This paper examines the social transformation processes that led to a mobility transition in Cisternino, a small agricultural town in Southern Italy. This transition entailed a shift from seasonal regional mobility in the 1940s to migration towards long-distance national and international destinations from the 1950s and to regional commuting and return migration from the 1970s. Building on mobility transition theories and the social transformation framework, the analysis examines the relation between the profound social change that affected this small agricultural town in the post-World War II period and shifts in migration. A combination of three broad processes explains the changing migration patterns: the expansion and consolidation of the state, the reshaping of the local economy and cultural transitions. By analysing the interplay and sequencing of these processes, we observe that, firstly, long-distance migration initially increased largely in reaction to deep cultural and political-economic shifts that altered local livelihoods; however, long-distance migration subsequently decreased as it was substituted by commuting in association with local economic growth and the expansion of state-driven sectors and safety net provisions that bore fruit in the 1960s. The article reveals the powerful and varied ways in which, in crucial moments of transition, the state affects local livelihoods and the population’s decision to either adapt locally or migrate.
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state formation, agricultural economy, economic restructuring, social transformation, cultural transformation, migration aspirations, internal migration, international migration