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Keywords:

  • transitions;
  • migration theory;
  • mobility;
  • demographic change;
  • socio-economic change

ABSTRACT

This paper is a reflection on the idea of transitions as explanatory frameworks for the study of population migration. Global transitions in fertility, mortality, and urbanisation are examined as background to the idea of a migration transition and its variants. The strengths and weaknesses of a transition approach to migration are outlined, focusing on the diffusion of a demographic process across space and through time. The concepts of ‘mobility’ and ‘migration’ transitions are assessed with the benefit of hindsight. In order to enhance the explanatory power of such transitions, I argue that they need to be linked with other economic, social, and political processes that are also diffusing in space and time. Agrarian, health, and gender transitions are briefly considered in this context, as is the whole question of migration and development. While no single pathway through any migration or developmental transition exists, it nevertheless needs to be accepted that a retreat to total relativism is counterproductive. The paper concludes by arguing that a transitional framework, which allows migration systems to be linked to wider socio-economic change, provides a fertile environment in which to generate future theories of migration. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.