The politics of belonging: Transnational Korean adoptees in Denmark

By Youngeun Koo, former student, MSc in Migration Studies

This guest post is part of series featuring writing by current and former students of the MSc in Migration Studies programme

In recent years, transnational adoption has become a much-contested area. The long-held belief that transnational adoption is an inherently good and humanitarian action, which benefits both abandoned children and childless couples, has undergone reconsideration. This change is greatly indebted to new adoption scholarship that has highlighted the lopsided nature of transnational adoption flows, through which children (in many cases, of single mothers) from poor countries move into wealthy, white families in the West. The recent debate has shown how global social and economic inequality has enabled the sustained movement of children in the last five decades.

Key players within this shift in perspective are transnational adoptees, particularly those from South Korea who constitute the largest cohort of transnational adoptees.[1] They have led the debate not just as individual scholars and artists, but also through collective critiques of transnational adoption and political mobilisation. For instance, such a case of systematic mobilisation by Korean adoptees emerged in Denmark in the mid-2000s.[2]  My dissertation in MSc in Migration Studies looked at this case, and examined how they became critical towards transnational adoption and what their critiques and mobilisation meant to them. I carried out short fieldwork in Copenhagen, and met eight Korean adoptees, who are involved in mobilisation. My research results suggest that the adoptees’ ‘return’ movement to Korea and birth family search was a crucial stage in developing their critical understanding of transnational adoption. Furthermore, I found that transnational adoptees hold a unique position in Danish society, and this had a great impact on their mobilisation. In this post, I focus on the positionality of Korean adoptees in Denmark and discuss its implications for our understanding of belonging for those who are relocated in a culturally and racially different society.

Trans-national and trans-racial adoption

As the majority of adoptions crossing national borders have taken place between the Global South and the West, trans-national adoption has also meant in most cases trans-racial adoption. This transracial aspect has provoked contrasting receptions in adoptive societies: some celebrate the adoptive family as a symbol of multiculturalism, while others condemn it as uprooting children from their birth culture. And yet, the debate has remained within the realm of the familial, and has not considered what it means for the adoptees themselves to live as transnational, transracial adoptees in Western societies. The conversations I had with Korean adoptees in Denmark, however, made it clear that the issue of race had significantly affected their lives. One of my informants, in his late thirties, related this concisely, when describing his experience at Copenhagen Airport:

‘When I go to the airport, I feel it [my race]. How often are you being stopped at the airport? “What are you going to do in this country?” and I’m like “No, I’m a citizen here.”’

Revisiting Andersons

Revisiting the Andersons (2015, video) by Korean adoptee artist Jane Jin Kaisen
(Reproduced with permission of the artist)

This type of questioning, which would not have happened were he an ethnic Dane makes transnational adoptees’ racialised bodies a site of contestation and social stress.[3] While his experience typifies how a narrow, racialised imagination of national belonging excludes certain populations in society, my research further reveals that transnational adoptees occupy a specific position in Danish society, which is somewhat different from that of other ethnic minorities, such as migrants. In order to elaborate this, it is useful to look at how ethnic Danes and migrants are represented in Danish society.

Ethnic Danes, migrants and transnational adoptees

Previous research shows that kinship images, like the concept of ‘the family of Denmark (familien Danmark)’, have been actively used in Denmark to develop a self-conception as a small nation that contains a culturally and ethnically homogeneous population.[4]  Rytter expands on this idea of ‘the family of Denmark’ to illuminate different social locations of ethnic Danes and migrants, drawing on Schneider’s two types of family relations.[5] The order of nature refers to family relations created through shared blood, such as the parent and child relationship. Ethnic Dane’s belonging to Denmark is seen to follow this order, as they were born and have lived in Denmark like their ancestors. On the other hand, migrants and their descendants are deemed to follow the order of law, which denotes family relations created through contracts like marriages, as they have come to the country through granted permission. The use of kinship images, therefore, contributes to the creation of a racialised concept of nationhood, and erects ‘invisible fences’ within society to mark out migrants, who are considered not quite ‘real’ Danes.[6]

In these two orders of kinship, transnational Korean adoptees occupy an ambivalent position. This is because transnational adoption uses the order of law, in such instances as the Adoption Act, to create the order of nature, the parent-child relationship between adoptive parents and adoptees. In other words, Korean adoptees’ relationship with Denmark combines and complicates both orders: they have Danish parents and grandparents like other ‘real’ Danes, but their citizenship is one that is acquired through naturalisation like migrants. Therefore, the notion of liminality characterises how Korean adoptees are situated in Danish society. One moment, they co-habit the same space as ‘real’ Danes within the ‘invisible fences’, but the next moment, they find themselves outside the fences.

