- Evolving Transnational Migration SystemsLinking the Americas "from Below"
In-the-not-too-distant past, migration research's all-too-obvious interdisciplinary character was fraught with disciplinary rigidity in both theoretical construction and methodological persuasion. Domains of migration scholarship were discipline bound, with each social science discipline reserving a migration research agenda as its exclusive right. Lip service might be paid to cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary exchanges of theoretical insights or methodological explanations, when a few (more) enlightened migration scholars commented on migration's "confusion frontier" or the field's "interdisciplinary potential," but disciplinary scholarship on migration processes and patterns was content to be cautious and inward looking rather than adventurous and "outside the box." Whether it was Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Jamaica or North America, Europe or another country or region with its internal and international migration patterns and processes were under scrutiny, disciplinary thematic approaches "ruled the waves" for decades. [End Page 215]
An unfortunate consequence of this rigidity was the self-serving tendency for disciplinary scholarship to view alternative research findings as suspect, partial, or insufficient. Research could thus be seen as theoretically flawed or limited, methodologically deficient in rigor, and lacking the necessary statistical framework to allow scholars to draw general inferences. Humanists disputed the generality of social science "explanations," or at the very least called them into question because of their reductionism, empirical dependency, or their modeling restrictiveness. Marxist and neo-Marxist historical materialistic scholarship was a complete theoretical and methodological opposite of neoclassical "reductionist" approaches, logical positivism, quantitative modeling and the like. Disciplinary "narratives" were expressed in completely different languages, jargon reigned supreme, and turf wars occurred within and between disciplines so that the interdisciplinary nature of migration was rarely factored into research agendas, projects, and explanations. Circles of migration scholarship talked past each other, not with each other, so that it was difficult, if not institutionally impossible, for scholars to seek interdisciplinary connections, gain interdisciplinary insights to reinforce more holistic understanding, and to move migration research beyond the "confusion frontier."
More recently, in anthropology, cultural studies, and cultural geography in particular, postmodernism and poststructuralism joined the jousting tournament to take on social science and its goals of generalization, but fortunately, this latest critical onslaught was not so damaging, or distracting, to migration's evolving interdisciplinary maturity. If there were "cultural clashes" and disputes over what constituted theory and central tendencies in social process, social contextual limits and opportunities and agency transformative action served us better. So, such counter-arguments on behalf of the recognition of difference, diversity, uniqueness, imagined attachments and multiple identity formations and the rest, did not stifle the cross-fertilization of ideas. Insights were mutually shared among those with social scientific goals and collective agendas to build empirically tested, theoretical constructs. Poststructuralist perspectives might come to be referenced, if they added to our explanatory power and depth of understanding. Yesterday's turf wars had proven counterproductive, so unnecessary disciplinary rigidity and defensive posturing on behalf of the superiority of one methodological approach over another could be duly consigned to history. Migration research was saved another round of advances and retreats, counterattacks and capitulations, and disciplinary isolationism. Migration's "confusion frontier" needed to be opened up to scrutiny from many sides, and signs are everywhere that it has been; the quality of modern scholarship demonstrates this positive turn of events.
Are things really different today? Yes. We have come far in the last ten to fifteen years or so, and the scholarly field of migration...