iMigMob 2022 – Reflections on Migration, Mobilities and Crises

This year we awarded two bursaries to support postgraduate and early career researchers’ attendance at the third International Conference on Migration and Mobilities (iMigMob2022).  The awardees were invited to write for this blog providing their own insights and commentary on the conference, and reflecting on the over-arching themes. Our first bursary awardee was Julie Fromentin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Gustave Eiffel University (France), her blog which provides reflections on the contribution of migration scholarship to population geographies engagement with the questions of crises.

The third International Conference on Migration and Mobilities brought together around 70 participants at the University of Saint Andrews from 6 to 8 July 2022 and enabled an incredibly wide-ranging and stimulating discussion on the geography of population. Organised around four main themes (Internal migration and urban change; Forced migration and bordering; Big data and visualising mobilities; European migration in turbulent politic), the keynote presentations, paper sessions and informal exchanges carried out during these three days allowed both to draw up a panorama of current research on migration and mobilities, and to produce discussions and raise questions on the future of population geography. With regard to this second point, the various presentations have certainly provided some answers.

The sessions I was able to attend brought together contributions on issues that have been studied for a long time by population geographers, allowing an update of knowledge on phenomena such as internal migration, urban and residential change or the links between migration and labour market. For example, the presentations showed the existence of a process of reurbanisation in Poland since the 2000s (Kurek), a differentiated process of spatial dispersion of different ethnic immigrant groups in the Rome area in relation to the 2013 real estate crisis (Rimoldi), or showed the close links between the demographic growth of some UK cities and the growth of the student population in recent years (Champion). In addition to this necessary work of monitoring changes in the composition, characteristics and flows of populations in different territories over time, the presentations also showed the great diversity of new research avenues in which (population) geographers and social scientists in general are engaged, whether on a thematic, theoretical or methodological level. The inclusion of gender in the analysis of labour migration (Duffy), the theoretical reflections on the notion of ‘migration hub’ (Goler) or the study of the links between mental health and residential mobility (Damiens) are all examples of stimulating research orientations. On the methodological level too, the conference demonstrated the richness and variety of the sources and methods used. Presentations showed the value of using social network data (Coimbra Vieira) and more broadly consumer data (Keynote Speaker Pr. Alex Singleton) to address certain research questions, while others relied on innovative methods, for example modelling (Lomax) or multivariate time series classifications (Kienast von Einem, Mikolai). Some sessions (Labour Market & Migration for instance) combined presentations based on quantitative methods and others on more qualitative methods, providing complementary views and encouraging the development of mixed methods in population geography.

Amongst the multitude of presentations and exchanges, a structuring element of this conference was undoubtedly the question of crises. The first keynote speaker, Professor Darren Smith, opened the conference by questioning the “perfect storm” – represented by the combination of the Brexit, the Covid crisis and the current politics of housing – and the effects this may have on migration in the UK. The main argument is that these different crises are likely to have differentiated impacts on internal migration. While since the early 2010s there has been a decline in internal migration and counterurbanisation, the ‘perfect storm’ may generate some changes and is, according to Darren Smith, a great opportunity to rethink internal migration from new perspectives, for example by engaging more with economic theory. Dr. Kate Botterill’s keynote also began with the observation that “we are in a very fragile place at the moment”: new forced migration across Europe, the urgent challenges of climate change, the pandemic recovery and political issues all raise the question of how to find “safety in chaos”. Botterill proposes to interpret these ‘crisis’ phenomena (or labelled as such) using the concepts of ontological security and insecurity. The analysis of these (in)securities must be multi-scalar and relational, as the ontological security of some is systematically achieved to the detriment of others, as shown today by the European Union’s rebordering process, which while ‘securing’ European borders contributes to the precariousness of the trajectories of non-European refugees. More broadly, the issue of ‘crises’ has often been the starting point, and sometimes the core, of many presentations: the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on residential mobility (Rebhun, Champion), the role of the UK housing crisis on population mobility (Coulter), the link between environmental change and mobility (Piguet, Nicholson), the destabilising effect of the Brexit on migrant fishers and Scottish fishing communities (Hržić), etc.

Finally, it appears that the analysis of crises, or the analysis of populations in the context of crises, constitutes a tremendous opportunity for geographers (population geographers in particular) to engage with crucial social questions. By questioning the effect of crises and analysing them as factors of potential destabilisation of population structures and dynamics, we can engage more broadly with social and economic processes that drive mobilities. For example, by taking into account the current crisis of housing, Coulter suggests taking housing more broadly into account in the analysis of residential mobilities and defends the idea that the current dysfunctions of the housing system, linked to changing housing careers, lead to a reduced ability for individuals to achieve residential goals. Questioning the effects of the crises therefore allows us to formulate new hypotheses and to (re)open up research questions. It also allows for a deeper understanding of the temporality of the observed phenomena. For example, has there been an increase in residential mobility since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis? And if so, is this increase in residential mobility a temporary phenomenon, a cyclical effect of the Covid-19 crisis, or is it part of a deeper, long-term dynamic? These types of questions requires multi-scalar analyses, both temporally and spatially. Finally, the question of crises is an opportunity to better connect research in population geography with questions of population vulnerability and therefore with the processes that generate exclusion, impoverishment and the marginalisation of certain groups. These approaches can lead to new theoretical developments. For example, we can think of the concept of “affordification” proposed by Dafydd Jones in the “Urban Change” session, which aims to rethink the role of territorial inequalities in migrations towards spaces generally considered as “left behind” and the social justice issues that accompany them.

Thus, one of the main contributions of this conference was undoubtedly to show avenues for population geographers to engage more deeply with major social issues. Amongst these, we can expect new research that links population geography more directly with contemporary environmental issues, including in Europe. In the analysis of environmental change and its effects, the questions of ‘who’ and ‘where’ are fundamental, and population geography can certainly provide valuable insights. I look forward to the next International Conference on Migration and Mobilities and warmly express my thanks to the Population Geographies Research Group (PGRG) of the RGS-IBG for their bursary which allowed me to attend the conference.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.