Why Study Immigration?

While immigration in the sense of relocation is rather factual, the related concept of being of immigrant origin is socially constructed (some prefer references to having an immigrant background). How long is an individual who has moved to a different place considered an immigrant? By studying immigration, social scientists play a role in legitimizing and recreating these differences, thus help maintain arbitrary differences that can lead to discrimination. Should we stop? Let’s consider the alternative for a moment: without studying immigration we have no means of knowing whether there are problems, we do not know whether people perceived as immigrants tend to be discriminated in the labour market, and so on. So no, looking away is not the solution.

What we need to remind ourselves from time to time is taking care not to essentialize, not insisting on seeing migrants everywhere – especially not when we’re really looking at class, or gender. It means being precise about the words we use, and resisting the temptation to go with a topic just because it is high on the political agenda.