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Daily RC Article 151

Migration Dynamics in the 21st Century: Unveiling Historical and Contemporary Realities


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The 21st century will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the century, there were more regional and international migrants than ever before in recorded history. Climate change may cause international migration to double over the next forty years. Today, the figure of the migrant exposes an important truth: social expansion has always been predicated on the social expulsion of migrants. In the 21st century, all previous forms of social expulsion have re-emerged and become more active than ever before.

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Some of the migratory phenomena are directly related to recent events…The subprime mortgage crisis led to the expulsion of millions of people from their homes worldwide. Foreign investors and governments have acquired 540 million acres since 2006, resulting in the eviction of millions of small farmers in poor countries, and mining practices have become increasingly destructive around the world. The general increase in human mobility and expulsion is now widely recognized as a defining feature of the 21st century. “A spectre haunts the world and it is the spectre of migration.”

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However, not all migrants are alike in their movement. For some, movement offers opportunity and profit with only a temporary expulsion. For others, movement is dangerous, and their social expulsions are more severe and permanent. Today, most people fall somewhere on this migratory spectrum between the two poles of “inconvenience” and “incapacitation.” All migrants share the experience that their movement results in a certain degree of expulsion from their territorial, political, or economic status. Even if the end result of migration is a relative increase in money, power, or enjoyment, the process of migration itself almost always involves an insecurity of some kind and duration: the removal of territorial ownership or access, the loss of the right to receive social welfare, or the financial loss associated with change in residence.

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There are two problems to overcome to develop the theory that migration figures function as mobile social positions and not fixed identities. The first problem is that the migrant has been predominantly understood from the perspective of stasis and perceived as a secondary or derivative figure with respect to place-bound social membership. Place-bound membership in a society is assumed as primary; secondary is the movement back and forth between social points. The “emigrant” is the name given to the migrant as the former citizen, and the “immigrant” as the would-be citizen. In both cases, a static place and membership are theorized first, and the migrant is the one who lacks both. Thus, the migrant is the one least defined by its being and place and more by its becoming and displacement: by its movement.

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The second problem is that the migrant has been predominantly understood from the perspective of states. Since the state has all too often written history, the migrant has been understood as a figure without its own history and social force. . . . .

The aim of this book is not to explain the causes of all migration but to offer better descriptions of the conditions, forces, and trajectories of its historical emergence and contemporary hybridity. The present study does not provide a history of the relative deprivations of tourists, diplomats, explorers, etc. Instead, it focuses on the more marginalized figures of historical migration (nomads, barbarians, vagabonds, etc.).

The 21st century marks an era defined by migration, where the phenomenon exposes societal truths: expansion has historically relied on the expulsion of migrants. Climate change and global events have intensified migration, leading to varied experiences from temporary inconvenience to severe, lasting displacement. This perspective challenges traditional views of migrants as secondary to place-bound social memberships and aims to illuminate the diverse historical and contemporary facets of migration beyond the state-centric narrative.
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