Background, Relevance and Methodology

Development and Migration

Migrants cannot be understood as a bounded group (e.g., the ‘Indian diaspora’) but should be understood as continually changing. Moreover, states must constantly consider the economic potential of guest workers and return migrants, and the prospect of social conflict caused by these transients. This project addresses both development and notions of belonging. Though independent of each other the studies are interconnected.


Development and identity

The project starts from the premise that the connection between migration and development is conditional and contingent on migrants’ notions of belonging and civic engagement in both the host and sending country.  All aspects of development are infused by culture. Migrants construe their own notions of belonging, responsibility and commitment (Levitt and Lamba-Nieves 2011), which influence their decisions to invest in integration in their host country, to send remittances home, to return to India or not, and to participate in civil society activities (in their country of settlement or departure). (needs more explanation on what we mean by this ?). 

Issues of development and growth on the one hand and notions of belonging and civic engagement on the other come together in identity formation. Identity spans a wide range of issues from sentiments, culture, degrees of engagement or non-engagement and is related to citizenship, governance and rights. Identity is also the basis for inclusion and exclusion, and therefore forms the overarching frame of reference for policies focused on development and citizenship.


Development and migration through the eyes of policy makers

In the last decade or so the potential positive role of migration for development - in home and receiving countries - has also been recognized. Various scholars however argue that there is no automatic and straightforward connection between migration and development (Cf. Portes 2011, Haas 2010, Castles 2009). The extent to which migrations contribute to development depends on a wide range of factors. Migrants may contribute economically as well as socio-culturally – through their ideas, practices, norms, etc (Levitt and Lamba-Nieves 2011).


Policy makers and researchers are trying to determine under which conditions migration is favorable for countries of origin, countries of settlement, multinational corporations, and the migrants themselves (Blakewell 2007). Highly skilled migrants are the target of public policy initiatives to derive benefits from their incomes and abilities. It is thus important to assess policy dynamics in the Indian and Dutch contexts, perceptions of Indian migrants on matters like identity, development, policy incentives of governments, and quality of civic life abroad and at home.




The primary aim of our approach is to uncover the contextualized meaning of development in relation to identity and migration. Issues like development and identity only become meaningful in a concrete political, social, cultural and economic context, linking policies and perceptions with daily civic life. The meaning of what people say and do can only be understood within the context in which they operate; their actions and words must be ‘thickly described’ (Geertz 1973,6).


This project is divided into several areas of research.

1.            Indian return migrants to India ((Post-doc) Dr. Ratnakar Tripathy).

2.            Migration and Citizenship ((Post-doc) Dr. Kate Kirk).

3.            Philanthropy in India ((MA 2013) Aarti  ).

4.            Notions of home and belonging among highly-skilled Indian migrants in the Netherlands ((MA 2013) Sarah Janssen).

5.            Notions of belonging among the wives of highly-skilled migrants in the Netherlands ((MA 2014) Sara de Prie.)

6.            Medical workers from India to the Netherlands ((MA 2014) Zeger Polhuijs.)


Methodologically, the project takes a comparative and ethnographic approach. Our anthropological approach of repeated fieldwork among the migrants and return migrants will allow us to uncover the contextualized meaning and to gain an understanding of notions of belonging and civic engagement amongst transnational migrants.


The role of the state as legislator and designer of migration policies is also of fundamental importance. Researchers will collect/interpret data using participant observation, interviews, focus groups, participatory mapping techniques, document- and interpretive policy analyses. In order to determine the meaning/significance of policy, two questions are pertinent: for whom do policies have meaning (stakeholders/interpretative communities) and through which processes and symbols the policy meanings and objectives are communicated (Yanow 2000).



The focus is on stakeholders/interpretive communities, including national governments (state, provincial, municipal), transnational business/multinational corporations, civic society organizations, cultural organizations, business organizations, and migrants themselves. These groups are not homogenous. We will strive to accommodate multiple meanings through an interactive process of interpretation and reinterpretation within the various communities. In addition, the researchers will collect policy artefacts such as documents, language, objects and acts the various communities employ to give meaning to identity.