Zamyn's Interpretation of Migration

Migration is purposeful human movement. It promotes unpredictable cultural mixture and extensive economic activity. The settled order of the world’s imperial and colonial systems was itself unsettled by migration. Different patterns of migrancy are now intrinsic to globalisation. They can help us to understand its emergent political and cultural forms. Reckoning with this new migration can make the idea of world history a reality and bring the concept of world citizenship back to life. Migration is therefore opportunity.

War, scarcity and growing inequality have produced flows of desperate people. Safety and survival are their primary goals but in a reversal of the old colonial dynamics, they are drawn towards the over-developed countries where the chance of a good life is greater and the seductions of security and consumer freedom can be enjoyed. The desire to move is fed by technologies that have shrunk the world, making those distant seductions and unsustainable pleasures visible to countless remote viewers.

Inside the fortress of over-development, incoming migrants are more likely to be met with racism, violence and exclusion rather than welcomed with hospitality. In the face of hostility, their reasoned demands for human rights and recognition have challenged the moral integrity of the privileged. The desire for hospitality now requires not just the restoration of debased and privatized civil society but a new governmental commitment to building convivial cultures to which Zamyn will contribute.

Alongside the forced relocation born of economic privation and environmental catastrophe, today’s global migration also encompasses chosen and voluntary displacements. The proportion of people who reside outside the state in which they were born is climbing. The number of people with multiple citizenship and other plural affiliations is similarly rising fast. These changes help to generate multi-cultural and multi-lingual environments which place a new premium on translation and make any misguided investments in imagined homogeneity into a real disadvantage. Short-sighted government responds to these perilous developments by trying to fortify national space against encroachment by intruders. But closing borders will not diminish the anxieties generated by the fear of strangers and the perceived loss of precious, comforting homogeneity. Those cultural and existential fears are not amenable to that simple political logic. Defensive and belligerent reactions may be popular but they are socially corrosive and more importantly, they are bound to fail. Whether forced or freely chosen, migration must cease to be seen only as a problem for national states and start to be recognized instead as a welcome development that presents moral as well as governmental and economic challenges.

Renewed immigration is an economic necessity for European countries, but recognizing that unavoidable need should not be allowed to obscure the broader value of migrancy as a means to enrich fading public cultures and revitalize dead urban space.

Capital has acquired unprecedented mobility, should human beings be denied the same right to move?

Paul Gilroy, Professor of American and English literature at King's College London, for Zamyn

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