Political Science

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The Political Lives of Migrants

The Political Lives of Migrants

Citizenship is often viewed as a means of excluding migrants from participating in political affairs. However, migrants are capable of contesting this exclusion and viewing themselves as citizens through their actions.

What is this research about?

Migrants face many challenges related to fundamental social and political issues. A major struggle for many migrants is the process of obtaining citizenship, as there are numerous legal and formal conditions that must be fulfilled before an individual is recognized as a citizen. Citizenship is often viewed as a tool of the state that excludes migrants from having a political voice, as the vast majority of migrants are unable to obtain this status.


The autonomy of migration perspective is an example of an approach that views citizenship through this lens and the researcher argues that this view inhibits this approach from providing a thorough description of the political lives of migrants. The researcher then demonstrates how integrating concepts from the acts of citizenship literature could enhance the autonomy of migration perspective.

What did the researchers do?

The researcher provides an overview of the main contributions of the autonomy of migration approach and then critiques the perspective’s treatment of the concept of citizenship.

What did the researchers find?

The autonomy of migration approach emphasizes human creativity and personal desires to relocate as the primary forces driving migration. Other perspectives on migration tend to focus on external factors, such as war, poverty, or unemployment, as the underlying cause of migration. The autonomy of migration perspective is unique for the significance that it places on the voice and subjectivity of migrants. Another prominent feature of the autonomy of migration approach is that it considers border control technologies to have relatively little impact on migration, other than to make it more difficult and life threatening. The controls that are put in place to restrict movement are constantly being challenged by the creative strategies that migrants use to pass through borders undetected.


The autonomy of migration perspective has promoted a high degree of critical engagement within the field. The approach has been criticized for romanticizing the experience of migration and for not taking into account that borders are becoming increasingly difficult to pass due to technological advances. The researcher critiques the perspective’s view on the concept of citizenship as being overly focused on legality and exclusion. Using the literature from critical citizenship studies, the researcher argues that the autonomy of migration approach could benefit from viewing citizenship as encompassing the acts through which migrants claim their rights and consider themselves citizens.

How can you use this research?

This research can be used by social workers and other professionals who work with migrants.


Nyers, P. (2015). Migrant Citizenships and Autonomous Mobilities. Migration, Mobility, & Displacement, 1(1).


Peter Nyers

Peter Nyers

graduate-chair, Political Science

Professor, Political Science
member, Institute on Globalization & the Human Condition

(905) 525-9140 ext. 23887

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