British Academy Debates on Immigration

by Professor Robin Cohen and Professor Ian Goldin

23 Sep 2014

Migration is a topic that has generated much more heat than light.

Politicians, journalists and a wide array of commentators regularly express opinions regarding the costs and benefits of migration. The consistent message from all these pundits is that migration matters. It has risen to near the top of concerns expressed in polls in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. Parties that take a strong view on restricting migration appear to have gained ground, and in a number of countries this position appears to be one of the few areas of common ground between the right and left of the political spectrum. Yet, what is the evidence on which these increasingly shrill voices are making their claims? Are their views sufficiently informed by history, comparison and theoretical clarity?

The British Academy is devoted to the pursuit of the highest standards of scholarly analysis in the social sciences and humanities. It seeks to uphold the advancement of arguments that are based on evidence and conceptual rigour. To this end, it is launching a series of debates on a variety of topics which are highly relevant to current public concerns. A series of debates on ageing has recently been completed while a series of debates on migration, which we will be convening, is soon to begin.

The first debate is to take place in Birmingham on 24th September 2014. It will focus on the question of how British identity has been constituted, historically, nationally and culturally. In the wake of the Scottish referendum it will consider how minority national movements can be accommodated in multi-national states. It will examine the increase in the volume and diversity of recent migration and the extent to which that has affected social solidarity and the retention of a national identity. It will ask whether the state should intervene to foster greater integration or assimilation and a sense of belonging. In particular can ‘Britishness’ be fostered from above or socially constructed from below? Does the elaboration of a British identity require further restrictions on migration or discrimination in favour of particular nationalities or groups?

The second debate is to take place in Liverpool on 16th October 2014. It will examine the topic of migration and the politics of Britishness. It will consider the historical role of British migrants and the spreading of democratic ideals abroad and how migrants have influenced the development of British democracy. The multi-directional movement of ideas has been paralleled by the movement of people, with many Britons living abroad for part of their lives, some in the ‘Scottish diaspora’ and many seeking lifestyle changes in southern Europe. Recent newcomers include Poles, most of whom are ‘transnationals’, having a foot in both their origin and destination countries. Return migration brought on by the Eurozone crisis and the possibility of Scottish independence, create further complications. The electoral effects of minority voting patterns will also be explored.

The third debate will focus on the economics of migration and its contribution to UK growth. It will take place in London on November 13th 2014. Migration has often been associated with economic growth as newcomers bring new skills, capital and energies to under-resourced or moribund economies. Migrants have made a significant contribution to the dynamism of the economy and to the arts and sciences. On the other hand, some argue that migrants have contributed to higher unemployment, by taking the jobs of locals, and have exercised a downward pressure on wages and that the continuing use of migrants in industry inhibits the re-skilling of domestic workers and the early adoption of labour-saving technologies. There may also be important negative effects on housing, employment and access to education and welfare facilities at a local level even if aggregate effects are limited or positive. The debate will consider the evidence on the economic impact of migration. It will ask how well are the UK visa and point systems working, and what should be done?

Robin Cohen and Ian Goldin are the co-conveners of the British Academy series of debates on migration.
Ian Goldin is Director of the Oxford Martin School and Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford.
Robin Cohen is Professor of Developing Studies and former Director of the International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.

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