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
  • Multiculturalism
  • Gender and Migration
  • Internal Migration
  • Transnationalism
  • Long-Distance Nationalism
  • Diaspora
  • Deterritorialization and Reterritorialization
  • Transmigrants
  • Locality
  • Globalization
  • Third Space
  • Cultural Hybridity
  • Homeland

Anthropology Migration
Tilman Lanz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0098


Migration is the movement of people from one locality to another. Anthropology is invested in studying this phenomenon primarily but not exclusively in its cultural and social dimensions. Studies on migration in anthropology can be roughly divided into two categories. First, there are studies that emphasize the aspect of immigration. 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. Anthropologists interested in these latter issues have frequently taken recourse to scholarship in postcolonial and cultural studies, fields that have developed a rich conceptual apparatus to characterize movements and flows. Anthropology contributes to the study of contemporary migratory flows through its holistic approach, which is able to tie together many different aspects of complex migration processes. The majority of anthropological work on migration benefits greatly from intensive collaboration with neighboring fields such as cultural studies, postcolonial studies, economics, history, political science, legal studies, sociology, and geography. Anthropological research on migration is nearly always interdisciplinary. Historically, the study of human migrations was not a focus in anthropology until well into the 1950s. Before this time, anthropology (as well as continental European ethnology) focused largely on the study of small-scale localities. 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 and to study how economic and political undercurrents affected individual people or small groups as they were swept up in the migratory steams of the mid-20th century. In the 1990s, the cultural and social dimension of migration increasingly took precedence over the earlier, economic one. 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. Second, the rise of postcolonialism contributed to a more complex understanding of migration processes and their effect on people beyond the economic dimension. A young generation of anthropologists and cultural critics began to investigate cultures as embedded in global flows and detached from the forces of markets and economics. This diversification inspired a variety of interests in studying the relationship between culture and human migrations.

Bibliographies and Overviews

There are no general anthropological bibliographies on the topic of migration. There are, however, anthropologically inspired bibliographical works on specific migration cases, such as White 1995 on the migration of Turks to Germany. There are two overviews that link anthropological work with migration. Both of these works are of an interdisciplinary character, combining several relevant fields for migration research. Castles and Miller 2009 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 fourth edition. Brettell and Hollifield 2008 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 a wider field of 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. 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 the 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. The site 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, and James Hollifield, eds. 2008. Migration theory: Talking across disciplines. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

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

  • Castles, Stephen, and Mark Miller. 2009. The age of migration: International population movements in the modern world. 4th ed. New York: Guilford.

    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, 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 combines 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. Oxford: 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 today.

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

    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.

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