Borders and Migration

Im/mobilising the migration decision

This paper reconsiders the concept of the decision in geographical research on migration by refracting it through contemporary “mobilities” thinking. In doing so, I seek to develop an approach attentive to the way migrations take hold and persist in space and time. Whilst conceptualisations of the decision in migration have moved beyond their individualist heritage, sovereign models of strong agency remain implicit, often unintentionally conflating intention, effectiveness, cause and outcome. In contrast, I elaborate a relational understanding of the decision to conceptualise a decision’s limited efficacy in generating and sustaining a migration over time. Underscoring the neglected importance of stasis to migration, I trace corollaries of the mobilities dialectic of movement and stasis on the relation between action and outcome, emphasising the finite relevancy of any moment of decision. Focussing empirically on the story of a single migrant worker’s return migration in rural China, I draw on alternative accounts of agency – habit, lateral agency, and the agency of assemblages – to rework the migration decision into an ongoing process of affecting and being affected. Thinking with this case, I reconfigure the relationship between migration, event, decision and place, and affirm the value of the under-used mobilities optic in migration research.

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Volume 36 Issue 2

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