Sociology 211

October 15, 2004


Migration and ethnic relations


A.  Introduction

B.  International migration – Isajiw, chapter 3

C.  Immigration to Canada – Isajiw, chapter 4

D.  Ethnic relations – Isajiw, chapter 2

E.  Incorporation of ethnic groups – Isajiw, chapter 5


B.  International migration – Isajiw, chapter 3, pp. 63-75.


Each of the different types of migration outlined by Isajiw emerges from different motivations on the part of migrants and each type also has different effects on the social, economic, and political structure and institutions of the country receiving the immigrants.  Isajiw does not really analyze effects of emigration on the countries from which people leave – primarily the poorer countries.  There may be aspects of ethnic relations in these poorer countries that deserve attention, but the text and the subject of ethnic relations is primarily devoted to issues in the more developed countries of North America and Europe. 


1.  Permanent migration


This is where individuals, families, or groups leave their country of origin, becoming emigrants, and then become immigrants to a different country or region.  If motivation of these individuals is the key to this form of migration, then presumably the motivation is to move to a different country of residence, with the intention of staying in the new country, making it the new home country.  However, there may be situations where the process is not so straightforward and there is return migration, move to an intermediate country or region, or divided residence between original and new country.  Some who migrate, or even the children or grandchildren of those who migrate, may feel loyalties to the original country or region.  Or in the case of the Middle East, the loyalties go many generations back.


The distinction Isajiw develops is between settlement, colonization, and immigration.


a.  Settlement.  This is a process “when people move to an area that is not occupied by any other society” (Isajiw, p. 63).  Examples include original peoples settlement of the Americas, or the settlement of the Pacific islands by those who originally came from China.  In recent history, there are very few examples of this, since most areas of the globe were inhabited in some way. 


As a result of the above considerations, the key to settlement, as opposed to colonization, may be to consider settlement as the establishment of a new social structure, one not only dominated by the immigrant group but created by the immigrant group.  In this situation, the immigrant group not only becomes dominant culturally and economically, but numerically – it is the creation of a new society or even a new people or nation. 


In the case of North America, we often refer to French and British immigration as settlement.  In fact, there were aboriginal people in North America and they were either eliminated or marginalized.  Much of this was done by force, other parts were a result of the greater productive ability of European industrial and agricultural methods.  In any case, a new type of society, social structure, and institutions began to develop among the immigrants of European origin.  These formed the basis for current societies of North America and led to the creation of national minorities (First Nations in Canada). 


Isajiw notes (p. 64) how some parts of North America quickly became different from Europe, while other parts, like western Canada were modeled on British society.  In some ways, the social structure of western Canada preceded European settlement – the dominance of the NWMP, the CPR, and the colonial and Canadian authorities established the social structure of western Canada.  The process in the west of the United States was different in that new social structures had more opportunity to develop there.


b.  Colonization.  This is the process whereby immigrants enter a society and establish dominance over it.  In this process the immigrants do not replace the original social structure by modify it to suit the wishes and needs of the immigrants.  This was the process that Britain attempted to pursue in North America and Spain and Portugal in South America.  These were not entirely successful strategies as most of the areas in North and South America revolted, establishing their own societies.  In the case of much of Asia and Africa, the strategy was more successful for the European colonists, with independence of the colonies delayed until the late 1940s through the 1970s. 


In the case of colonization, immigrants take power in the society – priests, traders, financiers, agriculturalists, industrialists, administrators, educators, military personnel – establish control over the indigenous population, shaping the society in a way to benefit the colonizers and their country of origin.  Rather than merge with the indigenous population, the immigrant colonizers establish clear boundaries between themselves and the indigenous population.  These are both internal and external boundaries, with colonizers considering themselves superior to the colonized and preventing entry into their privileged group. 


In terms of ethnic relations, this colonial relationship can create national minorities or create clear demarcations and divisions among ethnic groups.  Some consider the relationship between non-aboriginal and aboriginal people in Canada to be a colonial relationship created by French, British, and other European settlers in Canada. 


