migration, ethnic conflicts, and racism 3011

migration, ethnic
conflicts, and racism

Karin Scherschel

Migration refers to a process of people shifting
across borders. Recently, sociology has dis
cussed migration as a core element of globaliza
tion. Some theorists, like Stephen Castles and
Mark J. Miller (1993), have gone so far as to
label the last decade of the twentieth century
and the first decade of the twenty first as the
Age of Migration. A currently discussed topic
has been classified as new migration, which
is founded on the following reasons: the number
of countries and the amount of people that are
nowadays involved in migratory processes is
distinct from earlier movements. Contemporary
migration flows have become globally significant
because of the improvement of travel and com
munication facilities. This crucial effect of glo
balization has overcome further distances than
before. Furthermore, one important aspect is
diversity. Scholars distinguish between a wide
range of migration types such as asylum seekers,
refugees, undocumented migrants, and labor
migrants (highly skilled, unskilled). Finally,
since the 1990s the increasingly restrictive mea
sures to control migratory process, particularly
the flow of asylum seekers, has been qualified as
a remarkable feature.
However, migration is an old phenomenon
with people migrating from the beginning of
humankind. Well known historical types of
migration were caused by colonialism and capit
alism. As the Industrial Revolution began, after
the decline of feudalism, national awakening
provoked a great labor migration. Theorists
emphasize the important rule of labor and
forced migration (slavery) for the dynamics of
colonialism, capitalist expansion, and the pro
cess of nation building. Contemporary migra
tion and postcolonial ethnic conflicts are often
seen as a result of former relationships between
receiving and sending countries.
Migration study became a research area of
sociology at the beginning of the twentieth
century. The most influential work in this
area was initiated by the Chicago School of
Sociology. The important tendency in the first
period of migration study was to examine the
process of assimilation and integration. Concepts
such as generational, ecological, and economic
cycle models, which focused upon different stages
of assimilation, represented the broad body
of scholarship during this time. One of the
best known key concepts of this type of thinking
was the race relation cycle developed by
Robert Ezra Park (1950). According to Park,
the process of assimilation has the following five
stages: contact, competition, conflict, accom
modation, and assimilation. All these concepts
had an affinity to modernization theory because
they were based on the assumption that assim
ilation is a gradual, progressive, and inevit
able process. Racism against immigrants and
ethnic inequality were treated as temporary per
iods and transitory tensions between groups
in the process of incorporation into a modern
In contrast, ethnic groups and racist
motivated actions did not disappear but rather
became a prominent marker of multi ethnic
societies over time. Considering the socioeco
nomic position of minorities, studies in this
area have shown that these groups are system
atically disadvantaged relative to the life
chances of the majority group. A great amount
of ethnic groups occupy structurally subordi
nate positions in some areas such as unemploy
ment, housing, education, and health.
Later approaches became more sophisticated
in two important ways. First, theorists took
into consideration that race and ethnic relations
must be seen as a reciprocal or dialectical pro
cess between social groups. Second, assimila
tion should be conceptualized as one possible
result of others in dealing with interethnic rela
tions. The consequence of this theoretical shift
was that the assimilation approach relinquished
its teleological bias.
The international migration process became
an influential topic in sociology and subse
quently led to a wide variety of works. One
of the best known concepts of international
migratory processes is the laws of migration
developed by Ernest G. Ravenstein (1885, 1889).
He was interested in examining empirical regu
larities of migration flows such as the relation
ship between distance and migration frequency.
He also stressed the importance of migrants
economic patterns in migration process.