Home"Tower of Babel" or global networks in permanent restructuring

"Tower of Babel" or global networks in permanent restructuring

« Tour de Babel » ou réseaux planétaires en recomposition permanente ?

Migration between myth and reality

Les phénomènes migratoires entre mythes et réalités

*  *  *

Published on Thursday, March 28, 2013 by Élodie Faath


Les phénomènes migratoires font partie des sujets les plus étudiés au monde, et pourtant ils comportent encore bien des zones d’ombre. Ils alimentent des débats passionnés, où l’analyse des faits est fréquemment biaisée par de multiples présupposés, voire des clichés ou des fantasmes. L’ampleur apparente des flux actuels tend à faire oublier l’importance considérable des mouvements internationaux à certaines époques de l’histoire humaine – tout au moins pour certaines parties du monde. L’approche rigoureuse de ce type de phénomène se heurte en fait à de nombreuses difficultés, notamment l’extrême diversité de ses formes concrètes et les transformations continuelles de celles-ci, rendant très aléatoire toute tentative de prévision. La question de départ de tout essai d’analyse globale pourrait être formulée comme suit : comment appréhender les logiques qui régissent les mouvements migratoires et déterminent leurs changements ?


The Tunisian-Mediterranean Association for Historical, Social and Economic Studies (T.M.A. for H.S.E.S.) holds its fifth International Symposium on December 5, 6, 7, 2013 in Béja (Tunisia), entitled: "Tower of Babel" or global networks in permanent restructuring Migration between myth and reality.


Migratory phenomena constitutes one of the most studied topics in the world, and yet there is still much to be explored. Indeed, they prompt passionate debate, in which the analysis of facts is frequently biased by many assumptions, clichés or even fantasies. The apparent magnitude of the contemporary flows tends to disregard the importance of international movements in history, at least for some areas of the globe. A rigorous approach to this phenomenon actually faces many challenges, including extreme diversity of concrete forms and continuous transformations, rendering any attempts at projections very much unpredictable. The initial question behind any endeavours to comprehensive analysis could be formulated as follows: how to understand the logic governing migration and determine their changes?

The term "migration" is used to denote any form of mass movement of people from one country (or region or territory) to another, either momentarily or permanently. It is first necessary to examine the objective "causes" of such human movement, as well as its main consequences for the both the place of origin and the host society. The first cause is economic progress: the wealth gap would logically lead to a "surge" of nationals from poorer to richer countries, with the inevitable consequences of social tensions, but also leading to a mutual cultural enrichment. Demographic factors are also invoked: countries with high human population densities (and high natural increase) tend spontaneously to export their "surplus" population to less populated countries or regions, but does this lead to a global "rebalancing" or to new imbalances? Political factors may also play a role: the forced displacement of people fleeing war or oppression. One can add (the more recent) climatic and environmental factors, which affect increasingly important populations in many parts of the world. But beyond the listing of (actual or potential) causes leading to these movements and shaping their consequences, it is important to examine the causal relationships and dynamics at work: this involves taking into account the interactions of  the different kind of factors. This is necessary to understand the strategies (be they individual or collective) of migrants and their life changes.

No analysis of migration can ignore its historical dimension. It is, in fact, a phenomenon as old as humanity, even if it is sometimes difficult to distinguish from nomadization – a lifestyle involving a more or less regular movement in search of livelihood, leading in some cases to shifts in the territory. Since ancient times, the Mediterranean basin has undergone intense migration: those of the Phoenicians and Greeks were based on the multiplication of trading posts, some of which became important population centers. The discovery of the Americas would give migration a global dimension: even though it lasted for several centuries, the occupation of the New World by Europeans progressed at a slow pace compared with the slave trade. In fact, it was in the middle of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth that European emigration to America reached its maximum with more than 55 million settlers between 1846 and 1932 (including 34 million for the North America). In Brazil, it contributed widely to the dramatic increase of the total population during one century: from 17 million in 1900 to 170 million in 2000! Though limited, immigration from Asia (especially China and Japan) has had a significant cultural influence on various parts of the American continent.

Since the end of the Second World War, international migration flows have evolved in a complex manner, while exhibiting a remarkable but relative stability: these flows related to approximately 3% of the world population of the present day (which is enough to reject the spectrum of an "invasion" of the North by the South). Shortly after the post-war period, marked by extensive forcible transfers (about 35 million people in Europe), we can distinguish three major periods: 1) a phase of economic expansion (1950-1973) during which massive flows were in steady growth and oriented not only towards the industrial powers of Western Europe and North America, but also towards some oil-producing countries (including the Persian Gulf); 2) a recession (1973 to the late 1980s), marked by a sort of questioning and adaptation of efforts, and 3) a phase dominated by globalization, where the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and the economic "liberalization" of China contributed to the emergence of new centers of migration: where diversification flows globally, reinforced by the rise of poverty in many countries.

