Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peace, love and migration

Crossing the St. Patrick Street bridge on my walk home tonight, I saw that someone had stomped out a giant peace sign on the snow-covered ice below. They had done a nice job of it, very symmetrical, and it glowed nicely in the light of the rising moon. For added effect, the word "peace" had been neatly stomped out underneath. Such things make me smile, especially because they are so transient. By tomorrow evening others will have ventured onto the ice to stomp out their own (probably vulgar) graffiti alongside or on top of the peacenik message. That's just the way it goes.

You encounter the word 'peace' and its companion 'love' quite regularly in popular environmental writing, especially with respect to why people like to hike, paddle, camp or just go for a walk in the woods: "It's so peaceful, I just love it" or "I love the peace and quiet" or "I get a peaceful, easy feeling.." - oops, that last one is a lyric from an Eagles song. But you get my point.

And yet, peace and love are words that scholars seem remarkably hesitant to use, certainly in scholarly research and writing. Yes, they are difficult concepts to test or measure empirically. And yet when you think about it, the desire for peace and/or love motivates a lot of what we do. Take migration, for example. It is something few people enter into lightly; it's a big commitment to pack up one's things and leave home for an indeterminate period of time. Last week I was putting together a presentation on climate migration and wanted to include a slide summarizing the various reasons why people migrate. It was for a scholarly audience, so I started listing bullets of the most common reasons as identified by other scholars: economic motivations, household risk management strategies, global systems, social capital, forced migration... and so on.

Admiring my beautiful Powerpoint slide, I wondered if I should add love and peace to the list. It was not a trivial question. As I said, the purpose of the slide was to summarize scholarly literature for a scholarly audience, but there is exceedingly little scholarly literature in the migration field that explicitly addresses either peace or love as a motivation. A bit surprising, because which one of us does not know someone who has migrated (or selected a migration destination once the decision is made) for reasons of love, whether it be love for a spouse or someone we are courting, or love for a parent or a child? Certainly I have. On my way to the airport to give the presentation in question, I was driven by the iconic foreign-PhD-holder-turned-taxi driver. He had been an electrical engineer in his home country, had a comfortable and challenging job there, and yet there he was driving me to the Ottawa airport, unable to find a job better suited to his training and experience. Why did he migrate here? Out of love for his daughters, with the conviction that their future prospects would be better in Canada.

Of course, your objective scholarly researcher, influenced by years of classical economic scholarship, would tell you that what the taxi driver actually meant was that he had made an implicit cost-benefit analysis and decided the long-turn financial returns to the households as a whole outweighed the short term benefits of not migrating. Or something along those lines, and the scholar might illustrate his/her analysis with an equation derived from econometric modeling. But really, the economics are secondary: the guy just loves his kids that much. But you can't go writing something like that in a scholarly paper, it just won't get published.

If you do a Google Scholar search using the terms "love" and "migration" you really have to scour the results to find an article that discusses the role of love in migration behaviour. One of the few you find in the first few pages of results is Everett Lee's classic 1966 article "A Theory of Migration" (cited >1300 times as I now write). In it, Lee states that migration is not always undertaken for rational reasons and that, after accounting for transience and mental disorders, is often involuntary: for example, "Children are carried along by their parents, willy-nilly, and wives accompany their husbands though it tears them away from environments they love". Google Scholar picks up this article not because of women accompanying their husbands in migration for reasons of love, but rather that women get dragged along by their husbands and being forced leave behind the places they love. Hmmm, I agree that love is not always rational, but that's not really what I had in mind.

The few scholarly articles I was able to quickly turn up that explicitly refer to migration for reasons of love are infrequently cited (i.e. single-digit citations) and/or deal with situations that represent tiny fractions of global migrant numbers (e.g. "mail-order" brides). I suppose the migration scholarship that looks at family networks is implicitly talking about love in many instances, but the authors of such articles are pretty judicious in avoiding the l-word.

In any event, I went ahead and stuck "love" in my list of bullets and mentioned it aloud in my presentation, even though I didn't have any empirical evidence to do so (I skipped mentioning peace - didn't want to take too many risks). The audience didn't seem to mind my doing so, even though I couldn't tell if they loved my presentation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't see how anyone could not enjoy one of your presentations or lectures for that matter. You are very good at what you do and make an impact on anyone who is listening.
Thank you for sharing your talent and wisdom.