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This paper is based on the findings of the Theorizing the Evolution of European Migration Systems (THEMIS) project, which explores how the migration of people at one point in time affects subsequent patterns of migration to the same area. It focuses on the feedback processes: the social mechanisms that link migration experiences across time and space. Drawing on THEMIS data, this paper looks at the role of migration narratives disseminated through publicly visible examples in shaping attitudes to migration, aspirations and decision making. These can be found at a local level – in migrants’ houses, clothes, cars, or changed attitudes and behaviours for instance. They are also available globally through broadcast media and the internet. In the case of Ukrainians moving to Portugal in the early 2000s, the scale of the movement rapidly became a subject of public debate, ensuring that stories about migrants were present in newspapers and on television and radio. As a result the impact of earlier migration was seen far beyond social networks. Likewise, a Brazilian soap opera showing Brazilians studying in the Netherlands increased the profile of the Netherlands as a potential destination country. The news of the economic crisis in Europe and its impact on the employment prospects for migrants has also been widely disseminated in origin countries, changing people’s imaginations of Europe and their interest in migration. This paper shows how this type of social mechanism stands apart from the idea of normative pressure or influence carried through social networks: it is a more nuanced mechanism, which may become normative only when it creates new conditions in which migration (or the rejection of migration) is broadly perceived as a social requirement.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

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