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This Working Paper proposes the development of an approach to researching and analysing migration processes that combines a livelihoods approach to exploring local-level migration dynamics with a relational political economy perspective that deepens understanding of the broader social, economic and political processes and interests interacting with migration at different levels (e.g. causing patterns of vulnerability or creating opportunities that encourage migration). This approach aims to address a number of important weaknesses in contemporary migration research, including a failure to analyse migration as an integral part of social and economic transformation processes (such as development and globalisation), inadequate attention to the precise causes, circumstances and consequences of people’s movement, continuing reliance on overly-simplistic migration categories and dichotomies, and poor appreciation or understanding of the changing dynamics of migration processes over time (IMI, 2006). Patterns and dynamics of migration are highly varied, complex and context-specific. Understanding these dynamics in specific contexts might be improved by exploring the interaction of local-level factors immediately influencing people’s migration decisions and strategies (linked to livelihoods) with interacting political, economic and social factors and processes at different levels which affect the agency, vulnerability and/or opportunities of migrants (and associated non-migrants) during the migration process, and that shape migration outcomes. Differential and shifting power relations are crucial to understanding the interaction of migration strategies at the local level with political and economic processes and relationships affecting these strategies, since these are fundamental to understanding the interests and relative agency of individuals, households and other actors involved. The concept of process is also critical to the analysis, since the factors that affect people’s migration options, strategies and outcomes are played out over time and can only be properly examined within a historical perspective.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



migration theory, migration dynamics, livelihoods, political economy, power and agency