Global Migration Centre
22 November 2021

Interview with Prof. Thomas Faist on Migration and the Public Sphere

Prof. Thomas Faist, Professor of Transnational, Development & Migration Studies at Bielefeld University, was our guest for the Global Migration Centre  Lecture.

We invited him to answer three questions following his lecture, Settling into Motion - Migration Research in the Public Sphere.

Global Migration Lecture Series
Settling into Motion - Migration Research in the Public Sphere


3 QUESTIONS TO Prof. Thomas Faist


What brought you to the field of Migration Research in the Public Sphere?

Two observations have spurred my interest in this issue. I heard quite a few migration researchers claiming that they proposed plausible policy proposals but were never heard or taken seriously by decision-makers. At the same time journalists and politicians voiced their dissatisfaction with migration researchers in that they are supposedly unwilling to give policy advice and draw practical implications from their valuable research. Over time, I have become quite interested in how to account for this apparent disjuncture.

What is the key idea of your lecture?

Given the apparently high political relevance of migration research, it is important to ask how social scientists might intervene in public debates. Public debates on the causes, drivers and consequences of migration often raise the question whether and in what ways social scientific research may form a basis for rational political decisions. My main thesis is that, while migration research indeed has implications for public policies, such a question is ultimately misleading. While scholars of migration engage in types of intervention such as expertise, advocacy and other genres and thus offer crucial information for describing and understanding migration processes and ultimately taking policy decisions, the most important function is to offer analysis and orientation which can guide political debates in the public sphere.

What are your future projects?

I am currently concluding research projects on social positioning of migrants in the EU, and on the mobility of international students from China and Japan in the UK and Germany. Also, in line with today’s lecture, I will apply my basic arguments to what I have called the transnationalized social question. The contemporary social question is not only between labour and capital within national states. It is located at the interstices between the global South and the global North and also revolves around cultural heterogeneities. Having uncovered crucial social mechanisms driving the (re)production of social inequalities, such as marketization vs. de-commodification of labour and diversification vs. homogenization of political collectives, it is time for another step. Given the high political relevance of the transnationalized social question, it is important to ask how social scientists intervene in public debates on within- and cross-border inequalities, and how policy-makers selectively draw on expertise in this field.

Thomas Faist is Professor of Transnational, Development & Migration Studies at Bielefeld University, Germany. His research focuses on international migration, ethnic relations, social policy, and transnationalization and has published widely in these fields




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