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The Migration Equation: Rebooting Migration Theory Beyond Nations, Immigration and the Birthright Lottery

Wednesday 26 April 2017, 16.00-17.15
School of Earth and Environment Seminar Rooms 8.119
Professor Adrian Favell, Chair in Sociology and Social Theory, School of Sociology and Social Policy (Faculty of Education, Social Sciences & Law), University of Leeds
Sustainability Seminar hosted by SRI & Bauman Institute as part of Baumann Institute seminars series


The future of migration politics has never looked so bleak, questioning humanity’s ability to solve the migration equation: how to reconcile rights to increasing and diversifying spatial mobilities, while overcoming the profound colonial legacy of the “birthright lottery” and global inequalities, and respecting the self-determination of bounded democratic populations. Optimistic liberal views on the potential of regional integration and the migration-development nexus have swung back towards pessimism amidst a democratic backlash of nation-state sovereignty and a rejection of international law. Meanwhile, the methodological nationalism of a receiving society view remains the default in mainstream thinking on immigration and integration. At the same time, dominant trends in critical theory are stuck in a Marxist-Foucauldian orthodoxy which suggests the migration equation will be solved through bio-political governmentality: a “neo-liberal” conflation of markets and states, delivering a functional global order based on spatially and morally differentiated hierarchies of “managed migration”, from the “good mobile citizen” and “selective immigrant” to the “deportable worker” and “abject refugee”.  In this light, as the near future science fiction of contemporary theory becomes the routinised practice of advanced capitalist democracy now, its works read less as emancipatory critique and more as cynical manuals of modern governance, discipline and control, in the service of The Prince and The Leviathan. As an alternate, retrieving elements of classical liberalism and anarchism, my presentation will ask what is left of the radical post-national, even decolonial, promise of the “fourth freedom” – the freedom of movement of persons – sketching the normative principles of a “political demography” that might yet be able to reboot progressive thinking on migration and mobilities.


Adrian Favell is Chair in Sociology and Social Theory at the University of Leeds. He is the author of various works on multiculturalism, migration, cosmopolitanism and cities, including Philosophies of Integration (1998) and Eurostars and Eurocities (2008). A collection of his essays, Immigration, Integration and Mobility: New Agendas in Migration Studies, including more recent work on East-West migration and anti-EU politics in Britain, was published by ECPR Press (Jan 2015). He is also involved in research on urban development and politics in Turkey and China, and on Japan as a model of the “post-growth” society. Website:


Anticipating Futures in a Complex World: An interdisciplinary seminar series is jointly funded by the Bauman Institute, Sustainability Research Institute and the Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI). More info on full series:

Directions to the Venue

School of Earth and Environment Seminar Rooms (8.119). At the Earth and Environment Reception take the door on the right-hand side. The Seminar Rooms are immediately on the left.

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