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Migration in World History

Governmental Policies

Governmental policies on migration have evolved in stages. Before the coming of colonialism, merchants, small producers, dockworkers, and sailors were free to migrate between the ports of the trade emporia of the Indian Ocean, and cultural communities of migrants were often granted self-administration. In European societies, the shift from dynastic systems to nation-states resulted in a massive deterioration of migrants' status. In dynastic systems, incoming migrants negotiated their status with the ruler and were usually free to practice distinct customs and use their own language, provided they promised loyalty. The Protestant French Huguenots of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the best example. Nation-states, however, postulated unity or even uniformity of culture and demanded that incoming migrants renounce their own culture, religion, and language—or, in short, assimilate. The elevated position of the "nationals" over resident "minorities" and immigrant "ethnics" stood juxtaposed to the republican ideal of equality before the law. Passports, a late-nineteenth-century invention of nation-states, along with border controls and immigration legislation, excluded ever-larger categories of potential migrants from entering a society. Racial thought contributed to exclusion, and fear of class struggles led to increased control over labor migrations. Through the early twenty-first century, nation-states have still not overcome this "otherizing" of newcomers. Rather than being admitted to citizenship, newcomers are labeled "aliens," "foreigners," temporary laborers, or, euphemistically, guest workers. The common notion of "guests" does not imply using them as cheap workers, to be sent home whenever an economic downswing results in a diminished need for labor. Such practices have also been adopted by West African societies, especially Ghana and Nigeria, as well as by the oil-producing states of the Middle East.

Public opinion has classified newcomers according to religion, power, economic pursuit, and, only recently, color of skin. In many-cultured societies—the Ottoman Empire being the best example—cultural groups of peoples governed themselves through their religious rulers, and newcomers, such as the Jews, who were expelled from the Iberian societies after 1492, were incorporated under these principles. In China, imperial officials from afar provided but a thin overlay of resident populations, and people lived according to their own customs. In the nineteenth-century Habsburg "monarchy of many peoples," nationalizing tendencies and investment strategies reduced such self-determination of cultural groups. While conflicts have always occurred, the marginalization and otherizing practices of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries paralleled the nation-states' cultural homogenization policies.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clockMigration in World History - Patterns Of Migration, Governmental Policies, Global Versus Nationalist Perspectives, Bibliography