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Marieke van Houte explores complexities of political change in relation to mobility and immobility through a fascinating Tunisian case study that challenges conventional notions that transnational political engagements contribute to democratization

This paper aims to set an agenda for more in-depth, holistic research on the relationship between migration and political change. The European policy discourse on migration and development has affected the academic analysis on this relationship. Almost invariably, the hypotheses on the link between migration and political change that are being tested are limited to whether migrants’ transnational engagement contributes to democratization. Yet the operationalization of ‘political change’ as ‘democratization’ fails to capture the different temporalities, dimensions and directions of political change. This paper takes the case of Tunisia to illustrate the complexity of political change in relation to mobility and immobility, which appeals simultaneously towards hopes and fears of migrants’ contribution to political changes. Through a historical narrative approach, the paper (1) give a descriptive overview of the different temporalities of political change throughout the history of Tunisia and (2) apply an actor-oriented analytical framework to deconstruct the different interrelated dimensions of political space and political change, as a process that changes over time and is both steered from below and from above, in order to establish (3) what the role of migrants and (im)mobility is in these processes, revealing a dynamic and changing role of migration and mobility. Based on this exploration, the paper highlights five questions to bring research on the relationship between migration and (political) change further. The paper concludes that a more holistic take on change itself allows for a much more interesting view on the role of mobility and immobility in processes and outcomes of both change and continuity. A policy question that arises is therefore how the right circumstances can be promoted that lead to the desired ‘change’

Download the working paper