Research Handbook on Climate Change, Migration and the Law
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Research Handbook on Climate Change, Migration and the Law

Edited by Benoît Mayer and François Crépeau

This comprehensive Research Handbook provides an overview of the debates on how the law does, and could, relate to migration exacerbated by climate change. It contains conceptual chapters on the relationship between climate change, migration and the law, as well as doctrinal and prospective discussions regarding legal developments in different domestic contexts and in international governance.
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Chapter 3: ‘Climate-induced migration’: ways forward in the face of an intrinsically equivocal concept

Calum T.M. Nicholson

Abstract

Increasingly, social science looks to be conducted through thematically-oriented fields such as ‘migration studies’ and ‘development studies’. This should not come as a surprise, given that specialisation and ‘expertise’ are now well established as shibboleths of our contemporary political life in democratic contexts – itself more technocratic and less ideological than it was in the twentieth century. As universities find themselves needing to demonstrate ‘outcomes’ and ‘impact’, it is perhaps inevitable that the content of research begins to reflect this technocratic turn so characteristic of the context in which the research is conducted. One result of all this is the proliferation of new explanatory concepts, which are held to be a prerequisite to both understanding and changing the world we live in, and as such are assumed to have an inherent utility. One such example is ‘climate-induced migration’, a term that gained significant currency in the past decade, linking as it did two grand themes of contemporary concern. Despite the currency of the term (and others that imply the same causal understanding), it is one that, on close examination, remains conceptually incoherent. This chapter does three things. First, it outlines the surface pattern and underlying structure of that incoherence. Second, it argues that, far from suffering problems peculiar to this field, the pattern and structure of the incoherence is one replicated across other categories endemic in and characteristic of our technocratic era. Third, it suggests an alternative approach to research, thus transcending the problem of this incoherence. This approach holds that the resolution of our predicament lies not in thinking different things (i.e. in new thematic categories), but in thinking differently. Explaining what this means will be the broader purpose of the chapter.

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