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Transnationalism as a Research Paradigm and Its Relevance for Integration

Liza Mügge


Interest in the transnational involvement of immigrants has grown rapidly since 1994, when Bash, Glick Schiller, and Szanton Blanc published their pioneering book Nations Unbound. This book is considered the first major study of migrant transnationalism. In it, the authors stress the various forms of contact that a substantial group of migrants maintain with their country of origin. The study of transnationalism is strongly rooted in anthropology. Its early authors, like Basch et al. 1994, were US-based anthropologists with fieldwork experience in migrants' host country and country of origin (Foner 2000, 49). In Europe, transnational research gained firm ground in 1997 when the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Oxford hosted a five-year research programme on transnational communities (Transcomm, see Linked projects were conducted in single disciplines or were multidisciplinary. Transcomm marked the emergence of a flourishing research field spanning a range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, including sociology, anthropology, political science, law, history, media studies, and geography. Top European journals, like Global Networks, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, have featured numerous studies and special issues on migrant transnationalism. Despite the field's interdisciplinary approach and scope, disciplinary flavours remain traceable in the topics selected, research designs, and the methodologies applied.

Fuelled by securitization and politicization of migration, transnationalism also began to attract considerable attention in public debate around the turn of the millennium. Politicians, journalists, and policymakers questioned whether transnationalism might undermine immigrants' integration. During the past decade, European leaders across the political spectrum have expressed concern about migrants' loyalties and involvements that could potentially compromise their territorial borders (Mügge 2012a). Loyalty towards the country of origin (or that of parents) became the litmus test of integration. According to Østergaard-Nielsen (2011), citizens who live their lives across borders pose distinct challenges to policymakers. The idea of “integration here” and “development there” forces governments to rethink their integration models.

This chapter reviews the state of the art of scholarship on the transnationalismintegration nexus. It examines the view emanating from the existing literature on the relation between immigrants' transnational activities and ties to the country of origin, on the one hand, and “integration” in the receiving country, on the other. The review is guided by the popular political question: Can transnationalism and integration be mutually beneficial, or is it a zero-sum relation? The next section outlines the emergence of transnationalism as a research paradigm and its relation to academic research on integration. The chapter then dedicates a section to each of the main dimension of transnationalism in Europe: economic, political, and sociocultural. Finally, routes are suggested for future policy-oriented research.

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