Liminality and language-less-ness

This liminal position permeates the everyday experience of adult Korean adoptees, as seen in the airport example earlier. While it is important to note that migrants, who are perpetually marked as being outside ‘the invisible fences’, might be subject to even harsher forms of exclusion, what characterises these adoptees’ experience is the co-existence of inclusion and exclusion, which creates a sense of confusion and uncertainty as to where they belong.

In elaborating their experience of exclusion, many of my informants repeatedly used the expression that ‘they did not have a language’ to accurately articulate how they felt. This, what I have called ‘language-less-ness’, emanates from their liminal position in Danish society. That is, despite their foreign origins, the Korean adoptees grew up in white Danish families and their adoptive parents raised them as if they were ethnic Danes. This represents not just their adoptive parents’ effort to incorporate them into their families, but also the wider social perception, which considers turning transnational adoptees into ‘real’ Danes as an act of goodness. Within this context, the adoptees’ cultural and racial backgrounds were largely erased in their upbringing experience. However, despite their adoptive parents’ claim that they are ‘like any other Danes’, the difference in Korean adoptees’ appearance, street-level racism and whiteness in Danish national identity made my informants feel that ‘something was not quite right’.

The politics of belonging

Adoptionspolitisk Forum

Adoptionspolitisk Forum, adoptee-led organisation in Denmark (Photographed by Mette Kramer Kristensen)

It was first in the mid-2000s that a group of Korean adoptees began to raise critical voices concerning the practice and understanding of transnational adoption in Denmark. This was the time when the Danish government was implementing some of the most restrictive migration policies in Europe and negative attitudes towards migrants were gaining momentum. With regard to transnational adoptees’ liminal position, my research found that the proliferating public debates on migrants created ‘a problematic space’ which the Korean adoptees could move into and utilise, to understand how their previously individualised feelings of exclusion were caused by the structural positioning of certain bodies in Danish society. In this space, the adoptees, who had developed a critical sense of adoption from their journey to Korea, linked their adoption to the experience of inclusion and exclusion in Denmark, against the backdrop of national and global inequality.

The case I have presented here is a telling example of today’s ever-widening disjuncture between national belonging, legal citizenship, and one’s identification with majority society. It shows how those who fall between these gaps can experience the new society into which they have moved, and how multiple that experience can be. Furthermore, the Korean adoptees’ upbringing experience informs us that the oppressiveness in the idea of an equal, colour-blind society lies not just in neglecting their differences, but also in turning a blind eye on the uneven global power structure that continuously affects their lives. Korean adoptees’ mobilisation is therefore a political and social act to engage these issues with the wider public and make their voice heard in Danish society.

[1] It is estimated that globally approximately one million children have been transnationally adopted since 1955, and nearly 200,000 of them have been from South Korea. These figures are obtained from my conversation with adoption expert Tobias Hübinette on 11th June 2015 via email.

[2] It is important to note that only a small proportion of Korean adoptees in Denmark are currently involved in this political mobilisation, and the story I present here does not represent all the voices of Korean adoptees living in Denmark.

[3] Ahmed, S. (2007) ‘A phenomenology of whiteness’, Feminist theory 8(2): 149-168.

[4] For examples, see Olwig, K. F. (2011) ”Integration’: Migrants and refugees between Scandinavian welfare societies and family relations’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 37(2): 179-196. Hedetoft, U. (2006) ‘Denmark: Integration immigrants into a homogeneous welfare state’. Retrieved from Migration Policy Institute website:

[5] Rytter, M. (2011) ”The family of Denmark’ and ‘the aliens’: Kinship images in Danish integration politics’. In K. F. Olwig & K. Paerregaard (Eds.), The Question of Integration: Immigration, Exclusion, and the Danish Welfare State (pp. 54 – 76). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

[6] Gullestad, M. (2002) ‘Invisible fences: Egalitarianism, nationalism and racism’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8(1): 45-63.

