Globalization and Migration in the 19th and 20th Century

Michael Schubert and Peter Fäßler (University of Paderborn)
01.11.2018 - 03.11.2018
Sven Siemon

Globalization history and historical migration studies are two fields of research that arose largely independently of one another and have developed without materially influencing each other. Even from an empirical perspective, this is somewhat surprising, since migrations and their actors after all represent key features of globalization, and the transformation processes brought on by globalization in politics, culture, economyand society influence migration decisions, routes, and outcomes the world over. However, migration also makes it eminently possible to discuss theoretical questions regarding globally diverging development models and the uniformity of globalization processes in the modern era. One need not look any further than current attempts in Europe to control, channel, and repel ‘refugee flows’, which ultimately run counter to one of the key characteristics of the global integration and consolidation process, to realize that Europe has an ambivalent and, in the final analysis, utilitarian relationship to globalization. Yet, the history of migration in the 19th and 20th century as a whole tells us that migration presents a challenge to Europe’s self-image of shaping and dominating the globalized world on the Western model. Immigration and its diversifying, hybridizing consequences for European society clearly manifest the simultaneous homogenization and heterogenization discernible in the process of globalization. This is the intended focus of the international conference, grounded in a discussion of the problem area ‘population policy and statehood’ that is so vital for describing and analyzing this simultaneity.

Modern Western statehood developed from a population policy debate on migration. Population policy, under the guise of either mercantilist population optimism or as Malthusian overpopulation pessimism, replicates the notion that population development can be planned. An essential criterion for such ‘plannability’ is the issue of human mobility and its economic, social, cultural and racial desirability. Ideas about population planning prompted questions on ethnicity and citizenship and climaxed in racist population policy regimes that found culturalist and/or social Darwinist expression. These racist regulations formed the bedrock for imperialist dreams in the process of globalization: the world was regarded as divisible and its peoples as objects to be arranged. Modern statehood was projected onto the ‘rest of the world’ under the banner of imperialism. On the one hand, racist imperialism congealed in the course of globalization into a postcolonial ‘global apartheid’. On the other hand, migration not only upsets the planned state (postnation, post-state) but also the idea of the ‘predictability of the world’ (postcolonialism): In the broadest sense, postcolonial economic and refugee migrations not only lever out the envisioned modern population regimes, but even the whole Western notion of ‘developing’ the world according to its model as well. The international conference is intended to pursue these linkages in four sets of questions:

How were Western population policies shaped in the migration context? Which Western ideas of statehood do the population policies manifest? What guiding principles between restriction and liberality emerge for migration regimes from this?

How were modern Western population policies and statehoods conveyed to the ‘rest of the world’? What are the consequences of this transmittal for the formation of non-Western states and nations?

How is migration anchored in the (post)colonial state? How do (post)colonial migration regimes develop? How do migrations react to changes in statehoods in the postcolony?

Which of these migrations reach Europe? How does Europe deal with these migrations? What changes to statehood and population policy result from them in Europe? Under the impact of immigration, do the migration regimes in Europe change and, with them, perceptions of the legality and illegality of migrations, of ‘otherness,’ ‘security,’ ‘growth’ and ‘progress’? Do the collective European perceptions of ‘migration and sedentism’ change?

We are soliciting topic outlines not to exceed 5,000 characters on these questions by 15 February 2018.

The three-day international conference will bring together scholars in the cultural and social science disciplines to discuss the historical relationship between globalization and migration during the 19th and 20th century. The conference will be held in German and English. Speakers will participate free of charge; travel and accommodations will be reimbursed pro-rata.


Sven Siemon
University of Paderborn
Fakulty of Arts and Humanities
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Globalization and Migration in the 19th and 20th Century, 01.11.2018 – 03.11.2018 Paderborn, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 22.12.2017, <>.
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