Environmental migration research

Evolution and current state of the science

Authored by: Robert McLeman , François Gemenne

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Displacement and Migration

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138194465
eBook ISBN: 9781315638843
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter provides an overview of the historical and more recent trajectory of research on environmental migration and displacement (EMD), and of the current challenges and issues in the field. It reviews the 19th and early 20th century influences of Ravenstein, Malthus, Social Darwinism, and environmental determinism as the EMD field emerged and grew; the mid-20th century ebb in EMD research, when it was replaced with discussions of residential preferences, environmental amenities, and primitive migration; and, the late-20th century resurgence in interest among researchers studying natural hazards, political ecology, and international security. EMD research in the last two decades has been strongly driven by climate change vulnerability and adaptation research, and on the information needs of national and international policymakers working through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The interest of policymakers in EMD research will continue to grow. Current EMD research is best characterized by its increasing multidisciplinarity, reflecting the recognition that EMD is an outcome of interactions of cultural, demographic, economic, environmental, political, and social processes across multiple scales. Population movements captured by the term EMD span a wide spectrum, from people who voluntarily move in seek of opportunity to people who must move for lack of a safe alternative, creating a broad range of challenges for policymakers and researchers alike. There is also growing awareness of immobility and inability to migrate when confronted with environmental risks. The chapter concludes with a short description of important themes and topics of the remaining chapters in this book.

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