Economic Sociology

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Prova scritta e relazione di seminario. PhD students: Seminar presentations during the lectures and brief essay Master students: essay


Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Economic Sociology: Migrants in the labour market

According to the Organisation for International Migration, around three quarters of the world’s 250 million migrants are labour migrants. The module will focus on labour migration but, conscious of the disputed boundaries between different definitions of migration, it will consider the broader processes and other phenomena, such as refugees, trafficking and posted workers, that have labour implications. The focus will be on debates and evidence on the social impact of labour migration on labour markets and welfare  systems, on forms of social regulations and governance of migration, and on migrants’ agency.

The course is articulated into seven seminars, on specific issues of migration studies. After the first two introductory seminars, seminar presentations by students, either on their own research (insofar as it touches upon migration issues) or on specific readings or ad hoc research, will be organised and will constitute the foundation for the assessment. As with all doctoral training, active participation, starting from the essential readings, is essential to be successful in this course. Participation in the seminars is compulsory.

1. Introduction to (the Economic) Sociology of migration

Date: 5/4/2024, 2:00pm – 5:00 pm (3h)

Sociology, and in particular economic sociology, has been concerned with the various social roles that migrants play in the production system. These processes are examined through interconnected concepts of migration and geographical mobility, while also considering the social mobility of individuals moving across spaces. Settlement and labour market insertion into a new society are socially embedded, as migrants acquire both privileges and associated obligations that influence their pursuit of self-interest through group memberships.

Essential readings:

Portes, A. (1995). Economic Sociology and the Sociology of Immigration: A Conceptual Overview. In A. Portes (Ed.), The Economic Sociology of Immigration: Essays on Networks, Ethnicity, and Entrepreneurship (pp. 1–41). Russell Sage Foundation.

Meardi, G. (2007). The Polish Plumber is the West Midlands? Review of Sociology of the Hungarian Sociological Association

Further readings:

Sciortino, G. (Ed.). (2024). Research Handbook on the Sociology of Migration. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-83910-545-6.

Castles, S. (2010). Understanding Global Migration: A Social Transformation Perspective. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36 (10), 1565-1586.

2. Migration and labour market segmentation (Prof. Meardi)

Date: 12/4/2024, 2:00pm – 4:30 pm (2,5h)

Segmentation studies have, since the 1970s, focussed on the intuition that employers may want to distinguish, among workers, between a loyal core and a disposable periphery, and that migrants constitute a pool for the second segment.

Essential readings:

Frangi, L., Zhang, T., & Banerjee, R. (2021). Constructing Inequalities: Tenure Trajectories of Immigrant Workers and Union Strategies in the Milan Construction Sector. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 59(2), 474–502.

McKenzie, R., & Forde, C. (2009). The rhetoric of the 'good worker' versus the realities of employers' use and the experiences of migrant workers. Work, Employment and Society, 23(1), 142-159.

Further readings:

Reyneri, E. (2004). Immigrants in a segmented and often undeclared labour market. Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 9(1), 71–93.

Waldinger, R., & Lichter, M. I. (2003). How the Other Half Works: Immigration and the Social Organization of Labor. University of California Press.

3. Labour market intermediation
Date: 23/4/2024, 2:00pm – 5:00 pm (3h)

Social networks constitute crucial structures within which labour market integration is situated. These networks not only play a significant role in supporting migration projects and enhancing social mobility but can also act as channels that undermine these endeavours. Another avenue traditionally utilized by migrants for employment in the secondary labour market is labour brokerage, despite its illegal nature at times. Overall, the debate on migration industries contributes valuable insights into how and why do migration labour market intermediaries operate.

Essential readings:

Krissman, F. 2005.“Sin Coyote ni Patrón: Why the ‘Migrant Network’ Fails to Explain International Migration.” International Migration Review 39 (1): 4–44.

McCollum, D., and A. Findlay. 2018. “Oiling the Wheels? Flexible Labour Markets and the Migration Industry.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44 (4): 558–574.

Further readings:

Keskiner, E., Eve, M., & Ryan, L. (Eds.). (2022). Revisiting Migrant Networks: Migrants and their Descendants in Labour Markets (IMISCOE Research Series). Springer.

Groutsis, D., D. van den Broek, and W. Harvey. 2015. “Transformations in Network Governance: The Case of Migration Intermediaries.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41 (10): 1558–1576.

4. The organising and mobilising of migrants (Prof. Meardi)

Date: 10/5/2024, 2:00pm – 4:30 pm (2,5h)

Traditionally, migrants have been perceived as a threat to labour solidarity by organised labour, but more recently, starting from the USA in the context of rapidly declining unionisation, that have been also seen as a resource for renewal and new forms of solidarity.

Essential readings:

Milkman, R. (2011). Immigrant workers, precarious work, and the US labor movement. Globalizations, 8(3), 361-372.

Further readings:

Milkman, R. (2006). LA Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the US Labor Movement. Russell Sage Foundation.

Marino, S., Penninx, R., & Roosblad, J. (2015). Trade unions, immigration and immigrants in Europe revisited: Unions’ attitudes and actions under new conditions. Comparative Migration Studies, 3, 1-16.

