Migration intersects with a range of other policy fields and social processes. But do these relations always have to be a nexus? I have so far counted thirty-six different migration nexuses in academic publications (listed below), and the number is growing. Are they helping us understand complex relationships or just shrouding them in pointless jargon?
The ‘nexification’ of migration studies started with the introduction of the migration-development nexus in 2002. As part of an influential research programme and a special issue of International Migration, Sørensen, Van Hear and Engberg-Pedersen launched this term to call attention to the disconnect between migration and development as policy fields.
Pinning down the migration-development nexus
Curiously, the set of articles that introduced the migration-development nexus left it undefined. The term quickly caught on, however, and remains the most widespread of the migration nexuses. It remains a textbook case of academic conceptual work having a sustained (and, in my opinion, positive) impact of policy agendas.
Ten years later, Ninna Nyberg Sørensen added reflections on the meaning of ‘nexus’ in her article Revisiting the Migration–Development Nexus, published in another special issue of International Migration. The publisher, Wiley-Blackwell, also organized an online conference on the occasion, but failed to preserve the material. Fortunately, Oliver Bakewell’s insightful commentary about the migration-development nexus is preserved elsewhere. He points out the lack of definitions and reflects on how and why the nexus concept might be useful.
In the absence of an established definition of the migration-development nexus, let me give it a try:
The migration-development nexus is the totality of mechanisms through which migration and development dynamics affect each other.
This definition captures the idea that causality goes in both directions and in works in multiple, possibly contradictory ways. As a basic example, migration may result in remittances to the society of origin, which, in turn, could either signal the benefits of migration and encourage additional departures, or sustain livelihoods that enable people to remain. Talking of a nexus makes sense because the complex two-way relationships are hard to disentangle.
But, as Bakewell points out, the specific ways in which a nexus comes to be understood can be deceptive. In theory, it makes sense to think of ‘the totality of mechanisms’ as I did in my tentative definition, but in practice, the migration-development nexus is imbued with particular understandings of both migration and development. Bakewell suggests that in order to be a useful concept, the nexus should also bring attention to ‘the process of discourse creation’.
The appeal of nexification
In my opinion, the word nexus is only warranted when it refers to a set of complex interdependencies between two processes or phenomena, such as migration and development. We can then examine how discourses represent these processes and interdependencies in particular ways.
But the nexification seems to go much further. In most cases when a ‘migration nexus’ is introduced, it’s presented quite casually without much reflection on how or why it constitutes a nexus. Academics used to be content with publishing on migration and [something], but they now succumb to the appeal of the migration-[something] nexus.
So, if you feel the urge to nexify your migration writing, first stop and think:
- How are migration and the other phenomenon related to eachother? Is there a complex web of interdependencies—which would strengthen the case for calling it a nexus—or some other type of relationship? Perhaps ‘nexus’ muddles rather than clarifies.
- How does it matter that ‘nexus’ tends to imply a holistic bundle? An account of ‘the nexus’ seems monumental and authoritative. Is that warranted, or even desirable?
- How do particular understandings of ‘the nexus’—whether in your own writing, public policy, or elsewhere—privilege or exclude certain aspects of the relationship?
- How might the possibility of a ‘nexus’ serve not only as fancy wrapping, but as inspiration for thinking about interconnections that you might not otherwise have considered?
Thirty-six migration nexuses
The steady flow of new migration nexuses inspired me to do a count. This list is based on Google Scholar, with some restrictions (See below). The references are examples, and not necessarily the most prominent publications that refer to each nexus.
In addition to the migration-development nexus, the migration–security nexus and the trade–migration nexus are well-established. Others, such as the migration–psychosocial wellbeing nexus (new this year) might struggle to gain a foothold in the literature, I think.
- The migration–adaptation nexus (Gemenne & Blocher 2015)
- The ageing–migration nexus (King et al. 2017)
- The asylum–migration nexus (Papadopoulou 2005)
- The migration–citizenship nexus (Stasiulis 2008)
- The climate–migration nexus (Faist & Schade 2013)
- The climate change–migration nexus (Castles 2011)
- The migration–commuting nexus (Brown et al. 2015)
- The migration–conflict nexus (Mitchell 2011)
- The crime–migration nexus (Bruke 2016)
- The migration–development nexus (Nyberg-Sørensen et al 2002)
- The migration–displacement nexus (Koser & Martin 2011)
- The drought–migration nexus (Ajaero et al. 2015)
- The education–migration nexus (Robertson 2013)
- The environment–migration nexus (Neumann & Hilderink 2015)
- The fertility–migration nexus (Ortensi 2015)
- The migration–food security nexus (Craven & Gartaula 2015)
- The migration–home nexus (Boccagni 2017)
- The human rights–migration nexus (Innes 2014)
- The migration–insecurities nexus (Marchand 2008)
- The migration–integration nexus (Entzinger et al 2011)
- The labour market–migration nexus (Divinský 2007)
- The migration–left behind nexus (Toyota et al. 2007)
- The migration–mobility nexus (Açıkgöz 2015)
- The migration–psychosocial wellbeing nexus (King 2017)
- The race–migration nexus (Erel et al. 2016)
- The schooling–migration nexus (Wolf 2014)
- The migration–security nexus (Faist 2006)
- The social work–migration nexus (Righard & Boccagni 2015)
- The state–migration nexus (Fagotto 2013)
- The migration–terrorism nexus (Chung et al. 2016)
- The tourism–migration nexus (Müller 2002)
- The trade–migration nexus (Felbermayr & Toubal 2012)
- The migration–trafficking nexus (Kaye 2003)
- The travel–migration nexus (Bui & Wilkins 2016)
- The urbanisation–migration nexus (Kumar et al 2014)
- The migration–welfare state nexus (Johansson 2012)
Note: The list includes nexuses mentioned in the title of publications, and only those that are presented as ‘the […] nexus’ (as opposed to ‘nexus’ being used in a sentence, e.g. ‘Climate change, environmental degradation, and migration: a complex nexus’. Furthermore, I have excluded a few ‘super-nexuses’ of three and more terms, such as the ‘urbanisation-construction-migration nexus’.