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HomeOn Migration Routes: Mobilities, Risk, and Uncertainty

On Migration Routes: Mobilities, Risk, and Uncertainty

Sur les routes de la migration : circulations, risque et gestion de l’incertitude

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Published on Thursday, July 13, 2023


Drawing from studies that lie within the framework of major contemporary “migration corridors” (Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, North America), this topical collection aims to explore the relationship between risk and migration from the perspective of migrants, at a time when the perils associated with crossing borders reach an unprecedented intensity. The reflection will focus on how migrants perceive the uncertainties and risks related to the decision to leave, and on the practices and mechanisms they use to manage these risks. In doing so, the notion of risk itself, as a culturally situated relation to the present and future, can be subject to critical reflection by examining the very concrete effects of uncertainty on the structuring of biographical trajectories in migration. Finally, this collection also aims to understand the link between the practical management of risk by migrants on a daily basis, and the management systems of “migration risks” implemented by institutional players.



In the contemporary context of “migrations from below” risk (or peril) is at the heart of experiences of mobility, as is painfully and recurrently reminded by the news. Yet, social sciences have paid little attention to this aspect or in a very peripheral way.

In political science, since the 1990s, attempts have been made to decipher the security turn (both discursive and practical) of migration policies in European countries (Waever et al., 1993; Bigo, 1998; McSweeney, 1999; Boas, 2015). In this body of work, the issue of risk is not directly addressed; however, migration governance appears clearly as the regulation of a “migration risk”, conceived as a security threat by the countries of the “North”.

More recent approaches explicitly problematise the issue of risk in migration within a more micro-sociological framework, intertwining action theories with the analysis of migration experiences. From these perspectives, the decisions regarding mobility — whether it be leaving, settling abroad, returning, re-settling in the country of origin, or re-migrating — are viewed as the practical outcomes of individuals engaging in risk-calculations by weighing and balancing risks of different natures that are present in various contexts, as part of a broader evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the places of origin and destinations, under conditions of uncertainty (Hernández-Carretero and Carling, 2012; Williams and Baláž, 2012; Li, 2015; Chang et al., 2017; Huber and Nowotny, 2018).

Other authors move beyond the moment of the initial decision to consider how risk colours the entirety of the “migration cycle” and is subject to long-term micro-management, woven into daily life. Bredeloup (2017) thus works on the specific figure of the migrant as an “adventurer” for whom migration is engaged with as a “trial of character”. Risk-taking is then part of processes of subjectivation, captured on the scale of “migration careers”.

This shift towards a micro-sociology of risk and uncertainty in migration is promising but remains embryonic. It also needs to be inscribed in a systematic reflection, cutting across different types of migration, and benefiting from recent developments in the sociology of risk, risk-taking, and uncertainty (Zinn, 2009 and 2020).

In this context, this topical collection aims to:

  • Reflect on the embedding of risk in migration paths and the biographical temporality of migrants.
  • Analyse the tensions between the management of risk in migration by migrants and the management of migration risk by institutions.
  • Question the notion of risk, as it accounts, more broadly, for the relationship of social actors to the future.

Migration and Biographical Temporality

On Mediterranean routes, the uncertainties associated with migration journeys proliferate as the European Union expands its control measures (Brachet et al., 2011; Hernández-Carretero and Carling, 2012; Brachet, 2016; Carling, 2016; Bredeloup, 2017; Boyer, 2019). In Southeast Asia, engaging with a clandestine or regular migration pathway does not guarantee the final status in destination countries in any way — whether regular, irregular, or criminalised (Bastide, 2015). People thus face radical uncertainty when they chose to leave. In the Mesoamerican corridor and Mexico, migrants from increasingly diverse geographical areas navigate “visually” on migratory routes that are constantly changing (Donato and Sisk, 2015; Aragón, 2014; Paris, 2017; Durand and Massey, 2019; Faret, 2020; Coubès, 2021). Under these conditions, migration paths unfold step by step, without visibility, while migrants face potentially fatal risks — physical death, of course, but also moral or social death. While migration can be considered a means of coping with risks or uncertainties prevailing “back home” (Stark and Bloom, 1985; Halliday, 2006; Balaz and Williams, 2011; Bastide, 2015; Li, 2015), it also generates its own perils.

Furthermore, if migration can be a means of dealing with existing risks, and if it opens up other uncertainties, returns also carry specific risks. This issue is particularly acute for refugees returning to their home countries, as they are compelled to negotiate a new place in areas ravaged by post-conflict instability and the aftermath of war (Lardeux, 2015). Return carries inherent risks, social risks of status degradation, economic risks related to new expectations placed on the players who are often relied upon for material support, physical risks in conflict zones or ecologically fragile areas, moral risks stemming from the realization that returning to one’s place of origin does not equate to resuming the life left behind (Bastide 2015).