Youngeun recently completed an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. Her dissertation looked at political mobilisation by transnational Korean adoptees in Denmark. Prior to her studies at Oxford, she worked as a researcher in NGOs in London that support young migrants and refugees. She will continue her research on Korean adoptees in her doctoral thesis and convene a course on ‘migration and Korea’ at Tübingen University.

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7 brutal lessons I’ve learned 6 months on from the University of Oxford MSc in Migration Studies

By: Bobbie Mills, Political Editor at Scenes of Reason and former MSc in Migration Studies student

This guest post is part of series featuring writing by current and former students of the MSc in Migration Studies programme

I could be biased, but it’s difficult to imagine a better graduate programme than Oxford Uni’s MSc Migration Studies. The Class of 2015 enjoyed genuinely outstanding teaching and such an inspiring supportive cohort you almost forgot the crazy price tag. It takes a good few weeks to recover from the Black Swan state of dissertation mania, but once you recover you’re left with satisfaction and affection.

immigration-debate2Reckoning I needed a few years’ experience in the real non-student world before thinking about a PhD, job hunting through Career Connect led me to Scenes of Reason. Scenes works to get more young people engaged in the news by providing the tools – in the form of back-to-basics explainers – to understand and question things for themselves.

I’ve been writing for them on a voluntary basis for a few months now. It’s what’s necessary to build up the experience required for those elusive paid jobs. I’m happy to do it for free, though, because it’s been an opportunity to translate what is taught by MSc Migration Studies into accessible articles, graphics and videos which will reach a broader range of people. A lot of the class of 2015 felt the same impulse.  For me, getting it right has been a learning curve. Here are 7 brutally honest lessons you’ll learn trying to take MSc Migration Studies to the outside world.

  1. Listicles. You’ll learn the word listicle (it’s what you’re reading right now). Then you’ll learn that if you want people to read your stuff you’ll never write in any other form ever again. But it turns out your essays are ready made listicles. My post on 4 Things The Media Gets Wrong About Migrant Smugglers could have been a tutorial essay on network theory, or titled 4 Things I Learned From Hein De Haas.
  2. Writing something that is both accessible and critically accurate is equally if not more difficult than writing your dissertation. Learning to use concepts like governmentality felt at times like banging a carrot against a cooking pot and yelling “Look Mum I’m cooking!”, but just try getting by without them.
  3. Trying to be impartial on migration leaves you feeling dirty and confused – like your first tutorial essay. An imperative of writing for Scenes of Reason is presenting both sides of the argument equally so people can decide for themselves. Great plan, but writing this infinite repeating infographic on the UK immigration debate was viciously difficult. It made me engage with the immigration debate in a frank practical way which the MSc had never asked me to do.
  4. You can easily miss the wave of media interest, and then no one cares. I was excited to publish my listicle on what the media gets wrong on people smugglers, as it offered such a different perspective to the mainstream in such a shamelessly clickable format. Turns out not even my attempt at an edgy accompanying graphic could get it the attention I’d hoped for. Don’t catch yourself hoping for the next wave of media attention, as it won’t come from anything good.
  5. On a subject like migration even the leading well-intentioned liberal media can get it dead wrong, so stay on your toes. Al Jazeera’s bold decision to abandon the dehumanised word migrant back in August got absolutely everything right except for the word they replaced it with – refugee. Profesor Jørgen Carling was quicker than I was in pointing out that insisting that refugees are fundamentally different to migrants and thus more deserving of our help only hardens the dehumanised status of anyone who does not qualify as a helpless victim of conflict.
  6. Politicians and commentators like their victims ideal and helpless. Displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of how people escape war zones, as pointed out by course mate Faraz Shibli, Theresa May and others have held up the young able-bodied men at Europe’s borders as evidence that Britain cannot indiscriminately offer help to these people, as not all are deserving of it. This argument contains so many holes it was easy to counter.
  7. The MSc in Migration Studies really does equip you with unique perspectives and language, particularly if you combine it with the platforms available to us to communicate it in an accessible way, like my plain English explainer of liberal constraint theory. Whose mind isn’t blown when they learn that most states actually want irregular immigration? The world wants to know what you know – get it out there.

