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The coming of age of migration studies: Debating the evolution and impact of a research field

Having observed a rapid growth of migration studies in recent decades, this commentary series engages with questions of how the field has institutionalised, or come of age, and what this means for current as well as future migration research.

Nathan Levy, Asya Pisarevskaya, and Peter Scholten open the series by introducing the three thematic focuses structuring the discussion, namely, self-referentiality, internationalisation, and the formation of epistemic communities. Through a combination of interviews and bibliometric analyses, they find indications of institutionalisation in relation to these focuses. This is observed for instance in citation links between journal articles on migration, the formation of inter- and even post-disciplinary epistemic communities, and significant but uneven internationalisation.

Yuk Wah Chan picks up on the latter theme in her response by focusing on Asian migration scholarship, which, in the past two decades has provided a “great impetus” for developing the field, but whose contribution has been underestimated. Eleonore Kofman applies this discussion to the specific epistemic community of gender and migration experts, calling for more research on the structural aspects of “unequal internationalisation” in the field. This may, as Josh DeWind argues, be related to the fact that field is simply so big that researchers operate in the same way as the blind men and the elephant, limited to their geographic and epistemic environments. He also calls into question whether institutionalisation ought to be viewed as something positive for the field, or rather a sign of homogenisation. Russell King, in his response, also invokes a critique of the “essentialization” of migrants in migration studies, while also highlighting the Levy et al’s oversight of the key contribution of geographers to the field, which, he suggests, might be down to the fact that they have contributed to multiple epistemic communities, rather than forming their own. This would be contrary to other disciplines, particularly economics, which have maintained a stronger identity throughout the history of the field, as James Hollifield points out in his discussion of interdisciplinarity. Steven Vertovec also draws on transnationalism as an interdisciplinary innovation as one of his two – rather than the customary three – cheers for migration studies. However, he argues that migration researchers have not done enough to impact policy and public understandings of their topic.

Note: This commentary series marks the close of the CrossMigration Horizon 2020 project, led by IMISCOE, which took stock of migration studies and aims to facilitate systematic knowledge accumulation in the field via the Migration Research Hub ( A roundtable involving the contributors to this series, chaired by Jørgen Carling, was held at the project’s closing conference in Lisbon in February 2020. That discussion can be viewed here.

Editors: Prof. Peter Scholten, Dr. Asya Pisarevskaya, Nathan Levy

  1. In this rejoinder for this special issue, we enter into dialogue with the various commentaries that our article "Between Fragmentation and Institutionalisation" received. In doing so, we address some of the co...

    Authors: Asya Pisarevskaya, Nathan Levy and Peter Scholten
    Citation: Comparative Migration Studies 2020 8:40
  2. Over the last 30 years, as the CrossMigration project demonstrates, Migration Studies has been positively institutionalized in a number of ways. Further, a number of new theoretical interventions have signific...

    Authors: Steven Vertovec
    Citation: Comparative Migration Studies 2020 8:38
  3. This commentary paper starts by questioning the assumption that migration means international migration, and goes on to affirm that migration studies has indeed come of age as a coherent if highly diverse rese...

    Authors: Russell King
    Citation: Comparative Migration Studies 2020 8:35
  4. This commentary discusses the scope of institutionalization by providing a regional dimension of migration studies. A pivotal weakness of the article is its lack of understanding of Asian migration scholarship...

    Authors: Yuk Wah Chan
    Citation: Comparative Migration Studies 2020 8:33
  5. It is clear that the field of migration studies has grown significantly over the past decades. What is less known is how this growth has taken place. This article combines bibliometric metadata with expert int...

    Authors: Nathan Levy, Asya Pisarevskaya and Peter Scholten
    Citation: Comparative Migration Studies 2020 8:24

    The Correction to this article has been published in Comparative Migration Studies 2020 8:29

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