange (Sørensen 2000).


    • migrant networks

    • capitalist development: some scholars contend these networks are themselves a product of late capitalism. Nonini and Ong (1997), for example, argue that transnational migration began in response to capitalist flexible accumulation and its need for transnational functionaries.

  • Definition: Globalization: Globalization refers to the political, economic, and social activities that have become interregional or intercontinental and to the intensification of levels of interaction and interconnectedness within and between states and societies (Held et al. 1999).

  • Both mutually reinforce each other;

  • Definition: Diaspora: form out of the transnational communities spanning sending and receiving countries and out of the real or imagined connections between migrants from a particular homeland who are scattered throughout the world.


  • Common patterns of Institutional Activity are described.

  • 1. States: encourage emigrants in nation building of home country; symbolically in favor of democracy and political rights; ensure continued economic involvement; offer dual nationality; e.g. Jewish Americans advocating for Israel; create government agencies to serve migrant needs or interests; offer programs in host country (where their migrants reside); events to strengthen cultural identity

  • 2. Political Parties organize transnational (MEX – PRD; Brazilian Workers Party, etc.); assimilate in US and stay connected in home country;

  • 3. Hometown organizations (promote transnationalism); they provide some combination of social and economic support to migrants in the receiving country and raise significant sums to support public works and social service projects in communities of origin.

  • Sending-country officials and political party operatives often pay more attention to migrant entrepreneurs and influential community leaders than to those who remain behind.

    • EG: By first holding open meetings with the entire community and then holding closed meetings with immigrant entrepreneurs, for example, the Mexican State governors who visit Los Angeles reinforce existing class divisions (Guarnizo 1998).

  • Religious Institutions: In the case of Christian denominations, these groups generally link sending and receiving-country chapters of the same institution at various levels of the organizational hierarchy.

  • LIMITATIONS: Single case studies do not tell us how widespread transnational practices are or how they vary among groups. While the kinds of activities states, political parties and religious organizations engage in are being documented, not enough is understood about the numbers and kinds of people participating in these programs, how enduring they are, or what their long-term impact will be.

Transnational Migration (7)

Date: 09.25.2011

Title: Transmigrants and Nation-States: Something Old and Something New in the US Immigration Experience

Author: Nina Glick Schiller

Source: Chapter 5 in The Handbook of International Migration: The American Experience ed. by Hirschman, Kasinitz and DeWind 1999

Category and Keyword: Transnational Migration, US Immigration, Paradigm


  • Transnational Migration: How new is transnational migration? What is the relationship between transnational migration and nation-states?

note: she does not use the term “transmigration” of Guarnizo (1997) because migration is one of many transnational processes.

  • transnational migration and the transnational political practices of nation-states are not new phenomena. Two things are new.

1) the restructuring of the global accumulation and organization of capital

2) modifications in the relationships between state structures and global economic processes;

3) and altered conceptualizations of nation-states, expressed in the rhetoric of political leaders, the writings of political theorists, and the paradigms of social scientists.

  • There are three phases of the relationship between transnational migration and nation-state-building.

  • The Paradigm: In transnational migration, persons literally live their lives across international borders. (This is different from people with a diasporic tradition). Does not include all people who immigrate. The contribute to the building of two states.

  • Still, research is needed that investigates the range and multiplicity of social networks that immigrants establish.

    • Some scholars use the concept of transnational community to help define this, including Alejandro Portes (1997) (97).

    • By evoking an imagery of transnational community, researchers foster the false impression that immigrants create their own autonomous cultural spaces outside of either sending or receiving states.

  • Although migrants kept ties to their country of origin (e.g. remittances), “By 1951, in his prizewinning history of U.S. immigration, The Uprooted, Oscar Handlin portrayed immigrants as people who permanently leave their home and country behind, and this view was widely accepted both by the general public and by scholars.

    • Tilly (1990) would be an example of this recently (networks created, but no possibility of transnational migration).

  • NEW UNIT OF ANALYSIS: The significance of the sustained social interaction that immigrants maintained across borders. (not the nation-state)

    • Long distance nationalism binds together into a single national body with a shared political project both emigrants and their descendants and person who have remained in the homeland.

