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It is with great sadness that we have to announce that one of the founders and former director of the International Migration Institute, Professor Stephen Castles, has passed away on 8 August 2022, at the age of 77. Together with Professor Steven Vertovec, Stephen established IMI at the University of Oxford in 2006, enabled by a generous grant from the Oxford Martin School.


As IMI’s first director, Stephen played a central role in defining IMI’s unique research agenda, the development of the African Migration Programme, and the establishment of IMI as a centre for critical thinking on migration as an integral part of global change.


But, more than that, Stephen was a towering intellectual, a critical thinker with vast knowledge, and one of the founders of the interdisciplinary field of migration studies. Over his career spanning nearly fifty years, Stephen has challenged many assumptions about migration, and has been a true pioneer in stressing the need to see migration as continuous social process.


His work highlights how international migration is fundamentally embedded in deep histories of colonialism, capitalist expansion and class struggle, contesting dominant views that portray migration as a problem in need of solving or ‘managing’.


Among Stephen’s many contributions, several have been paradigm-changing. His book Immigrant workers and class structure in Western Europe, published in 1973 (with Godula Kosack), was a groundbreaking social science masterpiece that raised awareness about the increasingly permanent nature of immigration in Europe and how the shift from economic expansion to stagnation was affecting migrant workers. In 1993, the publication of The Age of Migration, co-authored with Mark Miller, was revolutionary in providing an accessible introduction to the study of global migrations and their consequences for societies. The book, which is now in its 6th edition, is widely used as a textbook in politics and social science and as a key reference by scholars, policy makers, and journalists.


Building on these foundations, Stephen went on to play a leading role in shaping critical thinking on migration and supporting the emergence of new generations of scholars. From 1986 to 2000, he was Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Multicultural Studies (1986-96), and then Director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies, at the University of Wollongong, Australia.


Between 2001 and 2009, he was based at the University of Oxford, where he demonstrated his amazing ability to inspire and secure funding to build new research initiatives; from 2001 to 2006 as director of the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC), collaborating with Steve Vertovec to establish the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) in 2003, and then launching and directing the International Migration Institute (IMI) between 2006 and 2009. He subsequently moved back to Australia to the University of Sydney, where he led a major research project on social transformation and migration. 


Stephen was one of the most influential thinkers on migration of his generation.  But, most importantly, for Stephen research was never a ‘business’ or a ‘profession’. In RSC’s director Matthew Gibney’s words, Stephen “saw in academia a way of using research to improve the situation of marginalised and often persecuted people”.


But, above all, Stephen impressed everybody who worked with him, as an incredibly friendly, humble and generous person, a beautiful mind, who was always available for advice and guidance, and always remained intellectually curious, was open to critique and ready to challenge his own thoughts.


When we joined IMI in 2006, we were very lucky to have Stephen as a director, mentor, inspiration and a friend. Our lives would have been completely different if we had not been so fortunate to work with him. He gave us the inspiration and also the space and support to develop our own ideas, rather than constraining us to follow his agenda. This was a fantastic lesson in research leadership. When we took over IMI directorship in later years, the standard set by Stephen was a constant, though impossible to match, inspiration.


It is almost unimaginable that Stephen is no longer amongst us. But his vast legacy will surely continue to inspire current and future generations of researchers, students, activists, and policy makers. 


Our thoughts go out to his wife Ellie Vasta, his two daughters, Freyja Castles and Jenny Wüstenberg, his five grandchildren, and all his family and friends.


Oliver Bakewell, University of Manchester

Hein de Haas, University of Amsterdam