Barron, P., Bory, A., Chauvin, S., Jounin, N., & Tourette, L. (2016). State categories and labour protest: Migrant workers and the fight for legal status in France. Work, employment and society, 30(4), 631-648.

5. Migrant labour agency

Date: 17/5/2024, 2:00pm – 5:00 pm (3h)

Individual efforts among migrants to enhance their employment conditions are examined at the intersection of labour studies and the sociology of migration. An interdisciplinary approach to migrant labour provides valuable insights into migrants' ability to navigate and potentially achieve social mobility, while also highlighting the limitations in migrants' agency.

Essential readings:

Alberti, G. (2014). Mobility Strategies, ‘Mobility Differentials’ and ‘Transnational Exit’: The Experiences of Precarious Migrants in London’s Hospitality Jobs. Work, Employment and Society, 28(6), 865–881.

Dimitriadis, I. (2023) Migrants and Undeclared Employment Within the European Construction Sector: Challenging Dichotomous Approaches to Workers’ Agency", Work, Employment and Society, 37(5), 1321-1338.

Further readings:

Alberti, G., & Sacchetto, D. (2024). The Politics of Migrant Labour: Exit, Voice, and Social Reproduction. Bristol University Press.

Khurana, S. (2017). Resisting labour control and optimizing social ties: experiences of women construction workers in Delhi. Work, Employment and Society, 31(6), 921–936.

6. Humanitarian and unaccompanied migrants in the labour market

Date: 29/5/2024, 2:00pm – 5:00 pm (3h)

Refugees face higher economic disadvantages compared to other migrants. Factors such as language skills, educational background, varied forms of family support, and poorer mental and physical health contribute to the challenges that humanitarian migrants encounter when entering the labour market. Such structural barriers and marginalization become even more pronounced for unaccompanied minors, who are prematurely compelled to assume roles and responsibilities typically reserved for adults.

Essential readings:

Lumley-Sapanski, A. (2021). The survival job trap: explaining refugee employment outcomes in Chicago and the contributing factors. Journal of Refugee Studies, 34(2), 2093-2123.

Canizales, S. L., & Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2022). Working-class Latina/o youth navigating stratification and inequality: A review of literature. Sociology Compass, 16(12), e13050.

Further readings:

Ager, A., & Strang, A. (2008). Understanding integration: a conceptual framework. Journal of Refugee Studies, 21(2), 166-191.

Connor, P. (2010). Explaining the Refugee Gap: Economic Outcomes of Refugees versus Other Immigrants. Journal of Refugee Studies, 23(3), 377–397.

Dimitriadis, I. (2023) Refugees and asylum seekers in informal and precarious jobs: early labour market insertion from the perspectives of professionals and volunteers, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 43(13/14), 263-277.

7. Gig work, new precariat and migrants

Date: 30/5/2024, 2:00pm – 5:00 pm (3h)

Gig work not only provides specific opportunities, such as income generation and autonomy, but also poses challenges for migrants with diverse backgrounds and skill levels. The growing involvement of migrants in digital labour-based platforms can contribute valuable insights to the political economy of migration. Comparisons are drawn between native and migrant workers.

Essential readings:

van Doorn, N., & Vijay, D. (2021). Gig work as migrant work: The platformization of migration infrastructure. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 0(0).

James Holtum, P., Irannezhad, E., Marston, G., & Mahadevan, R. (2022). Business or Pleasure? A Comparison of Migrant and Non-Migrant Uber Drivers in Australia. Work, Employment and Society, 36(2), 290-309.

Further readings:

Orth, B. (2023). Stratified pathways into platform work: Migration trajectories and skills in Berlin’s gig economy. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 0(0).

Lam, L., & Triandafyllidou, A. (2022). Road to nowhere or to somewhere? Migrant pathways in platform work in Canada. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 0(0).

Obiettivi formativi

By the end of the course, students will be able to apply analytical frameworks to the understanding of migration flows, to distinguish the specific transnational dimensions of contemporary migration, and to locate and assess the main debates on labour migration.

Riferimenti bibliografici

There is no course textbook, but some recommended reference/core books are:

Anderson, B., & Ruhs, M. (Eds.). (2010). Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration and Public Policy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, R. (2006). Migration and its Enemies: Global Capital, Migrant Labour and the Nation-State (1st ed.). Routledge.

De Haas, H., Castles, S., & Miller, M. J. (2020). The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World (6th edition). London, England: Red Globe Press.

Marino, S., Roosblad, J., & Penninx, R. (Eds.). (2017). Trade Unions and Migrant Workers: New Contexts and Challenges in Europe. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar.

Milkman, R. (2020). Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat. John Wiley & Sons.

Piore, M. (1979). Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Portes, A. (Ed.). (1995). The Economic Sociology of Immigration: Essays on Networks, Ethnicity, and Entrepreneurship. Russell Sage Foundation.

Schierup, C.-U., Munck, R., Likic-Brboric, B., & Neergaard, A. (Eds.). (2015). Migration, Precarity, and Global Governance: Challenges and Opportunities for Labour. Oxford University Press.

Sciortino, G. (Ed.). (2024). Research Handbook on the Sociology of Migration. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-83910-545-6.