Migration to the Margin

Queens University Belfast, 25-26th April.

Discussion here focused on the regionality of migration, attempting to shift the focus from London- or (Southern) Anglo-centric research to explore the differences in migration experience at the margins (geographical, social and economic) of ‘British’ society. This approach was contextualised in a multidisciplinary manner, with contributions from Sweetinburgh and Tyson dissecting the idea of ‘foreignness’ from a historical perspective. In this regard, we can consider the globalisation of migration as a mechanism for defining the other: Scottish migrants being defined as ‘immigrants’ in the Medieval period (Sweetinburgh) aligns with Allen’s (1994) discussion of the significance of British colonial and Irish history and the evolution of perceptions. It is possible to argue that both Irish and Scottish have ‘become’ white if we define whiteness as not subject to othering processes.

In turn, this discourse can be extrapolated to the processes of Brexit which affect, and to some extent are redefining, whiteness in a British context. Nayak’s current research highlights that notions of whiteness are dependent on locality, nationality and the agents themselves: the Jewish community of North-East England effectively demonstrates the dualism present. Antisemitic discourse clearly denotes the community as ‘less-than-white’, yet globalised forces of migration and international politics demarcate the Jewish community as a supranational nation; it is ‘more-than-white’.

In tandem with the globalising forces at the heart of ‘migration to the margin’ discourse are the inter-regional differences in experiences of migration into the UK, with perspectives from all four nations being offered. Mulvey highlighted the role of ‘Scottish exceptionalism’ as a self-perception of an establish culture of welcoming in Scotland which clashes with the policies of Hostile Environment radiating from Westminster. To this effect, Grabovsky discussed the phenomenon whereby migrants in Scotland are more likely to identify as Scottish than those in England as ‘English’ – Englishness appears to have a greater association with ideas of colonialism and whiteness. Similar circumstances are also present in Wales and Northern Ireland, with Lewis highlighting the differential approaches to integration in Wales, with the process commencing on arrival for the Welsh government, but upon the approval of status for Westminster. The specific political and cultural history of Northern Ireland requires yet another approach: here, the Race Relations Act does not apply, leaving migrants less protection to navigate their new surroundings.

These vastly different approaches to migration across the four nations of the UK remind us of the contrasts and contradictions present in the UK’s approach to migration, which is exacerbated by current debates around Brexit. As the government attempts to unite around a common Brexit strategy, the divergent notions and globalised contexts of migration in the UK are becoming more apparent, demanding further research to elucidate the nuances of policy diversity to ensure a more complete understanding of current UK migration.

Attended and authored by Michael Thompson

Allen, T. W. (1994). The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control v. 1 (Haymarket). Verso Books.

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