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Social Science History 26.3 (2002) 503-529



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Bringing Structure Back In
Economic and Political Determinants of Immigration in Dutch Cities, 1920–1940

Leo Lucassen

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Some questions can only be answered by numbers. Although migration has psychological, emotional, and political aspects, one of the key questions about migration, in the past or present, is "how much?" I share with other students of migration the belief that the level of mobility in any society is a crucial determinant of other qualities of that society.

(Hochstadt 1999: 260)

The period between the two world wars is very interesting for migration history. In many Western European countries, such as France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, immigration quickly increased after the end of the Great War, whereas at the same time, migration to the United states dropped dramatically. Although the drying up of the influx immigrants to the United States is partly explained by new legislation aimed at curbing immigration, especially from south and Eastern Europe, it is now clear that from the end of the [End Page 503] Roaring Twenties onward, the deteriorating American labor market played an equally important role (Jerome 1926; Gemery 1994). Economic factors also influenced migration in Europe. In the 1920s, vast numbers of labor migrants moved from the south and the east to the northwestern part, where the economic situation was much better. This migration continued until the beginning of the 1930s, when the emerging world crisis put an end to it. By far the greatest pull was exerted by France, where employers in agriculture and industry recruited millions of foreign workers from Poland, Spain, and Italy (Cross 1983; Noiriel 1988; Freeman 1989; Sicsic 1994; Caestecker 1998). But smaller countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, also experienced a big increase in labor migration, especially from Germany after 1918.

Despite the rapid rise in immigration to the Netherlands in this period, not much attention has been paid to this phenomenon. This may be explained by the following three factors: first, in contrast to France, there was no organized recruitment in the Netherlands and thus no institutional framework within which immigration was channeled. As a result, the effects were less conspicuous. Second, most of these migrants came on a temporary basis and left without leaving enduring traces. 1 Third, the lack of interest among Dutch historians in the general labor migration picture is explained by the success of political and cultural perspectives in the historical discipline. The influence of the new social history on Dutch historians (see Van der Linden and Lucassen 1997: 220) has led to a number of studies that focus predominantly on particular immigrant groups (Chinese, gypsies, Eurasians, Italians, Germans, Jewish refugees), leaving patterns of broader labor migration untouched. 2 Moreover, most of the attention is paid to discrimination and the specific ethnic and cultural characteristics of the immigrant group, the latter much in the tradition of the American (new) social history of immigration (Gabaccia 1998; Diner 2000). As a result, we know a lot about conspicuous yet small groups but almost nothing about the largest immigrant groups: Germans and Belgians. Finally, emphasis has been placed almost exclusively on those who stayed in the Netherlands and not on the temporary dimension of migration (exceptions are Henkes 1995; Schrover 1996; Van der Harst and Lucassen 1998; Lucassen and Van der Harst 1998).

Due to these factors, it remains unclear how the timing and nature of this immigration are to be explained. To understand the structural determinants of the interwar migration to the Netherlands, I propose the following approaches, which go beyond a group-specific focus: [End Page 504]

1. Look for information on migration patterns of all immigrants at the macro level by comparing migration trends with economic and political developments in the Netherlands as well as in the countries from which the immigrants came.
2. Analyze the migration at the middle level by concentrating on different Dutch cities and compare the trends and nature of these migrations with the economic and political opportunity structure of these cities.

These approaches link...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8034
Print ISSN
0145-5532
Pages
pp. 503-529
Launched on MUSE
2002-08-01
Open Access
No
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