 Bloggers mentioned in this post:


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Leaving Palestine

By Nick Van Hear, Senior Researcher and Deputy Director

Israel-PalestineMusa was jailed six times in the course of the first and second intifadas – the Palestinian uprisings in the late 1980s and early 2000s. The longest stretch was three years from 1989, but he had been inside various prisons in Israel and the Palestinian territories in the 1990s and 2000s. He had used the useless time to learn Hebrew and a bit of French.

We were in Musa’s pickup truck, speeding along a back route in the West Bank to the checkpoint that marks entry into Israel, from where Tel Aviv airport was only ten minutes away. Four of us – a Briton, a Norwegian, a Latvian and an African-American – were on our way out of Palestine after participating in a critical geographers’ conference in Ramallah: despite the odd mix, we were all ‘respectable’ nationalities, backed by sound paperwork, unlike many of those who actually live in this land.

A wiry forty-something, with edgy, nervous energy, Musa pointed out places in the West Bank landscape by then familiar to us. ‘You see that Palestinian village, just there the settlers took land’; ‘here they put a road for the settlers so now the locals can’t get to their olive trees’; ‘do you notice how the settlements don’t have black water tanks on their roofs like Palestinian houses? That’s because they are allowed to draw water direct from the ground, which Palestinians cannot do’. We approached the first checkpoint, which had been moved further into Palestinian territory so as to claim just a little bit more land for Israel – the creeping, incremental pattern we had learnt about during our stay. Musa made some faux-friendly gesture to the Israeli military woman standing there and she indifferently waved us through.

Musa has a Jerusalem ID, which allows him to live in that city, but he prefers to live in one of the suburbs that sprawl around Ramallah, and that border Jerusalem but are divided from it by Israel’s separation wall. This is risky because he could be stripped of residence status by either the Palestinian Authority or the Israelis. But it is this liminality that allows him to ply a trade moving people across the many borders and checkpoints that are inscribed on the landscape. His other valuable asset is his Israeli number plates which allow him to cross at this checkpoint, when most Palestinians cannot. Essentially he makes a living from his location in the interstices of interlocking bureaucracies of place.

As easy as ABC

© @KarlreMarks

Reproduced with permission from @KarlreMarks

The Oslo accords paved the way for the establishment of a Palestinian quasi-state in the West Bank and Gaza strip, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to administer it in the first half of the 1990s. However the Oslo deal also included a division of territory which has proved the undoing of any idea of a feasible state for the Palestinians. The West Bank and Jerusalem are subject to a three-fold division of territory. ‘Area C’, representing more than 60% of the West Bank, is under direct control of the Israelis – essentially the security forces. Palestinians are prohibited from building or developing this area and are under constant pressure – including demolition of homes and property – to move out. ‘Area B’ accounts for about 22% of the West Bank and is nominally under joint control: the PA does the civil administration, but Israel controls security. The remaining sliver of territory – ‘Area A’, which stands at 18% or less – is under PA control. As if this were not bad enough, even the land which Palestinians do have some say over is split by filigrees of territory which is increasingly colonised by Jewish settlers.

Settling scores

At the time of my first visit here, twenty years ago in the mid-1990s, there were some 130,000 settlers in the West Bank and around 157,000 in East Jerusalem. By the time of our visit in 2015 there were some 360,000 settlers in 135 ‘official’ settlements and 100 unofficial ‘outposts’ in the West Bank, and another 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. The land-grabbing now is relentless and so too other everyday morale-sapping things that Palestinians have to endure – far worse than 20 years ago. The settlements have expanded enormously, and dominate many of the hilltops. They monopolise the ground water and command other infrastructural resources that are out of reach of Palestinians. It sounds hackneyed, but the resilience of the people in the face of this is remarkable. Pent-up anger seethes underneath nevertheless, and explodes among the youth on what seems a daily basis.