PHASE ONE: The late 19th century, nation-state building processes in Europe, the US, LA and Asia took place within the global ascendancy of monopoly capitalism, the growth of finance capital, and a renewed scramble for colonies on the part of competitive European states and the US … In this phase, a significant proportion of many migrating populations established transnational relationships that contributed to the nation-state-building projects of both their ancestral states and their new homelands.

  • e.g. Seasonal migrants in the continents helped fund village projects like homes

  • Chinese saw advantage when steamships developed for work in America

  • Ties initially maintained because of family loyalty / network tie loyalty

  • Social ties and image back home motivated immigrant in US

  • POLANYI (1957) 19th century Britain subordinated social and political processes in the creation and maintenance of the capitalist market system – strong state to implement.

  • This effected the way dominant classes in other continents organized their nation-states.

  • e.g. By 1925 Italy was subsidizing fifty-eight Italian organizations based in Italy and twenty-seven based abroad to help immigrants.

  • Thus Italians, Poles, Chinese described their immigrant populations, i.e. in the US as being a part of their nation-state (nationalism!)

  • Glick Schiller reforms the idea that these immigrant Americans were going through a temporary nostalgic stage, but actually had a reciprocal relationship of nation-state building.

  • e.g. Galician peasants – identified with US polish based organizations (Part of Poland in 1382 (was Kingdom before that); 1872 annexed by Austro-Hungarian empire.

  • RACE: “Transnational politics became the base area from which racialized immigrants sought to join white America (Ignatiev 1995; Miller 1990; Roediger 1991).”

  • POLITICS as a means to REDUCE unionization: “they took for granted that immigrants settling in the US would continue to have separate national identities that linked them to their homeland because national identities were seen as rooted in blood ties and as fundamentally racial.

  • Republicans and Democrats: saw nationality divisions as a critical element in their electoral strategies.

PHASE TWO: began after WWII, during an epoch of decolonization. Most European colonies gained their independence, and a vision of the world as a terrain of independent nations. Immigrants’ transnational networks and political projects were no longer noted by political leaders, scholars, or the immigrants themselves.

  • Roots could be celebrated, but immigrants’ home ties and concomitant political identifications were rendered invisible in the new paradigm, even as they continued to play a role in cold war politics.

  • Their migration was fueled (1965 – 1996 20.1 million LPRs) by both personal hopes for a better life abroad and the need to ensure that family members who remained at home had the money to buy imported goods and private services.

  • Attacks on immigrants by politicians – 1970s and 1980s.

  • The decay of the public education system, particularly in big cities, led immigrants to fear their children’s future and to use wages earned in the US to educate their children back home (Guarnizo 1997a). These pressures encourage immigrants to maintain or build transnational networks.

  • Legal insecurity encourages migrants to maintain home networks.

  • Racialized categories for immigrants continue the construction of “white identity”

PHASE THREE: begins with the end of the 20th century. The restructuring of the processes of capital accumulation accompanied by the implementation of a neoliberal agenda began to alter the relationship between states and more global economic processes (Gill 19987). Transnational migration and the transnational political activities of immigrants again have become a topic of interest and concern to political actors and researchers alike. Political leaders of emigrant-sending states began to reenvision their states as transnational. At the same time, scholars developed a paradigm of transnational migration. Because the scholarship on international migration began to be read by political actors responsible for changing state policies, the new paradigm has not only reflected but also contributed to the changing relationship between nation-states and immigrants.

  • Multinational corporations are finding new ways to use the legal structures of strong states such as the US, as well as the military and police capacities of states, in their efforts to maintain a structure of law and to compete for greater shears of capital and markets (Sassen 1996b).

  • Multi-culturalism helps migrants adopt these identities.

  • Expected to stay abroad but to send money home often.

  • Dual nationality versus dual citizenship (nationals don’t vote, i.e. Mexico)

  • Re-defining as transnational states.

  • Given these disparities, many transnational states define the connection between immigrants and their state of origin in terms of shared descent or “common blood.”

  • One American strain builds on white identification – nationalist sentiments.

  • Another strain builds on multiculturalist discourse – and new immigrants have a sense of shared destiny in the US. Why good? Helps in competition, for example, with Asia.

