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  • IntroductionNation and Migration
  • David G. Gutiérrez (bio) and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (bio)

It is not an exaggeration to argue that much of the terrain in American studies—and in the humanities and social sciences more generally—has been transformed in recent years by a fundamental reconsideration of the relationship between capitalism, the nation-state, and human migration spurred by the so-called transnational turn. Born of the historical conjuncture of the global economic crisis of the early 1970s, the worldwide decline of Fordism and the gradual ascendance of neoliberal economic philosophy, and the movement of ever increasing numbers of economically displaced populations from less developed regions of the world to established metropoles and developing regions, a growing number of scholars and social critics have shifted their vantage points away from analyses that were formerly rooted largely or exclusively in single nation-states to new perspectives that are much more attentive to transnational social fields created through the ongoing interactions between the world system of nations, the expansions and contractions of global capitalism, and the movement of human populations.

Although the linked notions of globalization and transnationalism have only recently come into wide usage as conceptual tools, a small number of perceptive social critics and scholars had begun to explore these phenomena much earlier. Indeed, as early as the first decades of the twentieth century, during the height of what might be termed the first era of intensive economic globalization, forward thinking social critics such as Randolph Bourne, as well as migration scholars such as William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, Paul Schuster Taylor, and a few others had begun to explore what they recognized to be systemic linkages between capitalist development, state policing of labor migration, and the emergence of an increasingly integrated global economic system. These important interpreters of the early twentieth century brought very different points of view to bear on the profound changes they saw unfolding around them. But together, Bourne’s ruminations on the possible emergence of a cosmopolitan “trans-national” America (1916), Thomas and Znaniecki’s innovative exploration of the complex social and economic [End Page 503] networks linking Polish peasants in Europe to new communities of settlement in the United States (1918–1920), and Taylor’s prescient analysis of the accelerating integration of the Mexican and American economies and labor markets (1928–32) can all be seen as early examples of an experimental transnational scholarship.1

It was not until nearly a half-century later, however, that scholars and social critics began to explore more comprehensively some of the insights first suggested by these pathbreaking social analysts. Although forms of what are now recognizable as the notions of “transnationalism” and the “transnational” were articulated in a different context as early as the early 1970s,2 it was not until the late 1980s and into the 1990s that these ideas began to gain currency and wider discussion. A special number of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science published in 1986, devoted to “transnational migration and the emergence of new minorities,” signaled a strong shift in this direction.3 In the 1990s, another quantum leap occurred with the publication of a number of important studies that explicated a multifarious trans-national project.4 Again, while each of these important authors brought a unique emphasis to his or her research, together, the publication of these works signaled a sea change in the conceptualization of the nexus between economic restructuring, population movement, cultural production and reproduction, and the future of the nation-state. Attempting to move beyond the conceptual constraints imposed by the shaping force of “methodological nationalism”5—and the teleological assumptions about immigrant incorporation that stem from it—revisionist thinkers sought to explore what the anthropologist Roger Rouse has called the “alternative cartography of social space” of transnational migratory circuits.6 Defined by proponents as the interstitial social spaces traversed and occupied by migrants in their sojourns between places of origin and places of destination, transnational spaces are envisioned as multisited “imagined communities” whose boundaries stretch across the borders of two or more nation-states.

Space limitations preclude a full review of the contributions made by scholars and critics...


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pp. 503-521
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