While colonization has generally been a target of attack, it was initially defended by Europeans as bringing “civilization” to societies with a more traditional social structure.  Even some Marxists and supporters of socialism argued that colonialism had some positive features in terms of developing the productive structure of these traditional societies.  That is, they viewed it as a progressive development in leading to these traditional societies becoming incorporated in a modern, industrial, and global world. 


c.  Immigration.  These are individuals, families, or groups “who move into another society and become part of its existing structure” (Isajiw, p. 65).  Implicit in this is a certain form of integration, or possibly assimilation, into the society of the country to which they immigrate. 


There are several ways of classifying the reasons associated with migration.  Isajiw concentrates primarily on the most popular explanation, a division of factors into the dual concepts of push from the area of origin and pull of the area of immigration.  In addition, there are other explanations for migration that may not be captured by the push and pull factors – chain, family, and network migration; group migration; population movements more generally.


Summary – relation to social structure.  Settlement means the migrants create a new society, becoming dominant in numbers, culture, and governance of the society.  Colonization is a situation where migrants become dominant in terms of governance of a society, and alter the social organization of the society, but do not merge with the indigenous population.  Immigration is where migrants come to a country and become part of the social structure of the country, assimilating, integrating, or merging into the culture of the country, while sometimes retaining some distinctive aspects of original culture.  The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are the primary examples of settlement.  Colonization occurred in most of Africa and in many parts of Asia, with the indigenous populations generally obtaining control over their countries between 1945 and 1970.  Immigration occurs around the world today, with relatively few examples of settlement or colonization in the contemporary era. 


Ethnic processes – superordination and subordination.


There are many ways that different ethnic groups come into contact and many ways that ethnic relations can develop.  One theoretical model discussed by Isajiw is the Lieberson model of superordination and subordination.  This further develops the implications of these three types of population movement.  The article by Lieberson is a theoretical model of ethnic relations arguing that a major part of ethnic relations over time is the manner in which initial contact between groups occurs.  Lieberson argues that groups of people attempt to maintain their social institutions, but the environment in which this occurs can change, and “the presence of another ethnic group is an important part of the environment” (Lieberson, p. 904).  Movement of a new people or ethnic group can thus change the environment of another group, leading to new forms of contact and new institutions and ethnic relations.


Superordination or domination.  Lieberson and Isajiw use the term “superordination” as the opposite of subordination.  There are two forms of superordination – superordination by migrants and superordination by indigenous people.   Colonialism is the primary example of the former and immigration of new ethnic groups into a country with a well established social structure represents the latter. 


Migrant superordination occurs when a migrant population imposes it own political and economic structure on another population.  This is possible “when the population migrating to a new contact situation is superior in technology (particularly weapons) and more tightly organized than the indigenous group” (Lieberson, p. 904).  The colonizing immigrants usually regard themselves as superior to the indigenous population and considers themselves to be a civilizing influence on backward peoples.  A new economic and political structure is often created, with new forms of agriculture or industries.  The indigenous population may not wish to participate in these, preferring their traditional way of life and resentful of the newcomers.  This can easily create a situation of conflict, suspicion, division, and resentment that is long lasting.


If the superordinate migrant colonizers attempt to establish new agricultural or industrial forms, they may find the indigenous population unsuitable for this work.  One of the responses is thus to bring in labourers from one or more other countries or ethnic groups.  This creates new and more complex forms of tension – between the colonizers and indigenous population, and between the indigenous population and the labourers from a different ethnic group.  An example of this is the situation the British created in Fiji in the 1870s, where the ethnic divisions continue to this day.


Fiji as an example of the structural changes that can occur when a colonial authority decides to import workers not indigenous to the region. 


While Fiji is a popular tourist destination for those who can afford it, the population and ethnic history of the country demonstrates some of the ideas discussed by Lieberson and Isajiw.  The Republic of Fiji Islands is comprised of 332 islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about 3,000 km. east of northern Australia, north of New Zealand, and southwest of Hawaii (closer to Australia than to Hawaii).  The area of the islands is about 18,000 square km. and the population about 900,000.  This makes it one of the more populous of the south Pacific island nations.  It was originally populated by south Asians who moved into the Pacific about two thousand years ago.  These people, the Fijians, are Melanesians, and have their own language and tribal and governing structure.  The country is relatively prosperous, with forest, mineral, and fishing resources, profitable sugar exports,and tourism of 300-400 hundred thousand people annually.  It is sometimes considered an island paradise.