We are there at what seems a volatile time – or maybe this is what it is like all the time. On the evening of our arrival in Jerusalem, before the conference, we watch settlers march past the Old City. It is Tisha B’av, the day that Jews mark the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and when hard-core settlers often reassert their presence. Early next morning we stumble upon a small demonstration of about 30 young Palestinian women against Israeli riot police who are blocking their way (we learn later) to Al Aqsa mosque where some settlers have entered to assert their claims on this religious site. There is a mighty stand-off later with tear gas and people dispersed all over the place.

Lana Al-Shami - the Long Way Home. COMPAS photo competition 2014

Lana Al-Shami – the Long Way Home
COMPAS photo competition 2014

Things take a grislier turn later in the week, when settlers lob a petrol bomb into a West Bank Palestinian house that contained the parents and two children. The parents and older child got out – though with 60-80% burns. They could not get the toddler out and he burned to death. The house, near Nablus, was daubed with the slogans ‘revenge’, ‘messiah’ and ‘price-tag’: the first and last refer to a (rare) decision by the courts stopping the settlers from grabbing and building on yet more Palestinian land. The outrage sparked yet more unrest among Palestinian youth in both the West Bank and Gaza. Someone remarks that ‘the settlers are Israel’s Daesh’ (Islamic State).

Checking out

At the airport perimeter checkpoint, Musa nervously explained in Hebrew to the military guards why we had been in the West Bank: attending a conference held in Jerusalem and Ramallah, a story which we echo when asked.

At airport check-in we are quizzed again by a nervous, solemn security guard. They are suspicious of us as a group and of our presence in the West Bank. The different passports are passed to a more senior guy for scrutiny: another man in black polyester suit eyes us over. Eventually we are let through – then there is yet another security scan and one of us is singled out for yet more checks. It is an intimidating experience, but nothing approaching the treatment that Palestinians endure daily in their own land.

Three months on from our visit, the situation in Palestine has deteriorated further to the extent that talk of a third intifada gathers pace. Palestinian youth are taking things into their own hands, outside the grip of the PA and the militant groups. For the first time, young women are taking part in significant numbers. As Yasmin, a 15-year old school girl interviewed by the Observer put it, ‘…more girls are participating. We want to protect our country. We are here for one another and to look after each other. This is the first time for us. Everyone has to help and we are here to help the boys – it’s our duty to participate.’

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Refugee crisis, compassion and Eastern Europe

By Dace Dzenovska, Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Migration

Losing Europeanness

Europe map puzzleEvery crisis dismantles and produces Europeanness anew. Greek Europeanness was recently questioned by the financial ‘core of Europe’ led by Germany because Greece refused to behave like a responsible economic subject. In the context of the current refugee crisis, the now moral ‘core of Europe’—once again led by Germany—is juxtaposed to the failed Europeanness of what has emerged as generic ‘Eastern Europe’.

Several Eastern European member states of the European Union objected to the proposed refugee quotas. There were protests in various cities in Eastern Europe against accepting refugees. There were also counter-protests, counter-arguments, and counter-actions. Nevertheless, the liberally inclined print and online media on both sides of the Atlantic quickly filled with commentaries that accused ‘Eastern Europeans’ of lacking compassion and tried to shame them into moral maturity and, by extension, agreeable politics.[1] Some suggested that Eastern Europe was stuck in the rhetoric of suffering, unable to evolve from recipients to providers of assistance. Others wondered whether Eastern Europeans could see the irony in refusing assistance to those in need when they had received so much assistance during the long 20th century. Had they not learned anything from history? Why were Eastern Europeans so racist and xenophobic?

Disagreeable politics and attitudes were traced to moral failures, which amounted to failed Europeanness. Even those who eschewed moralizing began by securing their own Europeanness by distancing from Eastern Europe’s ‘staggering lack of compassion’.[2] In the midst of a spectacular political failure, the moral goodness of the ‘core of Europe’ was reasserted.[3]

Compassion as a political virtue

Compassion deployed in this fashion is not a ‘private sentiment.’[4] It is a political virtue expected to extend to strangers and to inform liberal politics. In this form—as a political virtue with universal value—it has been widely criticized for its depoliticizing and even repressive effects.[5]

According to Hannah Arendt, the private sentiment of compassion risks turning into pity when brought into the public arena, thus preventing engagement with fellow ‘men’ [sic] as political equals.[6] Compassion as a political virtue—not unlike tolerance as a political virtue—does not posit such equality. Instead, it posits a hierarchical relationship between the subjects and objects of compassion.[7] Public compassion is about both fellow feeling and distancing. It can be extended to strangers (they are almost like us!) and to marginalized group members (they are not really like us!). In the midst of refugee crisis, it has also become part of a civilizational discourse extended towards Eastern Europe.

