Revisiting the Migration-Development Nexus from a Cross-Border Perspective

About this project

The current global agenda presents migration and its links with development in three ways that are:

  1.  highly simplistic (propagating an unsustainable growth narrative that does not question structural inequalities);
  2.  instrumental (maintaining a persistent belief that development ‘there’ will lead to less migration ‘here’); and, relatedly,
  3. uni-directional (reinforcing a sedentary view of society). 

Revisiting the Migration-Development Nexus from a Cross-Border Perspective, funded by ISS Research Innovation Facility, aims to follow three strategies to redress these reductionist views of migration concerning development. First, a focus on the bordering function of places and communities; second, a focus on the im/mobilities, displacements and emplacements of residents and migrants simultaneously; and third, a focus on these co-inhabitants diverging, conflicting, or converging views of development. 

Co-researchers Dr Zeynep Kaşlı and Dr Nanneke Winters conduct research from an ethnographic and multi-scalar perspective in Central America and the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean regions. Here are some key elements that we look into: 

  • Historical and contemporary im/mobilities observed in border zones, and their implications for people’s lives across bodily, local and trans-local scales; 
  • Different types of definitions and dilemmas of ‘the good life’ that can be identified among the different co-inhabitants in these contact zones and how they relate to differentiated experiences of im/mobilities;
  • Interventions in place to address conflicting views on the relationship between ‘migration’ and ‘development’.

How can we reinvigorate the migration-development debate?

The project seeks answers to relevant questions, such as: 

  1. How do people on the move conceive development and migration? 
  2. How do members of (temporary) host communities perceive these notions and the relationship between the two? 
  3. In what ways do these ideas relate to each other? Do they contradict or complement each other even if the implications of these ideas are different for those on the move and those hosting? 
  4. What do these everyday conceptions of migration and development tell us about the nexus between the two? How can such a bottom-up approach inform or challenge the policy goals of “safe and orderly migration” and “sustainable development"?
Boat with refugees on water
Gerd Altman

Why is this research relevant? 

The Revisiting the Migration-Development Nexus from a Cross-Border Perspective project aims to offer a substantial redress of dominant but limited migration-development thinking as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the context of ongoing neoliberal and neocolonial border externalization efforts amid selectively proclaimed migration ‘crises’, and a development agenda that is rife with contradictory goals regarding migration and sustainability, our goal is to develop a new migration-development nexus approach that can account for the co-existing multiplicity of im/mobilities and the diversity of conceptions, collaborations and contestations around what a good, valuable life constitutes.

In order to do so, we go beyond isolated and instrumental views of migrants, migration and development. We place their struggles squarely within the processes of reproduction and social change of communities that more or less temporarily host migrants, as well as within the cross-cutting systems of oppression and multi-scalar geopolitical power structures that are manifest within these communities. 

The project will be highly relevant for stakeholders and politicians involved in migration and development policies across the so-called migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries, regions and cities. In particular, the research will shed light on the fundamental limitations of the dominant western-centric notions of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘inclusive societies’ in the presence of persevering neocolonial and neoliberal approaches to the ‘universal’ right of freedom of movement that underpin current global and regional migration governance.

  • Upcoming presentation by Zeynep Kaşlı and Nanneke Winters at the EADI Conference: “Conflicting And Converging Im/Mobilities And Development In The Borderlands” (12 July 2023, Lisbon) 
  • Thesis circle convened by Zeynep Kaşlı and Nanneke Winters with 6 MADS students (2021-2022)
  • Nanneke Winters (2022). A healthy dose of pessimism as a way forward in migration-development thinking? DevISSues, 24 (2), 8-10. 
  • Workshop organized by Zeynep Kaşlı and Nanneke Winters at the IMISCOE Annual Conference: “Revisiting the Migration-Development Nexus from a Cross-Border Perspective” (30 June 2022, Oslo Metropolitan University) 
  • Panel organized by Gabriela Anderson Fernandez, Zeynep Kaşlı and Nanneke Winters at the LDE GMD conference: “Making sense of decolonial, postcolonial and anti-imperial migration studies” (16 May 2022, The Hague) 
  • Panel organized by Amalia Campos Delgado, Guillermo Yrizar Barbosa, Zeynep Kaşlı, Mahardhika Sjamsoe’oed Sadjad and Nanneke Winters for the Global Borderlands conference: “Borders of Belonging. Illegalized im/mobility and the mundane processes of Othering in Global South borderlands” (17 September 2021, Leiden University) 
  • Organization of a break-out session at the LDE GMD conference: “In/mobility and place-making. Zeynep Kaşlı meets Nanneke Winters” (12 April 2021)


For more information, contact Zeynep Kaşlı ( and Nanneke Winters (

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