After some European exploration in the region, the British arrived and, in 1874, it was declared a possession and dependency of the British Crown – a colony of Great Britain.  The agreement with the British was that the chiefs would continue to govern and maintain an administrative political structure.  In return for agreeing to colonial status, only Fijians were allowed to own land. 


Decisions made by colonial authorities and businesses became the source of its current ethnic division.  The population of Fiji is now equally divided between the indigenous Fijians (about one-half the population of the country) and Indians from India, or Indo-Fijians (about 45 per cent of the population).  The two main languages of the country are Fijian and Hindustani, but English is the official language.   Since Fiji became independent from Britain in 1970, the two ethnic groups have had political, economic, social, and military struggles, with two coups and ongoing disagreements concerning governance.  This is an example of the situation that can emerge when a superordinate colonial power making the indigenous population subordinate, and importing a middle group to do the work.


The situation developed beginning in the 1880s, when the British colonial power began to develop large scale sugarcane production, exporting sugar.  Since the British either could not get the Fijians to work in the fields, or wished to have a more compliant labour force to work in the cane fields, the British imported 60,000 indentured labourers from India to work on the plantations. One explanation is that “The European entrepreneurs and planters who arrived in the nineteenth century, finding the local people unacquainted with hard steady labour governed by the clock, imported labour from overpopulated countries where there was a tradition of working to survive.”  (Economist, October 3, 1987). These indentured labourers had to work in the plantations for five uears, and then had another five years where their return passage would be paid.  But many of the Indian workers and their families stayed on in Fiji and their descendants now are mostly born in Fiji, so consider themselves Fijian. 


While some British settled in Fiji, for the most part, they formed only the business and administrative structure of the colony, and few remained after independence in 1970 – the population is almost entirely indigenous Fijians or Indo-Fijians.  Since independence the Indo-Fijian population has been successful in economic area, performing the “middleman” role and leading to some resentment by indigenouse Fijians.  For a period after independence, there was a ruling coalition of the two groups, but in 1987 an indigenous Fijian military colonel, Rabuka, staged a coup and broke any remaining ties to Britain.  His declared aim was to maintain the dominance of the indigenous Fijians.  This led to the exodus of some of the Indo-Fijians.  But by the late 1990s, the political situation had changed again and the first Indo-Fijian became prime minister. 


In the year 2000 there was another coup, although the leaders of the coup were later arrested.  Currently, an indigenous Fijian is again in power but the wrangling between the two ethnic groups continues.  The parliament is structured so a certin number of seats are reserved for the communal villages and some are reserved for the Indo-Fijians. 


The division continues and the legacy of the colonial period dominates Fijian politics.  The colonial power, Britain, created an ethnic division that did not exist earlier, and one of the legacies of this period is the continuing ethnic division, rivalry, and conflict.  While we might say that the two groups should establish a more universal form of democracy (one person-one vote) and establish smoother ethnic relations, the historical background is difficult to forget and is embodied in the current economic structure.


Indigenous superordination.  This is the situation such as the United States or Canada has experienced through the twentieth century, where migrants enter a country where another group is dominant.  In this situation, there may be little initial conflict, since immigrants are attempting to find their way in a new society.  The number of such immigrants may be relatively small compared with the existing population and there may be a variety of countries of origin and ethnicity for the immigrants, so no one group dominates.  Further, the situation of many immigrants has been better than their situation in their country of origin.  While they may fare poorly relative to the existing population in the immigrant country, their opportunities may be greater and their situation may be better than in their country of origin, so a return migration may not be worthwhile.  Some may end up in severe poverty, but many members of the immigrant group may succeed economically, so there is less likely to be organized group conflict than in the earlier case. 


In summary, the nature of the initial form of contact, who is dominant or superordinate and who is subordinate, has a lasting influence on ethnic relations.  There are more possibilities for ethnic conflict where the immigrant group becomes superordinate, especially when other ethnic groups are introduced into the region by the dominant group.  In situations of indigenous superordination, there will still be conflicts but the possibilities and opportunities for migrants may be greater, and the new situation is often better for migrants than returning to their country of origin.  As a result, Lieberson argues there will be less conflict than in the immigrant dominant situation. 


