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This article examines social transformation and mobility dynamics in Caracaraí, a rural frontier town in the State of Roraima, Brazil, from the 1950s to the 1990s. During this short period, we observe a rapid diversification of migration in Caracaraí: from non-migratory mobility tied to the micro-scale extraction of local products to more-permanent settlement in town, rapid shifts in the direction of internal migration patterns and back to non-migratory mobility patterns again. Drawing from frontier migration studies and mobility transition theories, this paper adopts a social transformation perspective to explore the relation between social change and these mobility transitions. The changing role of the state, from a promoter of infrastructure to a provider of services and public employment, the restructuring of the local economic fabric and its reorientation towards more secondary and tertiary activities, and inhabitants’ imaginaries of the development potential of Caracaraí all explain the shift in migration processes. Investigating these processes, we observe that (i) the state promoted new opportunities, leading to a decline in traditional circular mobility, alongside the growth of temporal workers and spontaneous migrants; (ii) infrastructure advancements encouraged non-migratory mobility patterns between Caracaraí and Boa Vista, the capital city of the State of Roraima; (iii) the provision of public employment intensified internal rural-urban and urban-rural migration patterns, from communities in the interior of the State of Roraima to Caracaraí and vice versa, and (iv) development imaginaries – the perception of how Caracaraí should and could be in the near future – prevented voluminous emigration, during periods of socio-economic slowdown. This research highlights the meaningful role of the state in altering livelihoods and migration decision-making processes. In particular, it shows how state expansion framed cultural imaginaries of the ‘good life’, favouring the desire to stay put in periods of high economic uncertainty, even when life aspirations were not being met by local opportunities.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date





1 - 32


state expansion, migration aspirations, internal migration, non-migratory mobility, collective imaginaries, ‘good life’, social transformation