In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Migration

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies and Overviews
  • Journals
  • Historical Background
  • Concepts and Theories
  • Migration and the Nation-State
  • Citizenship and Belonging
  • Multiculturalism
  • Gender and Migration
  • Internal Migration
  • Transnationalism
  • Long-Distance Nationalism
  • Diaspora
  • Deterritorialization and Reterritorialization
  • Transmigrants
  • Locality
  • Homeland
  • Globalization
  • Borderlands
  • Third Space
  • Cultural Hybridity
  • Retirement Migration

Anthropology Migration
Tilman Lanz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0098


Migration is the movement of people from one locality to another. Anthropology is invested in studying this phenomenon in its cultural and social dimensions. Anthropological studies of migration can be divided into three categories. First, there are studies that emphasize the aspect of immigration itself. These studies focus on the way immigrants are perceived by the societies into which they enter as well as how they respond to these perceptions. Second, there is a sustained interest by anthropologists in the process of migration itself. Third, anthropologists have also begun to study contexts of migrations, including reactions to immigration by local actors, legal issues, ontological security, the relevance of borders, or migrant long-distance relations. Anthropologists interested in migration have frequently taken recourse to transnational scholarship as well as postcolonial and cultural studies, fields that have developed a rich experiential and conceptual apparatus to characterize migrancy. Anthropologists study migration frequently through a holistic approach, tying together many different aspects of complex migration processes. The majority of anthropological work on migration benefits greatly from disciplinary collaboration with neighboring fields such as cultural studies, postcolonial studies, economics, history, political science, international relations, legal studies, sociology, and geography. Historically, the study of human migrations was not a focus in anthropology until well into the 1950s. Until then, anthropology focused largely on the study of small-scale localities, such as villages and face-to-face communities in non-Western contexts. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, anthropology contributed to the study of migration by illuminating the implications of people’s movements from rural, “nondeveloped” areas of the non-Western world to urban, industrialized centers in the West. Important theories in the social sciences, such as world-systems theory, were used to map out large-scale processes that induced migratory patterns like the slave trade across the Atlantic. These approaches focused on how economic and political undercurrents affected individual people, small groups, or whole cultures and civilizations as they were swept up in these forced migratory steams. In the 1990s, cultural and social contexts of migration increasingly took precedence over earlier political and economic ones. This change was induced by two larger undercurrents of research in the social sciences and humanities as a whole. First, the cultural dimension of late modern, industrialized societies came into much larger focus in the social sciences in the wake of the works by Gramsci and, later, Laclau and Mouffe who emphasized the importance of sociocultural aspects in political economy. Second, the rise of postcolonialism contributed to a more complex understanding of migration processes and their effect on people beyond the economic dimension. Anthropologists and cultural critics began to research migration as embedded in global flows, relations to the former homeland, and new homeland contexts. This diversification inspired a variety of interests in studying the relationship between culture and human migrations such as ethnic versus civic identities, negotiations of belonging, long-distance migrant relations, questions of gender, and sociocultural networks of migrants as well as local-migrant relations.