Isajiw finds the Lieberson model useful for explaining some of the history of ethnic relations in Canada.  While the model is limited, it is one way of approaching the issue of ethnic relations, and has a reasonable level of descriptive explanation.  There are certainly other models of ethnic relations (assimilation, integration, mosaic), but the different patterns of dominance, superordination, and subordination are also important in understanding the position of migrants and indigenous population.


Causes of emigration and immigration


Isajiw discusses the cause of economic immigration as primarily related to the push and pull factors.  This is the most popular theory of causes of immigration, and many possible causes can be fit into this classification.  But there are also other theories about causes of migration.


·        Push and pull.  These are factors associated with economic migration, but can be connected to noneconomic causes as well.  Both push and pull factors are likely to be involved in migrations – the push may explain which migrants leave and the pull may explain where the migrants go.


Push factors.  Economic reasons for leaving country of origin – poor economic conditions or economic disasters.  Note that most people lived in rural, agricultural regions until fairly recently in history, and many still do.  As a result, it is some of the developments in the rural sector that can lead to people leaving. 

¨      Disasters – Irish potato famine (1840s), wars that destroy possibilities of livelihood (some regions of Africa in recent years).

¨      Poverty – much of the European migration to North America was from extremely poor regions of Europe – Ukraine, Italy, Russia.

¨      Lack of land and landholding systems – dominance by landlords (Ireland, Britain)

¨      Inheritance systems – some of Europe had systems of dividing land so only one child could inherit the land – with limited land, others were not able to find land.  In other parts of Europe, land was subdivided among all heirs until the parcels became so  small that no one could survive on the limited land.

¨      Shortage of jobs – Today, with many fewer people involved in agriculture and many more living in cities, the main economic push factors would be limited jobs and other economic opportunities in these cities.  Moving to a rural, agricultural region may not be an option for these people.   This is likely to be the situation in much of India and some other developing countries.

¨      Also note that it is not always the poorest people who move – it can take considerable funds to move and it may be those who anticipate being able to improve their situation who are most motivated to move.  As a result, migration is not a simple result of poverty – some may be too poor to move and others may be locked into situations that make it difficult to move or anticipate an improved situation elsewhere.


Pull factors

¨      More or better jobs

¨      Higher wages

¨      Anticipation of improved economic opportunities.  While these cannot be guaranteed, many immigrants move in anticipation of this.  As Isajiw notes (p. 65), many immigrants could survive in their country of origin, but they anticipate an improved set of opportunities and the possibility of upward social mobility if they move to a richer country. 


·        Chain migration.  Another type of migration is where some migrants from a region go to a new region, and are later followed by family, friends, and others from the same region.  This was a common means by which migration began and then continued.  While the push and pull factors also operate, by themselves they would not explain particular patterns of migration.  Initial pioneer immigrants from a region would send back information and perhaps send money as well, leading those who faced limited economic opportunities to follow the same migration patterns.  These networks were a n important way for potential migrants to obtain information about the country and provide a means of support for migration (financial and moral support). 


·        Family reunification.  Single migrants were often the first to come – this was the typical pattern for Chinese, Japanese, and Italian immigrants to North America.  Some years later, wives, children, and parents became immigrants.  This is currently a major part of Canadian immigration policy and a major immigration issue.


·        Group migration.  This is less common today, but was common in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Immigration to the Prairies was often of this type – there were French, Hutterites, Mennonites, Doukhobours, and others who arranged to come as groups, settling on reserves or on land set aside for them.  The East and West reserves in southern Manitoba and around Rosthern are examples of this.  In these cases, it was often the religious leaders who arranged for whole groups to migrate.


·        Population movements.  International migration might best be seen as part of economic and social changes in regions and countries.  Changes in economic conditions may destroy or undercut the means of creating a livelihood for people in a particular region or country.  Or changes in agricultural or industrial activities, trade or investment patterns, and larger or global influences more generally may change the social and economic structure of a region.  From this, people may be on the move – some move to another region of the country, some move from rural areas to cities, and some emigrate either short or long distances.  By concentrating on individual push and pull factors, the larger, structural forces behind population movements may be missed.  Immigration to North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries was part of a global process.  Avery notes “Canadian immigration policy can only be understood in terms of the country’s participation in a wider capitalist labour market.  The rapid expansion of ocean and rail transportation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made it possible for European workers to hunt for jobs in North America on a mass scale.  Their progress through this new world of work was often presided over by ethnic intermediaries.”  (p. 9). 


