Thomas Faist, Professor, Bielefeld University

From Voice to Exit? Cross-Border Migration as a Transnational Social Question from the 19th to the 21st Century

On a world scale, distress and social instability are reminiscent of the social inequalities that obtained in a large part of nineteenth-century Europe. At that time the social question was the central subject of extremely volatile political conflicts between the ruling classes and working-class movements. Are we now on the verge of a new social conflict, this time on a world scale, characterized by manifold boundaries – such as those between capital and labour, global North and global South? This lecture traces exit and voice as the principal options for potential cross-border migrants from the late 19th century until the contemporary period. One major feature underlying the causes and dynamics of cross-border migration in Europe over the past 200 years has been social inequalities between regions of emigration, transit and immigration and within these regions. The politicization of such inequalities which refer to cross-border flows can be called the transnational social question. It becomes clear that an interpretation of the late 19th and early 20th century as the time of voice with respect to working class organization and of today as the time of exit in the face of an “age of migration” would be misleading. Instead, there are distinctive combinations of exit, voice and loyalty across time. Markedly, four long-term trends from the late 19th & early 20th century, through the post-World War Two period and the 21st century can be discerned: (1) the development of national welfare states as the main regulators of social protection as a response to political struggles around social inequalities; (2) the gradual emergence of sophisticated state migration control; (3) a perception of increasing heterogeneities and their politicization beyond class; and (4) in contrast to the 19th century and part of the 20th century a lack of a coherent theory around the social question which would be able to mobilize politically and intellectually. Instead, we find a multitude of theories and multiple new social movements.

See also filmed lecture with Thomas Faist: “Social Inequalities: What Role for Transnationality?

Thomas Faist is professor of Sociology of Transnationalization, Development & Migration at Bielefeld University. Professor Faist is a world-leading scholar in the research on cross-border migration but also on citizenship and development issues. Among his most famous publications are The Volume and Dynamics of International Migration and Transnational Social Spaces (Oxford 2000); Diaspora and Transnationalism: Concepts, Theories and Methods (with Rainer Bauböck, IMISCOE 2010) and Transnational Migration (with Fauser and Reisenauer, Cambridge 2013).

Program for Forum for Transnational Migration and CEIFO seminars, spring 2018.