The question of risk in migration can thus be approached based on a triple temporality: the decision to leave immediately raises the issue of the relationship to the risks of migration; departure opens up other uncertainties; returns and resettlements also entail risks. From the perspective of migrants, these different temporalities relate to each other within the broader framework of biographical time. Risk thus envelops migratory experiences through and through.

Contributions may focus on these different temporalities. However, care will be taken, even if they focus on a specific moment of the migration cycle, to ensure that they do not lose sight of the extended temporality of risk in migration.

Management of Risks in Migration and the Government of Migration Risks

The question of risk can also be considered at the intersection of “governmentalist” approaches to risks and micro-sociological approaches to the management of personal risks by migrants.

On the major migration routes in Southeast Asia, the collective mobilisation of migrant workers has contributed to the evolution of the law towards better protection of migrants. However, this dynamic is constrained by the economic, political, and social imperatives assigned to labor migration in both countries of origin and destination: protecting these populations would imply renouncing economic and social models based on forms of labor exploitation incompatible with citizen status in semi-authoritarian regimes (Derks, 2010; Maurer, 2010; Bastide, 2020).

In Central and West Africa, the operators of refugee repatriation or persons expelled at borders have recognised the collective organisational capacities of migrants, including in the management of migration risks, by developing reconnaissance trips (called “go and see”) to the country of origin: individuals selected among migrants are sent “back home” to explore the challenges of return, and are then tasked with disseminating first-hand information to their compatriots regarding the risks associated with resettlement (Lardeux, 2015, IOM, 2022). The transition from individual to collective, and from collective to institutional, from biographical order to collective management and governmentality of risks, can thus be facilitated by practices that promote a subtle exercise of power that links freedom and constraint, protection and control.

Inquiries, which are not meant to be exhaustive or preclude other approaches, can focus on at least two scales.

Reflection can focus on the resources and individual or collective mechanisms that populations deploy to cope with the unpredictabilities of migration, often at a distance from institutions, and even in antagonism with administrative practices and migration policies.

Analyses may also be interested in interactions between these practices and the institutional mechanisms for managing migration risk applied to migrating populations, which should be understood in their historical depth. These relationships can take the form of co-optations, diversions, but also attempts to bypass or prevent within the framework of deeply unequal relations between circulating individuals, migrant communities, and public and private players in the governance of migratory flows.

Questioning Risk as a Category of Action in Migration

Fundamentally, it is the concept of risk itself that needs to be questioned. As a shaping of the contingencies of existence, risk is quantifiable, which distinguishes it from uncertainty. By enabling the calculation of an exposure ratio to identified contingencies, it gives rise to informed decisions. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is characterised by the absence of relevant information on the occurrence of undesirable events (nature of contingencies and exposure ratio). It thus “problematises” situations (Goffman, 1974) by preventing anticipation, forcing players to engage in “blind” gambles.

Defined in this way, do these concepts really enable us to grasp the actors’ perceptions and rationale for action? Does the relationship to the future truly entail an estimation of the relative probabilities of success here or there (and therefore, is it marked by a relational assessment of risks)? Isn’t migration often characterised by action repertoires that are more grounded in aspirations, desires (Carling and Collins, 2018), hope (Kleist and Thorsen, 2017), or faith (Bastide, 2015; Mastrangelo, 2018) which do not necessitate the same kind of calculative balancing between the present and the future?

Ultimately, these questions raise another, particularly crucial one: is the influence of the idea of risk on social representations primarily a “Western” reality? If the future is indeed a “cultural fact” (Appadurai, 2013), aren’t there other ways for players to connect to the future, excluding the stochastic rationality of risk? In Java, for example, migrants consider the contingencies of circulation less in terms of risks than in terms of fate (Bastide, 2017). Similar observations have also been made in African contexts (Hernandez-Carretero and Carling, 2017) or Latin American ones (Coubès, 2021).

Under these circumstances, and from the standpoint of the scientific relationship to the collected materials, can the unknown always be conceived in terms of uncertainty if it is not perceived as such by the migrants? Are the uncertainties of migration framed as risks by the individuals involved in the migration process, and if so, under what social and cultural conditions? What diversity of relationships to the future can be discerned from migration experiences?

Submission Modalities

Proposals for articles should be written in French or English, and should include the author’s affiliation, a title and an abstract (1,000 words or 7,000 characters spaces included). They should clearly present the method, the data and the empirical and theoretical contribution of the article to the theme of the topical collection. They can come from different disciplines of the social sciences, and should be sent to :

lois.bastide[at]irasec.com, laurent.lardeux[at]jeunesse-sports.gouv.fr et jeremy.guedj[at]univ-cotedazur.fr

before November 1st, 2023.

