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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Migration as Morality Politics?

Public Policy
Political Sociology
Julia Mourão Permoser
University of Innsbruck
Julia Mourão Permoser
University of Innsbruck

Migration has so far not been in the focus of studies of morality politics. This is partly due to the absence of the religious factor. Although current migration debates are entangled with religion in many ways, neither immigration policy (inflows and outflows) nor migrant policies (rights and citizenship) can reasonably be understood as “politics of sin”.

Nevertheless, migration policy has increasingly shifted from being a low-salience and in-transparent policy dominated by bureaucrats and special interests into a high-salience policy that generates strongly emotional responses and is seen as impinging upon people’s basic values. This is particularly true of policies that regulate citizenship, since they involve normative judgments about the legitimate criteria for membership in the polity and thus represent an instance where identity politics and migration politics collide.

In this context, the paper applies a morality lens to migration politics, proceeding in four steps. First, it reviews definitions of morality politics and assesses the degree to which there is an overlap with recent scholarship on migration. Second, the paper engages with the notion of post-secular conflicts that is central to the political-sociology literature on morality politics. It argues that both migration and post-secular conflicts are rooted in the same phenomenon of the emergence of a new type of self-reflexivity that problematizes notions that were treated as absolutes in previous eras, generating new political movements that challenge previously established boundaries of the overlapping consensus. Third, the paper argues that there is a more insidious way in which morality comes to bear on migration politics, namely through the pervasiveness of moral arguments about “deservingness” in the strategies of political actors on both the restrictive and the liberal end of migration politics. Finally, based on this analysis the paper proposes a number of avenues for further research.
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