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Towards a Broader Framing of Migration and Development

Over the past 20 or so years, two major paradigm shifts have affected the way we theorize and operationalize the concept of migration: these are the transnational perspective of the 1990s and the mobility turn of the 2000s, based respectively on foundational studies by Glick Schiller et al. (1992, 1995) and Urry (2000, 2007). Taken together, these opened up for study the transnational mobilities enfolded within longer term and more stable migration and integration systems—mobilities not only of people (e.g., visiting “home” or trading back and forth) but also of money, goods, ideas, and images, which circulate within, and indeed construct and constitute, transnational social and economic space (Faist 2008). Remittances remain a key part of the economics of transnational life (Guarnizo 2003), but they need to be understood in a wider context of, first, transnational social, kinship, and gender dynamics, and second, state macroeconomic policy and institutional structures. Thanks to Levitt (1998, 926), our understanding has broadened to include social remittances: 'the ideas, behaviours, identities, and social capital that flow from receivingto sending-country communities' and which are dependent on the level of integration achieved by migrants in host countries. Subsequent thinking about social remittances has benefited from a yet broader light. Political and cultural remittances include ideas about democracy, entitlement, transparency, morality, and cultural codes that move not just from host to sending country but are circular, building on the social and cultural capital that migrants start out with before migration (Levitt and Lamba-Nieves 2011).

The transnational lens also creates the framework for adding a third M&D mechanism to return and remittances: the recent emphasis on “mobilizing the diaspora” for homeland development (Brinkerhoff 2008; Collyer 2013; Newland and Tanaka 2010; Sørensen 2007). Migrants and their descendants who are residentially based abroad can become geographically mobile “transnational agents” and “diasporic actors” stimulating development in homeland communities by setting up businesses, investing in growth enterprises, and becoming politically or philanthropically active (Faist and Fauser 2011, 8). The issue of diaspora-led development is receiving increasing attention from home-country governments, international bodies, and donor agencies. Among the prescriptions for capitalizing on this development resource are the need to create an information-rich enabling environment that offers incentives for the diaspora to invest and “get involved” and the recommendation that homeland governments target certain segments or members of the diaspora who have the most to offer (Brinkerhoff 2009). Having said this, emigrants and diasporic people do not always have good relations with homeland authorities. There may be political cleavages and low levels of trust in the ability of governments to act transparently and efficiently. Therefore much diasporic activity in the homeland is individualistic or administered through nongovernmental organizations. Nevertheless, diasporic actors have the capacity to move “beyond remittances” through their entrepreneurial activities, including investment, venture capital partnerships, and training and mentoring visits (Newland and Tanaka 2010).

Not only has the meaning of migration become stretched and diversified, the same applies to understandings of development. The most recent trend is to look at development through a human wellbeing perspective. The IOM's 2013 World Migration Report shifted the developmental focus onto the happiness and wellbeing of migrants and their family members. Gough and McGregor (2007, 34) in their study of wellbeing in developing countries offer the following definition of human wellbeing: 'a state of being with others, where human needs are met, where one can act meaningfully to pursue one's goals and where one enjoys satisfactory quality of life'. A key distinction made in the literature is that between objective and subjective wellbeing (Wright 2012, 9–11). The former concentrates on statistical indicators of, for example, income, health, and employment, whereas the latter is based on subjective experience and evaluation, including both perceptions of the objective measures and culturally embedded meanings and understandings, for example, of what is a “nice” or “large” house. A review by the IOM of several studies reveals mixed results depending on context, but generally supports the view that migrants experience enhanced wellbeing compared to non-migrants (IOM 2013, 114–170).

 
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