Neo-Liberal Globalisation, Social Transformation and International Migration:
An Asian-Pacific Perspective
Department of Sociology and Social Policy,
University of Sydney
Rm 243c, Transient Building, F12
NSW 2006 Australia
International migration presents important challenges for new immigration countries like South Korea. This paper examines how international migration is linked to broader processes of social transformation that arise through neo-liberal globalisation, and argues that migration theory should be a significant element of broader social theory. The paper arises from the Social Transformation and International Migration (STIM) Project, currently being carried out at the University of Sydney. The STIM Project includes fieldwork in South Korea, Turkey, Mexico and Australia. Its staring point is the Karl Polanyi’s theory of the ‘great transformation’ of European societies through the industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th century. The STIM project follows a number of prominent social scientists in seeking to apply this theoretical model to the social transforrmations brought about by contemporary neo-liberal globalisation. The paper goes on to discuss the specific forms of social transformation that have taken place in east and Southeast Asia since the 1970s. International migration currently creates a major dilemma for Asian societies: economic and demographic forces make recruitment of migrant workers and other forms of migration (including marriage migration) important for; but also leads to fears of loss of ethnic homogeneity and national identity. Asian governments need to work out strategies for managing these contradictions. These will only succeed if they are based on understanding of the forces that drive migration and on a long-term strategy with regard to issues of diversity and identity.