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The International Migration Institute organised a one-day workshop to start new conversations about social theory and migration studies.

The analytical categories of structure and agency have a prominent place in the research on migration processes, the settlement of people and their social incorporation into host societies. There are two dominant theoretical perspectives where the structure-agency impasse has so far been addressed. The first, and most frequently adopted, is Giddens’ notion of structuration; while it is beguiling, it has arguably failed to offer any significant advances for migration theory. The second, critical realism, appears to offer a useful analytical tool for a more sophisticated analysis of structure and agency in migration processes. Nevertheless, attempts at incorporating critical realism into migration studies remain fragmented and its utility is contested.

This workshop aimed to provide a platform for dialogue on how to theoretically and methodologically apply a critical realism perspective in empirical studies of migration processes. The sessions explored the foundations of critical realism; reflected on how it can be applied to migration research; and asked what is distinctive about critical realist approaches to migration research compared to the much more common positivist and relativist studies that dominate the field.

We are grateful to the Oxford Martin School for contributing funds to make this event possible.