- Crossing Borders:National and Theoretical
We are living through another period when immigration and race relations have pushed to the very top of the public agenda in much of the western world. They are likely to stay on the front pages for some time, given developments such as the rampant xenophobia in the contest for the Republican Presidential nomination in the United States, the anti-immigrant backlash in Europe, the crisis created by refugees coming across the Mediterranean, and police aggression against racialized peoples in a number of countries. It is reassuring therefore that the historical scholarship on immigration and race is still going strong, yielding fresh interpretations of the past and valuable insights on the current crises.
The three new books reviewed in this essay offer strong evidence of the vibrancy of the field. Although these books are very different in their areas of focus and their theoretical approaches, they all provide valuable perspective on contemporary controversies around race and immigration. Another characteristic they have in common is their eagerness to broaden the analytical frameworks that scholars use to approach these issues, and to relate race and immigration to other questions in a given time and place. Indeed, a reader of these three books will learn a great deal about not only race relations and [End Page 199] immigration, but also labour, business history, institutional behaviours, international affairs, the role of the media, and above all, politics.
This relates to another shared trait of these works: they are all ambitious projects. In Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider Satnam Virdee’s goal is to put race and racism at centre stage in the writing of the history of working-class struggle in England in the 19th and 20th centuries. By so doing, he aims to “contribute further to unsettling the academic consensus which equates the history and making of the working class in England with the white male worker.”1 The scope of Natalia Molina’s How Race is Made in America is narrower – she explores Mexican immigration to the United States over about four decades from 1924 to 1965. But Molina’s broader aim is to use a “relational approach” to bring new insights into the study of immigration. Molina contends that most studies of immigration history focus on the experience of one group, but such a “traditional” approach “tend[s] to miss the extent to which immigration debates took into consideration the presence or absence of multiple immigrant groups and of African Americans. In other words, immigration debates were (and still are) about comparisons.”2 Molina also offers a new theoretical model, what she calls the “racial scripts approach” to understanding immigration, particularly by showing how scripts applied to one group of immigrants could be applied to others. The scope and ambition of David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martin’s Culling the Masses can only be described as awesome: they review the immigration policies of 22 countries in the western hemisphere, with especially detailed analyses of the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. They also aim to develop a more complex and structured analytical framework to understand the development of immigration policy-making; they call it a three-dimensional model that incorporates the temporal dimension (change over time), the vertical dimension (the interplay of different interests within a state), and the horizontal dimension (international affairs, geopolitics and cultural emulation of other countries). Small wonder that Culling the Masses has already made a major impact on the scholarship on immigration; for instance, a recent edition of the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies included a discussion forum – with six contributions – of FitzGerald and Cook-Martin’s book.3 This review essay will outline some of the main arguments of each study, before assessing some strengths and weaknesses they have in common.