Articles can be in French, English or Spanish.

Texts need to conform to house style (https://journals.openedition.org/remi/5849)


  • Start of the call: July 10th, 2023
  • Deadline to send abstracts and closure of the call: November 1st, 2023
  • Selection and decision: December 1st, 2023
  • Deadline to send articles: May 1st, 2024
  • Peer-review Deadline to send articles in their latest version: November 1st, 2024
  • Publication: March 2025

Selection Committee/Coordination

  • Loïs Bastide (Sociologist, Lecturer at the University of French Polynesia, Researcher in CNRSdelegation at IRASEC and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute,National University of Singapore)
  • Laurent Lardeux (Sociologist, Research Fellow at INJEP, associated with UMR 5206 Triangle,Member of the design group of INED/INSEE Trajectories and origins survey — TeO 2)
  • Jérémy Guedj (Historian, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary History, CMMC, Côte-d'AzurUniversity)




Appadurai Arjun (2013) The future as cultural fact: essays on the global condition, London, New York, Verso.

Aragón Argán (2014) Migrations clandestines : d’Amérique centrale vers les États-Unis, Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Balaz Vladimir et Williams Allan M. (2011) Risk attitudes and migration experience, Journal of Risk Research, 14 (5), pp. 583‑596.

Bastide Loïs (2020) Les nouvelles migrations de travail en Asie du Sud-Est insulaire : du commerce transnational de la main-d’œuvre entre l’Indonésie, la Malaisie et Singapour, Hérodote, 176 (1), pp. 153‑167.

Bastide Loïs (2015) Habiter le transnational : Espace, travail et migration entre Java, Kuala Lumpur et Singapour, Lyon, ENS éditions.

Bigo Didier (1998) Sécurité et immigration, Cultures & Conflits, 3-4 (31-32), [en ligne]. URL : https://journals.openedition.org/conflits/47

Boas Ingrid (2015) Climate Migration and Security: Securitisation as a Strategy in Climate Change Politics, New York, London, Routledge.

Boyer Florence (2019) Sécurité, développement, protection. Le triptyque de l’externalisation des politiques migratoires au Niger, Hérodote, 1 (172), pp. 171‑191.

Brachet Julien (2016) Policing the Desert: The IOM in Libya Beyond War and Peace, Antipode, 48 (2), pp. 272‑292.

Brachet Julien, Choplin Armelle et Pliez Olivier (2011) Le Sahara entre espace de circulation et frontière migratoire de l’Europe, Hérodote, 3 (142), pp. 163‑182.

Bredeloup Sylvie (2017) The migratory adventure as a moral experience, in Nauja Kleist and Dorte Thorsen Eds., Hope and uncertainty in contemporary African migration, London, Routledge, pp. 134‑153.

Carling Jørgen (2016) West and Central Africa, in Marie McAuliffe et Frank Laczko Ed., Migrant smuggling data and research: A global review of the emerging evidence base, Geneva, IOM, pp. 25‑53.

Carling Jørgen et Collins Francis (2018) Aspiration, desire and drivers of migration, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44 (6), pp. 909‑926.

Chang Ik Young, Jackson Steven J. et Sam Michael P. (2017) Risk society, anxiety and exit: A case study of South Korean migration decision-making, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 26 (3), pp. 328‑351.

Coubès Marie-Laure (2021) De travailleurs mexicains sans-papiers à familles centraméricaines demandeuses d’asile : la transformation des flux migratoires à la frontière Mexique-États-Unis, 2005-2020, IdeAs-Idées d’Amériques, 18, [en ligne]. URL : https://journals.openedition.org/ideas/11653

Derks Annuska (2010) Bonded Labour in Southeast Asia: Introduction, Asian Journal of Social Science, 38 (6), pp. 839‑852.

Donato Katharine M. and Sisk Blake (2015) Children’s Migration to the United States from Mexico and Central America: Evidence from the Mexican and Latin American Migration Projects, Journal on Migration and Human Security, 3 (1), pp. 58‑79.

Durand Jorge and Massey Douglas S. (2019) Evolution of the Mexico-U.S. Migration System: Insights from the Mexican Migration Project, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 684 (1), pp. 21‑42.

Faret Laurent (2020) Migrations de la violence, violence en migration. Les vulnérabilités des populations centraméricaines en mobilité vers le Nord, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 36 (1), pp. 31‑52.

