Annotation: Kearney, Michael. 1986. From the Invisible Hand to Visible Feet

Kearney, Michael. 1986. From the Invisible Hand to Visible Feet: Anthropological Studies of Migration and Development. Annual Review of Anthropology,15:331-361.

Most anthropological work on migration, Kearney writes, takes the form of “migration and _____” (331). In the case of this article, Kearney pairs migration with development, and provides a comprehensive review of how anthropologists have explored migration studies. The first phase is marked by a shift away from the community studies that were popular in the ’50s and ’60s. This then led to the development of three major theoretical orientations: 1) modernization; 2) dependency, and; 3) articulation. The early works within the modernization framework (e.g. Robert Redfield’s study in 1941 of the flow of Yucatan peasants to the cities) were centered on the study of the individual who “decides” to migrate. This paved the way for urban anthropology, which assumed dualisms such as rural-urban, and was primarily interested in how migrants “adapt”, “assimilate”, and “adjust” in their destination places (333). One example is Feldman’s “squatter suburbanization hypothesis,” which allowed him to argue that the Philippines’ urban shantytowns are not indicators of urban decay, but rather, of city growth. In the ’70s, anthropologists however began to see migration as part of underdevelopment, rather than a solution to it (86). Reacting against modernization theory, research such as that by Portes and by Shoemaker instead conceptualized migration according to dependency theory – a framework that: takes into consideration the economic surplus that flows to the periphery (instead of the center); explores both national and international macroeconomic relationships and processes, and; assumes the presence of an omnipresent capitalist system (leading to the formulation of world system theory) (338). From this macro perspective then emerged a new anthropological conceptualization of migration and development, which now returned to “issues of culture, but culture situated within larger historical structural contexts” (341). This articulation theory rejects dependency theory’s unitary global capitalist system; recognizes that peripheral communities are qualitatively different, although they are shaped by similar colonial and imperialist forces, and; argues that the analysis of surplus must not begin with the premise of unequal economic exchange, but with a discussion of the system of production that generates the surplus (342). It is this theory, Kearney suggests, that allows the anthropologist to return to the community-level of fieldwork, and then to insert this community (and the household/family) “historically and economically into the greater world” (344).


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