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There is a massive amount of empirical material on (and burgeoning theoretical and conceptual approaches to) migration, but there remains a lack of a theoretical framework that can easily be applied empirically to understanding it as an ongoing process. However, various authors are beginning to suggest a structuration theory of practice might provide a fruitful way forward, especially when the theory is used critically with attempts to address the body of criticism directed towards it. This paper draws from several threads in practice theory to establish a set of useful concepts that can be applied empirically when employing practice theory as a framework for migration. I talk of ‘practice theory’ in recognition of Bourdieu’s work and acknowledgement of the difficulties in the way ‘structuration’ has been understood. A key difficulty with Giddens’ structuration theory is its over-emphasis on agency and its inability to define concepts through which to empirically identify and describe structures as external, causal, and real. This paper proposes the concept of emergence as a way out of this impasse, enabling the identification of structures and actions and their interaction over time, in the context of an empirical case. The second half of the paper illustrates how practice theory can be employed to understand the structuration processes involved in a given migration trend: British migration to Spain’s coasts since the 1970s.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



practice theory, structuration, emergence, Bourdieu, Giddens, Spain, British, migration