Fau Nathalie (2015a) Indonésie, in Gildas Simon Dir., Dictionnaire des migrations internationales : approches historiques, Paris, Armand Colin, pp. 717‑724.

Fau Nathalie (2015b) Malaisie, in Gildas Simon Dir., Dictionnaire des migrations internationales : approches historiques, Paris, Armand Colin, pp. 729‑732.

Fau Nathalie (2015c) Singapour, in Gildas Simon Dir., Dictionnaire des migrations internationales : approches historiques, Paris, Armand Colin, pp. 739‑742.

Goffman Ervin (1974) Les rites d’interaction, Paris, Éditions de Minuit.

Halliday Timothy (2006) Migration, Risk, and Liquidity Constraints in El Salvador, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 54 (4), pp. 893‑925.

Hernández-Carretero María and Carling Jørgen (2012) Beyond “Kamikaze Migrants”: Risk Taking in West African Boat Migration to Europe, Human Organization, 71 (4), pp. 407‑416.

Huber Peter and Nowotny Klaus (2018) Risk aversion and the willingness to migrate in 30 countries, WIFO Working Papers 569, [online]. URL: https://ideas.repec.org/p/wfo/wpaper/y2018i569.html

Killias Olivia (2018) Follow the maid: domestic worker migration in and from Indonesia, Copenhagen, NIAS Press.

Kleist Nauja and Thorsen Dorte Eds. (2017) Hope and uncertainty in contemporary African migration, London, Routledge.

Lardeux Laurent (2015) Retours d'exil : ethnographie des rapatriements de réfugiés en Afrique centrale, Paris, Éditions EHESS.

Li Yong (2015) A Risk Perspective on Chinese Student Migration in France, in Fred Dervin Ed., Chinese Educational Migration and Student-Teacher Mobilities: Experiencing Otherness, London, Palgrave Mcmillan.

Lindquist Johan (2010) Labour Recruitment, Circuits of Capital and Gendered Mobility: Reconceptualizing the Indonesian Migration Industry, Pacific Affairs, 83 (1), pp. 115‑132.

Mastrangelo Simon (2018) Parcours de harraga tunisiens. Représentations et lecture à la lumière de la foi en Dieu, in Nathalie Ortar, Monika Salzbrunn et Mathis Stock Dirs., Migrations, circulations, mobilités. Nouveaux enjeux épistémologiques et conceptuels à l'épreuve du terrain, Aix-en-Provence, Presses universitaires de Provence, pp. 127-140.

Maurer Jean-Luc (2010) The Thin Red Line between Indentured and Bonded Labour: Javanese Workers in New Caledonia in the Early 20th Century, Asian Journal of Social Science, 38 (6), pp. 866‑879.

McSweeney Bill (1999) Security, identity and interests: a sociology of international relations, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

OIM (2022) Assessing the quality of return in North-East Nigeria: A comparative analysis between returnee and resident households, Maiduguri, OIM.

Paris Dolores (2017) Violencias y migraciones centroamericanas en México, México, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

Parreñas Rhacel Salazar, Silvey Rachel, Hwang Maria Cecilia and Choi Carolyn Areum (2019) Serial Labor Migration: Precarity and Itinerancy among Filipino and Indonesian Domestic Workers, International Migration Review, 53 (4), pp. 1230‑1258.

Stark Oded and Bloom David E. (1985) The New Economics of Labor Migration, The American Economic Review, 75 (2), pp. 173‑178.

Tyner James A. (2003) Made in the Philippines: gendered discourses and the making of migrants, London, Routledge.

Waever Ole, Buzan Barry, Kelstrup Morten and Lemaitre Pierre (1993) Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe, London, Pinters Publishers.

Williams Allan M. et Baláž Vladimir (2012) Migration, Risk, and Uncertainty: Theoretical Perspectives, Population, Space and Place, 18 (2), pp. 167‑180.

Zinn Jens O. (2020) Understanding Risk-Taking, Cham, Palgrave Mcmillan.

Zinn Jens O. (2009) Social theories of risk and uncertainty: an introduction, Malden, Blackwell.


  • Wednesday, November 01, 2023


  • migration internationale, risque, incertitude, temporalité, gouvernementalité, international migration, risk, uncertainty, temporality, governmentality


  • Jérémy Guedj
    courriel : jeremy [dot] guedj [at] univ-cotedazur [dot] fr
  • Laurent Lardeux
    courriel : laurent [dot] lardeux [at] jeunesse-sports [dot] gouv [dot] fr
  • Loïs Bastide
    courriel : wamsaya [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Vincent Balandre
    courriel : vincent [dot] balandre [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« On Migration Routes: Mobilities, Risk, and Uncertainty », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, July 13, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1bkg

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