Migration and insecurity: rethinking mobility in the neoliberal age

Journal article by Jeffrey H. Cohen, Ibrahim Sirkeci

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In Part 1 of this volume, James Carrier argues that anthropology finds itself in the midst of two crises. The first is internal, emerging from concerns over the future of our field and the role anthropology can play beyond the academy. The second is external, emerging from the economic crisis that began in 2008 (and which, though officially over, continues to challenge populations around the world). Although they have very different origins, Carrier says that both are reflections of neoliberal ideology and policy. The discipline's external crisis was brought about by the failure of neoliberal economic policy; the internal crisis reflects the influence in the discipline of a world view that echoes the neoliberal approach to people defined as independent actors who should be free of social constraints that can limit their ability to act as they wish. Echoing the tenets of neoliberal ideology, the proponents of neoliberal reform argue that they seek to promote individual freedom at the local and the national level, by removing the constraint of government control of economy and society. This not only promotes that freedom, they argue, it also facilitates economic growth. Those proponents recognise that there may be societal losses, and that impoverished, rural communities may be particularly at risk, but they argue that this is a small price to pay for the greater freedom and prosperity that will come to urban populations and to the country more generally (see the discussion in Huber and Solt 2003). Neoliberal ideologies and their emphasis on the individual as a decision-maker tend to limit the strength and logic of anthropological investigations that focus on individuals as members of social groups. One aspect of this is the neoliberal argument that the community is coercive and limits the individual, which leaves little space for the anthropological study of society and the contests that surround social belonging. Another aspect is the way that neoliberal ideologies construe people as economic beings, rational decision-makers who are motivated by the drive for personal gain and success rather than shared values and practices, which can only hinder their efforts to achieve that success. In this chapter, we examine the rise of neoliberal ideology and the growth of neoliberal reforms as they relate to the study and practice of migration. We argue that migration neither can nor should be reduced to the decision of an individual mover or migrant. Instead, we argue that it should be approached as a