Climate-driven Migration: How does it differ from other migrations and how do we study it?

Seminario DSRS
21 giugno 2023
Orario di inizio 
Palazzo di Sociologia - Via Verdi 26, Trento
Sala professori Piano I e Online
Organizzato da: 
Katia Pilati
Ingresso libero con prenotazione
Online su prenotazione
Katia Pilati
Ufficio Comunicazione


Karsten Paerregaard, University of Gothenburg


The migration/climate nexus is a complex topic demanding cross-disciplinary research ranging from the natural to the social sciences and the humanities. A major divide between these research traditions is the theorizing of climate and migration as systems and models versus and as agency and processes. In the former tradition, the researchers start by hypothesizing an expected outcome which they seek to verify by repeating the same experiment at different times or in different locations. It conceptualizes climate, environment, behavior, etc. in terms of systems which it simulates in models that aims to anticipate future scenarios. The latter tradition, by reverse, takes a holistic view on human affairs employing an explorative approach which implies following case studies over time and using qualitative research methods to scrutinize how social relations and interactions in specific locations are shaped by but also influence the environmental-socio-political context in which they unfold. The discrepancy between the two approaches comes to the fore in the use of the terms “tipping point” and “threshold.” Both terms resonate with a research tradition that thinks in systems and that uses modelling to simulate how these develop. Their use has later been extended to the study of socio-economic processes and more recently also the study of climate-related migration. But how does the idea of red lines speak to a research tradition that attributes climatic and other forms of environmental change to human agency? How can qualitative research methods designed to scrutinize people’s experiences, perceptions, and relations identify tipping points and thresholds in the socio-cultural processes their agency is embedded in? And of special relevance for this paper: what do “tipping point” and “threshold” imply for a study that examines migration as a socio-cultural process and the outcome of human activities? The paper’s aim is to answer these questions by a) discussing the import of “tipping point” and “threshold” and their use as conceptual tools to study climate-related migration; b) scrutinizing how the terms may be employed in my own research on migration practices and climate perceptions in Peruvian mountain communities, and c) proposing a mobility framework that enables scholars from the social sciences and humanities to translate and adopt concepts from Earth sciences and other natural sciences to study climate-related migration. The paper’s claim is that “tipping point” and “threshold” carry a notion of irreversibility and determinism which induces migration scholars to assume: 1) that climate-related migration develops as a function of climate change, 2) that climate-related migration constitutes a distinct population movement, and 3) that once climate-related migration gains momentum it is unstoppable. To translate “tipping point” and “threshold” from a climatological to a migratory context, the paper proposes a framework that employs the concept of mobility to examine migration as an inherent activity of people’s everyday life with no distinct start, peak, or end points.


Katia Pilati, University of Trento


Paolo Boccagni, University of Trento


Daniela Giudici & Nick Harney, University of Trento