Political opportunity?

Regardless of what one thinks of the asylum politics of Eastern European member states and of the attitudes of their citizens, attributing such politics and attitudes to collective moral failures is a move that needs to be carefully rethought. It is hardly the case that Eastern Europeans are less human in their capacity for compassion than their Western European counterparts. The difference seems to lie in the fact that they either do not use the sentiment of compassion as a basis for politics or limit its application to a particular nation, race or religion.

And yet, Eastern Europeans are grappling with tensions that define Europe beyond particular nation-states: the tension between liberal politics and national states, the tension between the needs of populations impoverished by austerity measures and the needs of refugees, and the tension between proclamations of ‘European values’ and the on-going ghettoization of marginal Europeans and asylum seekers in cities across Europe.

Fence with barbed wireEastern European members of the public, government officials, border guards, and journalists have been learning about these tensions, especially asylum politics, through the media, trips to Western Europe, and a variety of training and twinning programmes. For example, Latvian border guards and government officials have worked with their Finnish, Swedish, French and Belgian counterparts to implement border controls and asylum instruments. They were good pupils and learned what Didier Fassin has called the ‘common law of repression’, but to qualify as fully European, they are now called upon to learn the ‘redemptive virtue of compassion’.[8]

Should Eastern Europeans be taught to accept compassion as a political virtue to be extended to suffering subjects beyond their immediate circles of kinship? It seems unlikely that embracing public compassion will resolve Europe’s definitive tensions and the concrete problems that arise from them. Perhaps the difference that has emerged between Eastern and Western Europe in the context of the refugee crisis is a political opportunity to address these tensions without obscuring them by a moralizing discourse.

  1. For examples, see: Lyman 2015; Gross 2015; Simecka & Tallis 2015; Rupnik 2015; Komorovskis 2015; Krastev 2015; Sabet-Parry 2015; Hockenos 2015; Gressel 2015; Roland 2015.
  2. See Krastev 2015.
  3. See Böröcz 2006 for an early critique. See also Dzenovska 2013.
  4. Arendt 1990; Canovan 1992.
  5. For examples see Ticktin 2011; Fassin 2005, 2011; Bornstein 2012. See also Weiss 2015 and Feldman 2013 for counter-arguments.
  6. Arendt 1990.
  7. For critical analysis of the political virtue of tolerance, see Brown 2006 & Dzenovska n.d.
  8. Fassin 2005: 375.


