Migration Theory in Climate Mobility Research

De Sherbinin, Alexander M.; Grace, Kathryn; McDermid, Sonali; van der Geest, Kees; Puma, Michael J.; Bell, Andrew

The purpose of this article is to explore how migration theory is invoked in empirical studies of climate-related migration, and to provide suggestions for engagement with theory in the emerging field of climate mobility. Theory is critical for understanding processes we observe in social-ecological systems because it points to a specific locus of attention for research, shapes research questions, guides quantitative model development, influences what researchers find, and ultimately informs policies and programs. Research into climate mobility has grown out of early studies on environmental migration, and has often developed in isolation from broader theoretical developments in the migration research community. As such, there is a risk that the work may be inadequately informed by the rich corpus of theory that has contributed to our understanding of who migrates; why they migrate; the types of mobility they employ; what sustains migration streams; and why they choose certain destinations over others. On the other hand, there are ways in which climate and broader environment migration research is enriching the conceptual frameworks being employed to understand migration, particularly forced migration. This paper draws on a review of 75 empirical studies and modeling efforts conducted by researchers from a diversity of disciplines, covering various regions, and using a variety of data sources and methods to assess how they used theory in their research. The goal is to suggest ways forward for engagement with migration theory in this large and growing research domain.

Keywords: migration theory, climate migration, climate mobility, migration research, climate adaptation, human mobility, climate change, aspirations and capabilities


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Frontiers in Climate

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