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  • Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our Word and Will Define Our Future
  • Lisong Liu
Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our Word and Will Define Our Future. By Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. 352 pp. $35.00 (cloth).

In a time of global economic recessions and heightened fears and restrictions of immigration, Goldin, Cameron, and Balarajan provide us with a comprehensive and thoughtful study of migration’s role in human history, its contemporary dynamics and impacts, and its future trends and significance. Challenging the conventional and often politically charged perception that migration is a problem to be avoided and controlled, the authors forcefully assert that migration is an integral part of human history and “a key driver of human and economic development,” and that government policies on migration will determine “whether our collective future is defined by a more open and cosmopolitan global society or one that is unequal, partitioned, and less prosperous” (p. 2).

While international migration studies has been a burgeoning field in recent decades, scholars have realized the limitations of writing from a single disciplinary perspective and called for interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. Exceptional People vividly shows the benefits of such multidisciplinary thinking and writing, especially the power of a world-historical perspective. Unlike most social science studies of migration usually leaving the past to the backstage, Exceptional People brings “the past” (part 1, about one third of the book) to the forefront that shows the central role of migration in human development, thus setting the tone for the book. [End Page 740]

In chapter 1, the authors delineate human history through the path of migration, tracing the origin of human civilization in Africa and the early migrations across the world that connected humanity and stimulated trade and innovation. Chapter 2 scrutinizes the “Age of Gunpowder Empires” based on European exploration and colonization, together with various types of migrations such as the slave trade, indentured labor migration, and voluntary migration. Going beyond a Western-centered (particularly U.S.-centered) narrative of global migration, the authors incorporate historians’ studies of transatlantic and intra-Europe migrations, return migration from the Americas, as well as Asian and other migrations, clarifying that European migration was “not the only great migration of the time” (p. 64). Chapter 3 examines the increasing regulations of migration in the twentieth century with the proliferation and expanding capacities of states. While the end of World War II ushered in another age of migration and the intensified pace of globalization after the 1970s further diversified and stimulated international migration, states have remained ambitious and vigorous in regulating migration and selecting migrants.

Part 2 of the book focuses on contemporary patterns, regulations, and impacts of migration. Though mainly trained in economics, the authors are keenly aware of the limitations of studying migrants as individuals making rational choices according to wage differentials; they instead place migrants in their complex familial, social, and cultural contexts. In chapter 4, the authors evaluate and integrate various theories of migration, such as the neoclassical theory, the new economics of labor migration theory, migration networks and systems theories, and transnational theory, in their discussions of the micro-, meso-, and macro-level factors shaping migration processes. Chapter 5 discusses border control policies concerning different types of migration (economic, social, and refugee migrations), suggesting that states better change from being preoccupied with border control to creating policies to harness the opportunities presented by mobility. Chapter 6 further explores the benefits of migration, such as more economic growth and innovation in receiving countries, growing remittances and brain circulation for sending countries, and enhanced economic and social opportunities for migrants and their children. The authors also point out the costs of migration, especially the short-term strain on local communities that lack the resources to address the challenges of rapid and concentrated migration. Migration policies should be designed to assuage the local tensions while harvesting the long-term national and global benefits.

In part 3, chapter 7 identifies the future trends of international [End Page 741] migration. The low fertility rates and increasing aging population in developed countries will cause labor shortages, aggregating their structural reliance on foreign labor...


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