  • Arendt, Hannah. 1990 [1965]. On Revolution. Penguin Books.
  • Bornstein, Erika. 2012. Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Böröcz, Joseph. 2006. ‘Goodness is Elsewhere: The Rule of European Difference’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 48 (1): 110-137.
  • Brown, Wendy. 2006. Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Canovan, Margaret. 1992. Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dzenovska, Dace. n.d. Complicit Becoming: Tolerance and Europeanization After Socialism. Manuscript in preparation.
  • Dzenovska, Dace. 2013. ‘Historical Agency and the Coloniality of Power in Postsocialist Europe’. Anthropological Theory 13(4): 394-416.
  • Fassin, Didier. 2012. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Fassin, Didier. 2005. ‘Compassion and repression: The moral economy of immigration policies in France’, Cultural Anthropology 20(3): 362-387.
  • Feldman, Gregory. 2013. ‘The specific intellectual’s pivotal position: action, compassion and thinking in administrative society, an Arendtian view’. Social Anthropology 21(2): 135-154.
  • Gressel, Gustav. 2015. ‘Understanding Eastern European attitudes on refugees’. European Council on Foreign Relations. September 11.
  • Gross, Jan T. 2015. ‘Eastern Europe’s Crisis of Shame’. Project Syndicate. September 16.
  • Hockenos, Paul. 2015. ‘The Stunning Hypocrisy of Mitteleuropa’. Foreign Policy. September 12.
  • Krastev, Ivan. 2015. ‘Eastern Europe’s Compassion Deficit’. The New York Times. September 8.
  • Komorovskis, Broņislavs. 2015. ‘Cilvēcības vārdā’. Ir. September 18.
  • Lyman, Rick. 2015. ‘Eastern block’s resistance to refugees highlights Europe’s cultural and political divisions’. The New York Times. September 12.
  • Roland, Gerard. 2015. ‘Why the rift between Eastern and Western Europe on the refugee crisis?’ The Berkeley Blog. September 9.
  • Rupnik, Jacques. 2015. ‘The Other Europe’. Eurozine. September 16.
  • Sabet-Parry, Rayyan & Karl Ritter. 2015. ‘Scant sympathy for refugees in Europe’s ex-communist East’. The Business Insider. September 11.
  • Simecka, Michal & Benjamin Tallis. 2015. ‘Fighting the wrong battle: A crisis of liberal democracy, not migration’. openDemocracy. September 16.
  • Smilov, Daniel. 2015. ‘The argument against compassion: Europe and the refugees’. openDemocracy. September 14.
  • Ticktin, Miriam. 2011. Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Weiss, Erica. 2015. ‘Provincializing empathy: Humanitarian sentiment and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. Anthropological Theory 15(3): 275-292.
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Which migration journal has the highest Impact Factor?

By Carlos Vargas-Silva, Associate Professor and Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory

Migration StudiesIn March 2013 I joined several friends to launch the Migration Studies journal. We had been working hard on the concept for over a year, but doubts always remained. Would top researchers submit papers to the journal? What about young upcoming scholars? Would they risk submitting their research to a brand new publication? Can a new journal have a significant impact on migration research? It has been over two years since that moment and it is now possible to provide some answers to these questions.

One obvious way to explore the influence of a journal is to see how it compares to other journals in the field. The most popular metric to compare journals is the ISI Impact Factor. This is a measure of the frequency with which the ‘average article’ in the journal has been cited in a given year. It is an imperfect measure, but so are all other available measures.

There are three other journals listed in the ISI ‘Demography’ category with the word ‘migration’ in the title: International Migration (IM), International Migration Review (IMR) and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (JEMS). Some other listed journals such as Population, Space and Place also publish a lot of migration related research, while others such as the Journal of Refugee Studies focus on a particular type of migration. But these three journals (IM, IMR and JEMS) are the ones publishing exclusively on migration and about all types of migration, and all have been in existence for a long time, so we have good data as a basis for comparison (both IM and IMR recently celebrated their 50th anniversaries). These three journals provide the best comparison for Migration Studies.

Figure 1 shows the Impact Factor of these three migration journals since 2010. In the past, IMR had the highest Impact Factor, but has been surpassed by JEMS in recent years. In fact, the gap between these two journals increased over the last year. Meanwhile, IM has being in third place for the whole period and with a noticeable negative trend in its Impact Factor. In that sense, JEMS is the migration journal with the highest official ISI Impact Factor.

Figure 1

As a new journal Migration Studies is currently awaiting its first Social Science Citation Index listing. However, Oxford University Press (OUP) has followed the same methodology to estimate the impact factor of Migration Studies in 2014. As shown in Figure 1, the estimated Impact Factor is way above the other three journals. If Migration Studies were officially listed (currently in process) it would have the highest Impact Factor among these migration journals. Impact Factors go up and down over time, so it is impossible to be certain about future dynamics, but it seems like a great start for a new journal.

For those of you who have not been able to read articles from Migration Studies, here is your chance. For a short period of time OUP has made a large selection of articles from the journal available for FREE. This includes three of my favourites:

What determines attitudes to immigration in European countries? An analysis at the regional level by Yvonni Markaki and Simonetta Longhi

The effect of income and immigration policies on international migration by Francesc Ortega and Giovanni Peri

Happiness and ‘economic migration’: A comparison of Eastern European migrants and stayers by David Bartram


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