Transnational Migration (7)

Date: 09.25.2011

Title: Between “Here” and “There”: Immigrant Cross-Border Activities and Loyalties

Author: Roger Waldinger

Source: IMR 2008, V42 N1

Category and Keyword: Transnational Migration, (against), Migrants, US Immigration


  • While international migrants regularly engage in trans-state social action, the paper shows that neither transnationalism as condition of being, nor transmigrants, as distinctive class of people, is commonly found.


  • As a rule, cross-border activities and exchanges do not cluster together. Thus, the sending of remittances is most extensively undertaken by new arrivals, with frequency diminishing as settlement in the United States grows.

  • The gradual withering away of home country ties can be interpreted as evidence of assimilation; however, doing so would miss the fundamental tensions produced when international migration encounters the liberal state and its bounded, political community.

  • Other Scholars: Alba and Nee: Assimilation: “the decline of an ethnic distinction and its corollary cultural and social differences” (2003:14)

  • (EL SALVADOR in particular) While symbolic ethnicity remains strong – as evidenced by respondents’ persistent propensity to identify themselves in home country rather than host country terms – the newcomers are no less aware of the fact that the future is to be found in the United States. Of course, it is no surprise to discover that the immigrants are realists. The only question is why the professional students of immigration refuse to see it that way.


  • Moreover, social and political incorporation in the United States reduces affective ties and provision of material support, all the while facilitating other forms of cross-state social action (4).

  • AGAINST GLICK-SCHILLER / Portes: From this perspective, transnationalism is the “condition of being” of the transmigrants, engaged in a complex but fundamentally closed set of relationships, so encompassing as to virtually erase the distinction between “here” and “there.” (NOTE: G.-S. uses transnational migrants to fit into transnationalism)

  • PORTES 2003: transnationalism = a distinct immigrant minority; (based on survey of Colombia, Dominican, and Salvador); don’t generalize, says Waldinger (5).

  • Normal international transactions, not transnationalism: large flows of remittances, migrant associations raising funds to help hometowns left behind, and trains or airplanes filled with immigrants returning home for visits to kin and friends are features encountered wherever large numbers of international migrants are found throughout the contemporary world.

  • NOT ASSIMILATION: Migrants only do what their states allow (not what Portes says regular coming and going); AND what the literature calls assimilation is better understood as political resocialization, in which the foreigners discard one political identity for another, all the while attaching a hyphenated, cultural modifier (of Mexican-,

  • Put somewhat differently, states “cage” the populations residing on their territory, constraining social ties beyond the territorial divide, while reorienting activities toward the interior (Mann, 1993).


  • 2002 Pew Hispanic Survey, a nationally representative telephone survey of 4,213 adults, 18 years and older, who were selected at random.

  • We focus attention on the five largest nationality groups represented in the 2002 Pew Hispanic Survey: Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Colombians, Salvadorans (listed in order of their size in the sample). Not only do these comprise the major streams of Latin American migration to the United States, each is distinct, both with respect to history, and to organization of the migration stream. Migration from Mexico is the largest, and longest-standing; it is also largely a labor migration …

  • Mexicans the omitted category, all being dummy variables.

  • Used odd ratios, not coefficients.

  • Tested each nationality as a reference groups with the others.


Table 2:

  • Eight dependent variables; (votes in country elections, send remittances, made one trip or more home, plans to move back, real home is home country, identifies as national first – then USC Qs – registered to vote – and vote?)

  • E.G. In general, the survey reveals that, for the majority of respondents, subjective attachment to the country of birth and its people remains strong.

  • E.G. After five years of settlement, the probability that a respondent will report a plan to move home is already below 0.5; at the same point in time, however, the probability of identifying the home country as the “real home” is just above 0.8. That view then changes dramatically with time: at 25 years of residence, the probability of identifying the home country as the “real home” is barely two in five.

Transnational Migration (7)

Date: 09.25.2011

Title: Haven’t We Heard This Somewhere Before?: A Substantive View of Transnational Migration Studies By Way of a Reply to Waldinger and Fitzgerald

Author: Nina Glick Schiller and Peggy Levitt

Source: Working Paper, Princeton, the Center for Migration and Development; 2006

Category and Keyword: Transnational Migration, US Immigration, Paradigm


  • Among the latest set of scholars to see the transnational light are Roger Waldinger and David Fitzgerald (2004). Because their article American Journal of Sociology article, “Transnationalism in Question,” epitomizes the pitfalls of neglecting or negating fifteen years of scholarly development, we feel it deserves to be critiqued at some length.


