This conceptual paper seeks to engage with migration theory by examining the nature and functions of aspirations in migration processes. I argue that aspirations play a pivotal role in all migration, but in different ways. Aspirations are elusive, however, both theoretically and empirically. People’s general aspirations in life form part of form part of the background to migration desires; such desires can also be described as migration aspirations, which are the focus of this paper. This conviction that migration is preferable to staying can be understood as an attitude, which helps us raise several epistemological issues. Is the desire to migrate an enduring state of mind, or a context-specific speech act? Do migration aspirations, conceived of as attitudes, comparatively evaluate places, or culturally constructed projects? Does migration have intrinsic value, or is it simply a means to an end? Addressing such questions and relating them to the factors that inhibit or facilitate actual migration can shed new light on how we conceptualize and empirically analyse the determinants of migration. It can also help understand the relationships between force, choice and mobility. In conclusion, I propose an aspirations-centred model of migration, in which observable outcomes—in the form of mobility and immobility—are interpreted as products of three interlinked processes.
Carling, J. (2014) ‘The role of aspirations in migration.’ paper presented at Determinants of International Migration, International Migration Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, 23–25 September.