Migration and the politics of classification: before and after Brexit

This paper re-examines recent scholarship on intra-EU migration pointing to the politics of classification emerging from several studies, namely the distinctions between deserving and undeserving citizens that migrants themselves draw when discussing their position vis-à-vis other groups, both EU and non-EU migrants. Such distinctions are drawn between but also within groups, revealing the centrality of both ethnicity/race and class in shaping the cultural politics of EU migrants. While the outcome of Brexit is difficult to predict, I will argue that this politics of classification should become a key site of investigation in future migration research. In this paper, I will focus particularly on the notions of ‘meritocracy’ that emerge from the narratives of recent Italian and Spanish ‘expats’. While Britain’s exit from the European Union could significantly affect such narratives, leading to new distinctions between ‘settled’ and ‘new’, legal and ‘illegal’ migrants, the politics of classification as a social process – and its links with class, race and gender – is likely to remain important. The paper thus makes a more general argument in favour of a relational approach to the study of migration, one that draws on Bourdieu (1990) and other forms of relational analysis (Desmond 2014, Tyler 2015). This approach focuses on struggles between individuals and groups endowed with different kinds and amounts of resources, which compete over the very definition of migration and its cultural, political and ethical-moral significance.

The paper draws on a three-year project on Italian migration funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Simone Varriale (University of Warwick)