  • To appreciate the utility of a transnational approach, in this rejoinder we first reflect on the scholarship that Waldinger and Fitzgerald largely ignore. We then highlight important emerging areas of study and future research directions. This is the kind of overview of the field is needed to drive theoretical progress.


  • Capital versus Labor

    • By using a corresponding parallel term, scholars of migration in a range of disciplines were able to contrast the free movement of capital with the barriers to movement faced by labor.

    • Fail to distinguish between migrants and migrants who maintain a home in their home country, both subject to the country of emigration.

    • They only concentrate on nation-states (i.e. politics): Transnational migrants engage in economic, social, religious, as well as political practices.

    • It was post-World War II social science, in forms ranging from Parsonian social systems theory to modernization theory, which legitimated and popularized the container perspective. These ideas rendered transnational connections either invisible, because they were not researched, or problematic, because they violated the desirable global order of a world divided into seemingly discrete nation states.

    • Scholars did not see the need to abandon “push” and “pull” theories of migration, even Wallerstein.

    • VIEW of GLICK SCHILLER / her school: Others have preferred to link the saliency of transnational social fields established by migrants to moments of intense economic interconnection or “high points of globalization” (Basch, Glick Schiller and Szanton Blanc 1994). This second school, building on an earlier body of scholarship articulated by Wallerstein and Braudel, linked trends in migration to changes in global flows of capital and trade in the 19th and 20th century (Held 1999; Portes and Walton 1981; Sassen 1992). These scholars recognized that intense economic global restructuring produced a wide range of transborder connections.

    • WRONG: It was the changed paradigm that allowed scholars of migration to firmly shed the tendency to think of nation-states as the containers within which social processes should be analyzed.

    • WRONG: Since then, work by Itzigsohn (2000), Portes, Haller and Guarnizo (2002), R. Smith (2003), and others empirically examine how migrants engage in the politics of their homelands and their new localities at the same time.

    • WRONG: Their container theory treats migrants as a single, unified, outside force who, by their very transborder movement, threatens the stability of receiving states by unraveling the social fabric. They see migration and cross border connections as problematic, while accepting the receiving state as the unproblematized unit of analysis.

    • WRONG: Despite their espousal of a new framework, Waldinger and Fitzgerald end up “seeing like a nation-state” and embracing the very methodological nationalism they warn against (12).

    • LOYAL TO BOTH: The concept of a transnational social field as a network of networks---called by various authors a transnational space, circuit or social formation--- allows us to examine how migrants can live within and across states at the same time (Faist 2000; Glick Schiller and Fouron 2001; Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004; Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt 1999; Portes 2001; Pries 2001; Smith and Guarnizo 1998).

  • Current work at the intersection between globalization theory and Transnational Migration Studies is producing new insights into transnational processes that carry us past Waldinger and Fitzgerald’s archaic division between the state and civil society and call our attention to other important institutional players that they discount. We will mention three (15).

    • 1) In a seminal work, Carolyn Brettell (1999), building on the scholarship of Anthony Leeds argues for the need for urban studies to pay much closer attention to the “city as context.”

      • The interplay between transnational movements of capital and the power and significance of specific places is of course not new. However, the recent restructuring of global capital has strengthened the significance of cross-border forces and brought them to the attention of researchers.

      • The development of theories linking modes of migrant simultaneous incorporation to city-scale is just beginning, however, despite the fact that the terms like “global city” and “gateway city” center the analytical lens on the relationship between cities and their migrant populations (Clark 2004; Ley 2003; Waldinger 2001).

    • 2) Transnational Social Fields that extend between several states without a homeland politics

    • 3) Globality

      • When we talk about processes that cross borders, we are also talking about scholarship that extends beyond migration to include flows of capital, media, objects, and ideas.

      • Their primary identification is not to the nation but to the global religious community.


  • Instead, good scholarship requires us to place the cross-border actions of migrants and their descendants, including their long distance nationalism, within an accurate accounting of the world of cross-border processes in which we all live. Migrants’ transnational social fields are one part of a larger global process.

  • Transnational studies have four pillars: Empirical Transnationalism, Theoretical Transnationalism, Philosophical Transnationalism, Public Transnationalism.

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