From Voice to Exit? Cross-Border Migration as a Transnational Social Question from the 19th to the 21st Century

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Thomas FAIST, Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany
On a world scale, distress and social instability are reminiscent of the social inequalities that obtained in a large part of nineteenth-century Europe. At that time the "social question" was the central subject of extremely volatile political conflicts between the ruling classes and working-class movements. Are we now on the verge of a new social conflict, this time on a cross-border scale, characterized by manifold boundaries – such as those between capital and labour, North and South, developed and underdeveloped or developing countries? Looking at cross-border migration, this paper identifies crucial mechanisms resulting in the reproduction of old inequalities and the emergence of new inequalities. The analysis shows how the “transnational social question” relates to political conflicts around the inequalities connected to cross-border migration in immigration and emigration contexts. Among the general social mechanisms relevant for the understanding of the transnational social question are hierarchization, exploitation, and social closure – but also opportunity hoarding and inclusion. One of the major challenges for theory building is the identification of more concrete social mechanisms, depending on the respective historical-structural contexts under study.