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Between fragmentation and institutionalisation: The rise of migration studies as a research field (2020)

Posted on:
July 30, 2020

Overview

“It is clear that the field of migration studies has grown significantly over the past decades. What is less known is how this growth has taken place. This article combines bibliometric metadata with expert interviews to analyse the institutionalisation of the field in terms of self-referentiality, internationalisation, and epistemic communities. Self-referentiality in migration studies has gradually increased as the field has grown, until recently. The field has internationalised in terms of international co-authorships but has done so unevenly. Finally, we find that epistemic communities in migration studies, based largely on disciplines, increasingly refer to one another and are increasingly interdisciplinary...

We know that the field of migration studies has grown significantly over the past decades. This is manifest in the increase of the number of publications, journals, research institutes and undergraduate programs. This development in size says something on the relevance as well as the popularity of migration studies.What is less known is how this growth of migration studies has taken place. Does this growth involve an institutionalisation of migration research field as a research field?Or has growth come with a growing fragmentation of studies on migration? Our aim in this article is to provide empirical reflections on this process. There are studies that look at specific aspects of this process, for instance in terms of interdisciplinarity, theoretical and methodological developments, but research with a holistic approach is lacking. Our research question, therefore, is how has migration studies institutionalised in the past four decades?"

Discussion and conclusions: fragmentation and institutionalisation in the field of migration studies

 “This article provides an empirical analysis of the growth of migration studies. It asks whether the proliferation of migration studies over the last four decades involved a gradual institutionalisation as a research field, or whether growth came with fragmentation. Our analysis helps migration studies to reach beyond relatively simplistic understandings of growth as a sign of institutionalisation in itself; it shifts attention from the fact that migration studies has grown to how it is has grown.

We have taken self-referentiality, internationalisation and the development of co-citation networks (epistemic communities) as indicators of institutionalisation. If migration studies has institutionalised as a research field, we expected an increase in self-referentiality, an increase of internationalisation and the evolution of a coherent set of co-citation networks. In contrast, if growth comes with fragmentation, this would be visible in declining self-referentiality, stagnating internationalisation and the absence of coherent co-citation networks.

Our analysis confirms that the growth of migration studies has involved institutionalisation as a research field. Self-referentiality has strongly increased since the 1970s, although the data since the late 2000s suggest that this is not a linear trend. Even when controlling for the immense increase of publication outlets (and hence referencing opportunities), the intensity of citation links increased, especially between 1975 and 2008. Since 2008 there appears to be a stagnation, for which there is no clear interpretation available. This could be down to lag effect in referencing, but it could also be an indication that, since 2008, migration studies is increasingly embedded in other fields, and develops less as a discrete research field.

In addition, we found a clear absolute and relative increase in international co-authorships. This is a clear indication of the internationalisation of the field. Whether this indeed means that migration scholars have reached beyond the critiques of methodological nationalism requires further research. Also when compared to internationalisation in other fields, this internationalisation is also likely a consequence of digitisation and the increase of opportunities for collaboration. However, we also found this internationalisation to be uneven; a disproportionate share of international co-authorships involves collaborations in (and not necessarily between) Europe and North-America, casting a shadow on the globalisation of the research field.

Furthermore, we found that in terms of co-citation networks, there is also a growing coherency in the field of migration studies. Our analysis of co-citation networks shows that whereas in the 1970s migration studies involved distinct and also very separate co-citation clusters, in the 2010s there was a clearly enhanced coherency between these clusters. Although migration studies, as any research field, consists of distinct epistemic communities that refer to that refer to themselves primarily, they also increasingly refer to one and another. Many of the epistemic communities that we found also clearly relate to specific disciplinary backgrounds, such as economic sociologists, or demographers. Therefore, our findings suggest that migration studies evolved from a multi-disciplinary field (with various but very distinct disciplines) to a more interdisciplinary field (with various and linked disciplines).

Finally, we found distinct developments within the epistemic communities that make up the field of migration studies. We found that migration studies does not come from the shadows of ethnic/race relations studies alone, but rather developed from a combination of demographic studies, socio-psychological studies, race/ethnic relation studies, labour/economic integration studies, refugee studies, transnationalism and development studies. Furthermore, we see that recent migration studies show a proliferation of specific epistemic communities, including that on ethnic/race relations and on global systems theory. Furthermore, new communities have emerged, such as most notably on race, migration and health.”

Related Publications:

Immigration & Immigration Policy/Migration Studies

Summary

There are studies that look at specific aspects of this process, for instance in terms of interdisciplinarity, theoretical and methodological developments, but research with a holistic approach is lacking. Our research question, therefore, is how has migration studies institutionalised in the past four decades?
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