Bibliographies and Overviews

There are three important overviews that link anthropological work with migration, all interdisciplinary in scope. Brettell 2016 offers perhaps the most comprehensive overview of anthropological literature on migration. The essay covers issues such as experiences of migration, migrant social networks, gender and migration, multi-sited ethnographic work on migration, transnationalism, ethnic and civic identities, immigration and citizenship, superdiversity, and epistemologies of inclusion and exclusion as well as multiculturalism. Castles, et al. 2014 discusses a wide range of works, organized by specific topics and with extensive commentary; this work is widely used by students of migration and is now available in its fifth edition. Brettell and Hollifield 2023 focuses more specifically on the role of culture in a discussion of available works in migration research; yet, the volume is likewise geared toward embedding anthropological accounts within the social sciences. A slightly more dated resource, Kearney 1986 is useful to understand the development in anthropological studies on migration up to the mid-1980s, while Reed-Danahay and Brettell 2008 offers a variety of ethnographic studies on migration in Western Europe and North America. Some anthropologically inspired bibliographical works have focused on specific migration cases, such as White 1995 on the migration of Turks to Germany. Foner 2005, a quantitative-cum-qualitative study, shows, from a perspective of immigration, the historical dimension of people coming to New York City. In the context of this work, Foner also provides a very extensive overview and discussion of the literature on immigration from the perspective of many different immigrant groups as they arrived in this location. Foner 2003 more generally introduces readers to anthropological studies of immigration, both contemporary and historical. Rosenblum and Tichenor 2012 is a more general view of international migration, including but not limited to anthropological perspectives. A useful online resource is the Migration Information Source, which provides several subcategories that offer initial information on a variety of themes and regions. It includes a section on each country, a specific focus on immigration to the United States, and a section with general articles about aspects of migration.

  • Brettell, Caroline. 2016. Perspectives on migration theory—anthropology. In International handbook of migration and population distribution. Vol. 6. Edited by Michael J. White, 41–68. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-7282-2_4

    This article offers the most up-to-date and comprehensive overview of recent works in the anthropology of migration. It links up anthropology’s interest in migration with both conceptual and empirical research of related works in other fields.

  • Brettell, Caroline, and James Hollifield, eds. 2023. Migration theory: Talking across disciplines. 4th ed. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    This volume provides a comprehensive and extensive overview of migration theories throughout the social sciences. Now in its fourth edition, it focuses on strengthening interdisciplinary ties in the study of migration with a focus on cultural developments.

  • Castles, Stephen, Hein de Haas, and Mark Miller. 2014. The age of migration: International population movements in the modern world. 5th ed. New York: Guilford.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-230-36639-8

    This work takes the perspective that migration is foundational to our contemporary age of globalization. A standard work in the study of political, economic, and cultural effects of migration, it includes historical cases and contemporary research on specific migrant groups as well as outlines for possible future developments.

  • Foner, Nancy. 2005. In a new land: A comparative view of immigration. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    The value of Foner’s work lies in her erudite discussion of the anthropological literature as well as historical process of immigration to North America in general and New York City specifically. As such, it provides a useful entry point for those interested in immigration.

  • Foner, Nancy, ed. 2003. American arrivals: Anthropology engages the new immigration. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research.

    This work provides a good overview of contemporary studies of immigration to North America. It also includes a valuable historical dimension to this field.

  • Kearney, Michael. 1986. From the invisible hand to visible feet: Anthropological studies of migration and development. Annual Review of Anthropology 15:331–361.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    This article is one of the first anthropological texts dealing with the general concept of migration. It provides a Marxist perspective, specifically taking up world-systems theory to explain various economic and cultural phenomena that the author associates with migration. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Migration Information Source.

    This website provides a general starting point for information on any migration-related scientific matter. It furnishes a wealth of information on specific topics related to migration as well as particular areas or locations of migration. The site references both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

  • Reed-Danahay, Deborah, and Caroline Brettell, eds. 2008. Citizenship, political engagement, and belonging: Immigrants in Europe and the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

    This volume provides a variety of case studies on the issue of migration and, specifically, the cultural implications of the arrival of migrants in many different places in the Western world. It specifically deals with the relations between the societies in the new homelands and migrant groups.

  • Rosenblum, Marc R., and Daniel J. Tichenor, eds. 2012. The Oxford handbook of the politics of international migration. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195337228.001.0001

    This handbook aims to outline the main currents in contemporary migration research from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. As such it provides a valuable entry point for those wanting to quickly gain an understanding of important themes and issues in migration studies in the early twenty-first century.

  • White, Jenny B. 1995. Turks in Germany: Overview of the literature. Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 29.1: 12–15.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002631840003042X

    A specific overview of the literature on migration of Turks to Germany. An example of bibliographical works on migration focused on a particular location or/and migrant group. Available online by subscription.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.