Theorizing Migration in a Coloniality of Power Context: Why 'southwards Migrants' Experience Privilege Instead of Discrimination

Caroline Maria Schoepf, Matthew M. Chew

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


This paper discusses the phenomenon of ‘Southwards migration,’ pointing out an important methodological flaw in migration studies – that theories of immi- grant incorporation are based on cases of what we call ‘Northwards migration ’ We define ‘Southwards migration’ as mobility from countries located further to- wards the Global North to countries located further towards the Global South Based on a case study in Hong Kong (comparing ‘Southwards migrants’ of dif- ferent racializations with ‘Northwards migrants,’ n=45), as well as on a review of the literature on populations that we identify as ‘Southwards migrants,’ we show that most negative outcomes that migration theory interprets as intrinsic to the migration experience as such are either absent or reversed in the case of ‘South- wards migration.’ Specifically, in the case of ‘Southwards migration,’ migrants’ hu- man and cultural capital often receives increased valuation and demand, they often encounter high-paying ‘ethnic’/’sending society-driven’ labor markets, they enjoy a positive/privileged societal reception, few pressures to acculturate, and rewards for pursuing ethnic/sending-society oriented strategies This leads to ‘Southwards’ migrants often being sorted into socioeconomic strata above the receiving society and experiencing upward socioeconomic mobility compared to their country of origin. We argue that the discrepancies between these findings and conventional migration theorizing can be explained by the latter’s lack of at- tention to global sets of power relations and stratification systems, as described in the coloniality of power literature, which argues that the global is stratified by various power relations/hierarchies, with economic, political, racial, cultural, and gender dimensions Analyzing migration as taking place in the context and under the influence of such global power relations allows us to analyze how migration leads to privileged outcomes in cases of ‘Southwards migration,’ while they lead to disadvantaged outcomes in cases of ‘Northwards migration ’


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