Political migrants


In current language and concepts, immigrants are sometimes distinguished from refugees.  Refugees have been forced to move, and may or may not wish to immigrate into a country that will accept them.  While refugees can be accommodated under the term “political immigrants” (Isajiw, p. 66), there is a less voluntary aspect to their migration.  Refugees have little choice but to move – their only alternatives may be prison, persecution, or death – and have little control over where they go.  They are often stuck in camps or other situations that we would consider unacceptable, and may end up migrating to whatever country will accept. them.  While they may wish to become immigrants to the accepting country, many would prefer to return to their country of origin, but are unable to do so.  So there is a forced element to their migration which may not be equivalent to the pressures that other international migrants face.


This could also include migration for religious reasons.  Hutterites, Mennonites, and Doukhobours are three examples of group migration that came as immigrants to North America, many to the Prairies.


Forced migration – slavery, traffic in people (especially women and children), indentured labour, prisoners (Australia).


We will return to the issue of political migration when discussing Canadian immigration patterns and policy.


d.  Return migration.  Isajiw notes that many migrants return to their country of origin.  In the article cited by Isajiw, Lieberson reports that between 1907 and 1923, about one-third of immigrants to the United States returned to their country of origin (Lieberson, 1961, p. 905).  Throughout much of Canadian history, there was as much emigration as immigration, but much of this emigration was to the United States.  While important in the study of immigration, with an effect on the size of the population, this is of less consequence for ethnic relations.


Temporary-stay and periodic migration


This includes business people and professionals who move to other countries temporarily to work in businesses operating in other countries.  With multinational corporations and international organizations operating around the world, this has become a common form of temporary movement.


But more important in terms of numbers and consequences for ethnic relations are the migrant and contract workers that are commonly used in Europe and the Middle East.  The United Nations report notes that this is especially common on the Middle East, where the percentage of foreign workers amounts to a large percentage of the total population (74% in the United Arab Emirates and 58% in Kuwait, according to the International Migration Report 2002).  In Europe, this was the way that immigrants from Africa and the Middle East first were used.  These were the so-called guestworkers who were brought on contracts for several years and then sent back to their countries of origin.  But many stayed in the European countries, leading to the large immigrant populations of Switzerland, and Germany.  Issues concerning their position in society have become the focus of political debates in these countries.   Much the same can be said about seasonal workers, although they are governed by different rules and are even more likely to be separated from the mainstream of the society in which they work.


Re-migrants are those who move to one country and then move on to other countries.  This was common in Canadian history, with European immigrants coming to Canada, and then moving to the United States.


Nomads are those who move from one location to another on a regular basis.  These would usually be rural groups, who moved in search of food and other basic necessities.  Some of the aboriginal peoples may have had this pattern.  Apart from the Roma, or gypsies, there are few examples of this type of group today.  Most groups have become fixed in location or at least do not have regular nomadic patterns.


While temporary migration may be sociologically significant, as Isajiw argues, it may be less significant than permanent movements.   It does provide for contact between groups and knowledge about cultures other than one’s own, but may not be associated with ongoing interaction.  Isajiw does note though that this can often lead to labelling or stereotyping, since those staying temporarily have a specific occupational or economic niche – one that others come to associate with them.  For example, Mexican workers may be regarded as well suited for heavy, hard, and long agricultural work.  But these are the only jobs they can get and constitute their means of livelihood.  


As noted earlier, visitors and tourises are less sociologically significant in terms of ethnic relations.





Avery, Donald.  1979. “Dangerous Foreigners” European Immigrant Workers and Labour Radicalism in Canada 1896-1932.  Toronto, McClelland and Stewart.


Lieberson, Stanley.  1961.  “A Societal Theory of Race and Ethnic Relations,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 26, No. 6 (Dec., 1961), 902-910.


United Nations.  2002.  International Migration Report 2002.




Last edited October 15, 2004