In the early twenty-first century, the global context is marked by an intensification of migration flows parallel to the overall population growth and the general closure of the North (although the latter countries form only a part of the host countries). Incessant diversification of the flow of migration makes its analysis very complex. The world is witnessing reversals of the historical situation: former emigration countries become countries of immigration (as in several countries in Southern Europe). On the other hand, immigration "transit" tends to occupy a growing number of "sending countries", because of their geographical position. Beyond flows themselves, the nature and logic of migration is changing profoundly. Labor migration itself tends to decline (at least formally) giving way to other types of migration (intellectual migration, health, etc.). If  Algerian immigration into France, governed by bilateral agreements, officially ended in 1973, it has continued since then through the process of family reunification (as well as illegally), creating new economic, social and cultural implications. In addition, the creation and expansion of the European Union are translated in both new opportunities for nationals of certain countries and new forms of discrimination. Globally, the policy of the majority of Northern countries has a more contradictory character, combining official restrictions and derogations to face specific constraints of the labor market and wider demographic trends (widespread aging). This has resulted in an unprecedented growth of irregular migration, not a new phenomenon in itself, but one which has nowadays reached dramatic and inflated proportions, causing every year tens of thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, in the desert south of the United States, etc.. Moreover, increasing the financial cost of this practice leads to a process of social selection contributing to significantly change the socio-economic "profile" of migrants. Finally, there is another often ignored  or underestimated, but worth mentioning, phenomenon; the increasing feminization of migration, particularly evident in the case of the Philippines, but also in China, Mexico and other Latin American countries. This is made out of women (who are mostly married) who migrate alone to support their families –this being a complete reversal of the long dominant model, and its social implications can be profound. Beyond the extreme diversity of situations, a question pops up more and more frequently in discussions on international migration: should focus be primarily directed on the problems of migrant integration in the host societies, or their role as agents of development in their society of origin (area where some immigrants show a real efficiency), or their more general function as agents of intercultural exchange?

Often, obsessive polarization about issues related to international migration tends to obscure the other side of the phenomenon: migration "internal" or "regional" takes place at the level of a given country, or at a supranational level, bringing together states united by strong neighborhood, cultural and / or economic ties and ensuring their citizens official or effective freedom of movement. However, this type of migration occupies, at least in quantitative terms, a considerable place, which is in any case much higher than international migration: it concerns approximately 740 million people globally (UNDP, 2009), nearly four times the latter. Often forgotten today, is the historical importance of seasonal migration movements in Europe. In France and some neighboring countries, from the fourteenth century, the weakening of  feudalism contributed to the formation of a kind of "floating population", composed in part of former serfs and rural artisans "liberated" from the old ties of allegiance and forced to move for most of the year in search of temporary work. For at least four centuries, the authorities exerted a cruel but ineffective repression against these groups on behalf of the fight against "vagrancy". The situation did not really change with the emergence of the capitalist system, in which "mobility of labor" has been an important asset. Nowadays, there  still exists the important tradition of commuting in the border spaces in Europe. Internal migration in the history of the United States, including the "Wild West", took place long before the great waves of European immigration. But it is in Brazil that internal migration has occupied an absolutely incomparable place since the Conquest. One of the most significant cultural traits of this vast country is an exceptional spatial mobility linked to a belief in the existence of permanent new "virgin lands" to occupy and develop. This mobility had constantly been encouraged by the authorities, especially during the military dictatorship (1964-1985), which claimed to find in the colonization of the Amazon a definitive solution to land disputes.

"Internal" migration terms can be used to describe various modes of movement: they can be seasonal, long-term or permanent, individual, in family or group (sometimes involving the use of complex networks) focused on finding income or other changes involving partial or total lifestyle, etc.. We can distinguish essentially two main types of ‘internal’ migration, each of which generally occupies an important place in most countries of the South: the migration from the countryside to the cities (or rural exodus) and migration between different rural areas. The rural exodus is an almost universal phenomenon; its excessively rapid pace being one of the main concerns of the political authorities, given the inability of cities in poor countries to provide decent living conditions for the masses of peasants fleeing poverty in the countryside, hence the creation of vast informal settlements (slums or squatter settlements), lack of basic infrastructure, where poor families struggle to survive in the most precarious conditions, leading to them being constantly threatened with expulsion. Migration to rural areas is generally less known, although they sometimes occupy a more important place: such would be the case in India (at least until very recently), where the most dynamic regions in the agricultural areas regularly attract a large seasonal labor from the poorer regions. The socio-economic impact of these seasonal movements is certainly not negligible, although difficult to assess at the scale of the whole country. Similar phenomena are observed (at a smaller scale) in various regions of the Maghreb, with seasonal movements in mountainous areas to the agricultural plains, despite an increasing orientation towards urban areas. Finally, some regional groupings of sub-Saharan Africa (such as the Community of West African States or of Central Africa) feature interesting situations; insofar as they contribute to partially correct the arbitrary territorial boundaries inherited from colonialism and maintain trade flows on the basis of complementarity. In this context, migration flows (old and new) contribute significantly to the dynamics of "pioneer" agriculture, as well as setting up networks or craft business performance across borders. But in general, the condition of migrants (and descendants of immigrants) is subject to the vagaries of the economic and political conditions. We cannot forget that in 1982, Nigeria, the giant African oil producer, brutally expelled within a few days more than a million workers or African residents. And with the proliferation of armed conflicts in various parts of the Continent, forced displacements sometimes outweigh voluntary movement.

