On the West–East methodological bias in measuring international migration

Anastasia Gorodzeisky & Inna Leykin (2021)

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Online first

Abstract. This article examines the complex relations between two social processes – standardisation and quantification in measuring migration. We explore how international migrant populations in the European territories of the former USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia have been defined, counted and presented in European population statistics. Our analysis led us to conclude that the category of international migrant, defined as a person born abroad according to the present-time borders, has low contextual validity in postsocialist European contexts. Perceived as universally applicable, however, the category is persistently used in enumerating migration in postsocialist Europe. We argue that the unchallenged transferability of the category of international migrant across contexts is based on the West–East methodological bias – a preconception embedded in the standardisation and quantification of migration. The West–East methodological bias plays a dual role. It fuels the initial perception of the category, forged in Western geopolitical contexts, as standardised and applicable across different settings. Then, in combination with the perceived power of the quantified representation of reality, the West–East methodological bias contributes to the further objectification of the standardised category.”

Extract: “Building on the analytical and methodological tools of the qualitative study of knowledge practices and the quantitative comparative approach to migration, the study’s contribution is twofold. First, we contribute to the scholarship on the politics of knowledge production by discussing the complex relations between standardisation and quantification in measuring migration. Specifically, we demonstrate the role of the West– East methodological bias as an important engine that fuels these relations. In this we follow scholarship inspired by Bourdieu’s call to reflexively interrogate the social conditions of the production of knowledge and to uncover the limitations of scientific accounts (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992). Second, the systematic examination of the contextual validity of the category of international migrant, informed by the Western geopolitical reality but applied in the context of postsocialist European states, contributes to comparative research on migration. Rather than rejecting the standardisation and quantification necessary for comparative research on migration, we seek to understand the uses and misuses of the standardised categories, as well as the social contexts and political assumptions that shape them (Thévenot 2009; Diaz-Bone and Didier 2016).” (p. 2)

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