Symposium Axes

Axis 1: Causality and rationality of migration

  • Classical approaches; causes, interest and limitations of typologies
  • Interactions of structural and cyclical factors
  • Methods of social control movements of migrants and
  • Migratory logics and strategies: from individual paths to networks; roles of "diasporas"
  • Migration and socio-cultural change

Axis 2: Migration and displacement in the course of history

  • Human movement and circulation of wealth, skills, ideas and diseases ...
  • "Spontaneous" migrations;  organized migration and forced displacement
  • Migration, economic, social and cultural relations between societies of origin and the host societies: Community osmosis or decline?
  • Migration and geopolitical conquest, settlement, territorial and political reconfigurations...

Axis 3: Globalization, international migration and current issues

  • Acceleration and flow transformations, new migratory logics
  • Immigration policies, control trials and contradictions, problems of migrant integration in the host societies
  • Migration and societies of origin: demographic and socio-economic effects of migration and local development initiatives
  • Feminization of migration and social implications
  • Towards a global governance?

Axis 4: "Internal" or "regional" migration, territorial and socio-economic restructuring

  • Seasonal migration between rural areas or between towns and the countryside
  • Sustainable rural exodus and migration to more developed regions
  • "Re-urbanization" and return movements to rural areas
  • Pioneer fronts and colonization of "virgin lands"
  • Changes due to climate or environmental change.

Submission guidelines

Terms for submission

  • Proposals for papers can be submitted in Arabic, English, French, or Spanish.
  • Detailed abstract: at least one page (font: Times New Roman 12), with an updated scientific CV
  • For summaries in French or Spanish, a detailed translation into English is compulsory (one page minimum).
  • For summaries in Arabic, a detailed translation in English or French is required (one page minimum).
  • A publication is planned at the end of the Symposium after an evaluation of the papers.

Important Dates

  • June 25, 2013: Deadline for paper submission to the following address: tunisian.mediterranean.associ@gmail.com

  • 10 July 2013, The selection of papers by the Scientific Committee will be made public.
  • November 15, 2013: Deadline for sending final texts
  • December 5, 6 and 7, 2013: Symposium

Scientific committee

  • Brahim Mohammed SAADAOUI (Université de Tunisie / T.M.A. for H.S.E.S.) 
  • Nelly HANNA (Université américaine. Caire. Egypte)
  • Anne-Claire de Gayffier-Bonneville (INALCO – Paris. France)
  • Maha Talaat Mostafa (Académie Sadate des sciences administratives. Egypte)
  • John Chircop (University of Malta)
  • Mabrouk BAHI (Université de SFAX. Tunisie)
  • Bernard VINCENT (E.H.ES.S. Paris. France), 
  • Jann Pasler (University of San Diego. U.S.A.)
  • Adel Ben Youssel (Université de Sousse. Tunisie)
  • abderrezak AMOKRANE (Université Sétif. Algérie), 
  • Mourad ZAOUINE (Université Hassan II. Mohammedia. Maroc),
  • Mohammed CHADLI, (Université Houari Boumediene. Alger. Algérie),
  • Joseph Koffi N. TSIGBE (Université de Lomé. Togo),
  • Khalid Nouicer (Université de Mannouba. Tunisie),
  • Yves GUILLERMOU (Université de Toulouse 3. France)
  • MBIDA ONAMBELE Max Zachée Saintclair (Université de Buea. Cameroun)
  • Ralph SCHOR (Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis. France),
  • Ali Toumi (Université de Tunis. Tunisie)
  • Elizabeth BISHOP (Texas State University. U.S.A.)
  • Alain HUGON (Université de Caen Basse-Normandie. France),
  • Tedj GHOMRI (Université de Béchar. Algérie)
  • Othmane MANSOURI (Université Hassan II. Casablanca. Maroc)


  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013


  • migration, exode rural, déplacements de population, intégration, rurbanisation, front pionnier


  • Brahim Mohammed Saadaoui
    courriel : saadaoui_brahim [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Brahim Mohammed Saadaoui
    courriel : saadaoui_brahim [at] yahoo [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« "Tower of Babel" or global networks in permanent restructuring », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, March 28, 2013, https://calenda.org/242922

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal