Kristin LaHatte

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Kristen Norton

Migration is tightly bound to issues of risk and security. Nations use borders to secure their people from other nations. The risky act of moving through borders, whether internally or externally creates physiological, cultural and psychological problems. Cultural ideas about risk and security affect decisions to migrate or coping strategies implemented post-migration.

This annotated bibliography presents resources from a wide array of social science fields including medical and cultural anthropology, sociology and international affairs. Many sociologists such as Graves, Opresa and Landale use statistics to analyze effects of migration. Though quantitative methodologies are helpful in policy work on migration, it ignores context-rich environments. What do numbers tell us? Sociologists can make inroads to migration policy by including the participants in analyses instead of just presenting statistics about them.

Politicians and international institutions perceive migration as a political risk and security issue. International affairs and political science focus on issues such as identification of immigrations, nationalism and displaced populations. Civil, legal and political repercussions of migration are a big part of risk and security issues. On the other hand, these disciplines must go further than the international and national levels.

Cultural anthropologists study context-rich areas. Medical anthropology investigates the effects of migration on mental and sexual health as well as risks to disease. Other anthropologists focus on shifts in identity perception and gender roles. Anthropological issues surrounding immigration and policy add to the literature as well. Anthropologists also contribute studies of changing ethnic identity, memories of trauma and liminality in the face of discrimination.

Though anthropology has contributed much to the literature on migration, risk and security, many areas lack attention. More detailed analyses of cultures pre-migration can help to uncover paths that may aid research of post-migration. Cultural conceptualizations of risks are another area of focus that anthropologists must study. How do people of different cultures perceive their risks prior to migrating? How do these perceptions change?

It is difficult to research people living in areas affected by war or violence. Anthropologists do, however, contribute to refugee and displacement studies by focusing on gender, class and ethnic categories pre- and post-migration. Another gap is research on risk-aversion, especially within areas afflicted with physical violence, political upheaval and economic deterioration.

Migration involves the uprooting of individuals or groups and is largely risky. With this uprooting comes a major shift in cultural perceptions, shifts that anthropologists can help to investigate. Future anthropological research in the area of migration as it is connected to risk and security will involve lengthy but needed studies of cultures and cultural displacements.

Annotated Bibliography
Becker, Gay, Yewoubdar Beyene, Pauline Ken. 2000. Memory, Trauma, and Embodied Distress: The Management of Disruption in the Stories of Cambodians in Exile. Ethos 28(3): 320-345.

Refugees of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge genocide have memories of traumatic and violent experiences that have repercussions on their physical and mental health. Becker, Beyene and Ken study Cambodian exile narratives through interviews of refugees living in the United States. They illustrate how refugee’s memories of trauma re-surface during post-migration and the ways these memories affect Cambodians physically and mentally.

United States

Cambodian refugees

Memory narrative

Coping strategies

Medical anthropology

Bletzer, Keith V. 2004. Open Towns and Manipulated Indebtedness among Agricultural Workers in the New South. American Ethnologist 31(4): 530-551.

Bletzer conducts a six-year ethnography of rural, Southern community in the United States. Agricultural contractors employ a form of debt peonage on migrant labor workers in the rural Southern United States. The contractors advance commodities such as food, cigarettes, and alcohol to poor agricultural workers, which keep them underpaid and poor. In recent decades, contractors and workers have introduced illicit drugs such as crack cocaine into the commodity pool. Contractors will advance drugs to workers, placing them at higher risk for incarceration or addiction. Workers also trade drugs with other workers.
Southern United States

Migrant agricultural labor

Labor exploitation

Illicit drug trade

Cultural anthropology

Bletzer, Keith V. 2004b. Risk and Danger among Women Who Prostitute in Areas where Farmworkers Predominate. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17(2): 251-278.

This article explores risk and danger for female sex workers in three rural areas of Florida. Based on ethnographic research, the study analyzes how female sex workers manage risk and danger. Women seek backup from local men, cover a large area rather than remaining fixed in one location, build regular customer bases and avoid risky transactions. Farm-working men in the area perceive HIV risk as being low and thus increase the potential for an environment of transmission risk.

Sexual risk management

Sex workers

Farm-working men and women

Medical anthropology

Brockeroff, Martin and Ann E. Biddlecom. 1999. Migration, Sexual Behavior and the Risk of HIV in Kenya. International Migration Review 33(4): 833-856.

The study examines whether migrants in Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than non-migrants to engage in sexually risky behavior. Sexual behavior is risky when people have multiple sex partners and do not use condoms. Using data from the Demographic Health Survey in Kenya, the researchers show that urban-rural or transnational migration is a factor in high-risk sexual behavior among migrant populations. The authors also conclude that migration affects the sexual behavior of men and women differently.

High-risk sexual behavior

Urban-rural migration

Transnational migration


Public health

Castañeda, Xóchitl; Patricia Zavella. 2003. Changing Constructions of Sexuality and Risk: Migrant Mexican Women Farmworkers in California. Journal of Latin American Anthropology 8(2): 126-150.

Mexican migrant women farmworkers face many risks such as sexual harassment, illness, and economic hardship. Using participant observation, focal groups and interviews with Mexican migrant women laborers in a rural Californian community, Castañeda and Zavella explore the socio-political forces that affect changing constructions of gender and sexuality. These forces, such as the localization of popular culture and racism against Mexican migrants, affect how migrant women view their bodies and sexuality.


Female Mexican migrants

Risky sexual behavior


Cultural anthropology

Cernea, Michael and Christopher M. McDowell. 2000. Risks and Reconstruction: Experience of Resettlers and Refugees. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Development, military conflicts and natural disasters displace resettlers and refugees. This World Bank publication is a comparative analysis of resettlers and refugees and explores central issues for both populations. These issues include: landlessness, reconstruction and relocation, resettlement, joblessness and reemployment, marginalization and social inclusion, food insecurity and the maintenance of sustainable, natural resources.
Resettlers and refugees

Displacement and relocation

Socioeconomic insecurity

Land and food insecurity

Applied anthropology

Chavez, Leo R. 2004. Outside the Imagined Community: Undocumented Settlers and Experiences of Incorporation. American Ethnologist 18(2): 257-278.

Many Latin American immigrants intend to remain in the United States due to economic and social links. Immigrants view themselves as integral parts of their communities but many resident Americans see them as outsiders. Because Latin American immigrants are marginalized, they are not fully incorporated into United States society. Chavez discusses how Central American and Mexican immigrants continually seek an end to their liminal status.
United States

Latin American immigrants

Undocumented migration

Social marginalization

Cultural anthropology

Eschbach, Kart, Jacqueline Hagan, Nestor Rodríguez, Ruben Hernandez-Leon, Stanley Bailey. 1999. Death at the Border. International Migration Review 33(2): 430-454.

The United States border control policies have largely ignored deaths of undocumented migrants across the United States-Mexico border in the Southwest. The researchers conduct an epidemiological study of the deaths of undocumented migrants in the American southwest. Deaths occur due to drowning, exposure, dehydration, hypothermia and hyperthermia. From 1993-1997 intensified border enforcements redirected migration flows to more remote crossing areas, causing an increase of risk of death due to hyperthermia, hypothermia and dehydration.
United States


Border control

Undocumented migration


Feldman, Gregory. 2005. Culture, State, and Security in Europe: The Case of Citizenship and Integration Policy in Estonia. American Ethnologist 32(4): 676-694.

Feldman focuses on post-Soviet Estonia to frame an argument surrounding the imagery of territory, nationality, culture and security. The author also discusses how this imagery has formed integration policies in Estonia that deny citizenship to Soviet-era Russian speakers. Feldman draws on historical, archival and ethnographic research to demonstrate that the concept of national security in Estonia justifies the structure of these policies vis-à-vis immigrants.

Immigration policy

Territory and nationality

National security

Cultural anthropology

Graves, Theodore D. 2004. The Personal Adjustment of Navajo Indian Migrants to Denver, Colorado. American Anthropologist 72: 35-54.

The article reports on a study of 259 male Navajo Indian migrants living in Denver, Colorado over a ten year period. Graves examines the economic, social and psychological effects on male migrants and how they adjust to their new surroundings. In comparison with other local migrant groups, Navajo Indian men have higher rates of arrest and incidents involving alcohol consumption than other migrant communities in the area. The author concludes that Navajo Indian male migrants have problems adjusting to life in Denver, Colorado, and use alcohol to cope.

Navajo Indian urban migrants

Alcohol consumption

Coping strategies

Cultural anthropology

Ho, Ming-Jung. 2003. Migratory Journeys and Tuberculosis Risk. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17(4): 442-458.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States experienced an increase in tuberculosis outbreaks among immigrant populations. Ho studies these outbreaks by analyzing migration narratives of Chinese immigrants living in New York City from 1978-1992. The author targets assumptions that immigrants carry diseases from donor countries such as China to host communities within the United States. Using the narratives, Ho discusses different cultural conceptions of risk.
New York City

Chinese immigrants

Tuberculosis risk

Migration narratives

Medical anthropology

Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Stephanie T.E. 1998. The Kibeho Crisis: Towards a More Effective System of International Protection for IDPs. Forced Migration Review 2: 8-11.

In 1995, the Rwandan military killed hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a massacre of Kibeho, a refugee camp in southwest Rwanda. The Rwandan government suspected that genocide sympathizers were living in the camp and cut off their food and water supply. The IDPs, enraged, began throwing stones at military personnel who fired back with machine guns. Kleine-Ahlbrandt studies the causes of the Kibeho massacre as well as institutional roles.


Internally displaced persons camp

Military massacre

Refugee studies

Larson, Daniel O.; John R. Johnson; Joel C. Michaelson. 1994. Missionization among the Coastal Chumash of Central California: A Study of Risk Minimization Strategies. American Anthropologist 96(2): 263-299.

Using Franciscan missionary documents, registers and paleoenvironmental data, Larson et al. study the effects of Spanish colonialism, specifically missionization, on the central coastal Californian Chumash. The Chumash people migrated to Spanish missions between the years 1786-1803. The researchers argue that the Chumash may have migrated in order to minimize risks in the wake of serious events such as drought, climatic changes and disease.

Chumash Indians

Migration and risk aversion

Spanish ethnohistory

Cultural anthropology

Lohrmann, Reinhard. 2000. Migrants, Refugees and Insecurity. Current Threats to Peace? International Migration 38(4): 3-22.

Lohrmann discusses the real and perceived threats of migration on national and international security. He discusses issues such as immigration and crime, ethnic tensions and political instability, threats to donor and host countries, and the role of multilateral agencies. Lohrmann draws generally on examples from Eastern European, African and Southeast Asian countries.
Comparative migration and security

Migration and political instability

Immigration and crime

Multilateral agencies

International affairs

Lubkemann, Stephen C. 2004. Situating Migration in Wartime and Post-war Mozambique: A Critique of “Forced Migration” Research. In Categories and Contexts: Anthropological and Historical Studies in Critical Demography. Simon Szreter; Hania Sholkamy; A. Dharmalingam, eds. Pp. 371-407. New York: Oxford University Press.

In the context of post-civil war Mozambique, Lubkemann analyzes the social and cultural factors of agency in forced migration. The author critiques social scientists who over-emphasize political aspects in causing wartime migrations. Lubkemann emphasizes the historical and cultural perspectives of local-level struggles and how these struggles influence wartime migration. Finally, the author discusses the how the change in gender distributions effects marriage in the post-war context.

Post-war migration

Wartime migration methodology


Cultural anthropology

Malkki, Liisa H. 1996. Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization. Cultural Anthropology 11(3): 377-404.

Using ethnographic fieldwork with Hutu refugees from Burundi living in Tanzania, Malkki examines the genocides in Burundi and Rwanda. She compares the social construction of Burundi and Rwandan communities and examines the different ways that Burundians and Rwandans categorize refugees. Malkki explains that Hutu refugees use the category as positive within refugee camps. She investigates how staffs of international humanitarian assistance organizations conceptualize and use the term refugee in everyday conversation.

Hutu refugees

Conceptualization of refugee

International humanitarian assistance organizations

Cultural anthropology

Mills, Mary Beth. 2005. Contesting the Margins of Modernity: Women, Migration, and Consumption in Thailand. American Ethnologist 24: 37-61.

Commodity consumption is often a central goal of migration decisions. Mills studies consumption of migrant women workers in Bangkok, Thailand as a form of social practice. Using ethnographic research of rural women who have migrated to the city for employment opportunities, the author investigates how women construct new identities in the face of economic and social constraints such as low wage, low status and marginalization. Due to their urban consumption practices, migrant women view themselves as modern. On the other hand, ties to kin in rural communities threaten this sense of self.


Consumption practices

Migrant women identity

Cultural anthropology

Oropesa, R.S.; Nancy S. Landale. 2000. From Austerity to Prosperity? Migration and Child Poverty among Mainland and Island Puerto Ricans. Demography 37(3): 323-338.

Using the 1990 Census Public Use Microdata samples for the United States and Puerto Rico, Oropesa and Landale compare the risks of child poverty at points of origin and destination. The researchers conclude that migration reduces the risk of child poverty due to better employment opportunities. In addition, economic benefits continue for native-born generations in the United States and return migration to Puerto Rico is associated with impoverishment.
United States

Puerto Rico

Migration and impoverishment

Child poverty


Stivey, Rachel M. 2000. Stigmatized Spaces: Gender and Mobility Under Crisis in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 7: 143-161.

Stivey explores the economic decline of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the effect of the area’s gendered migration. The crisis transformed the labor market in the area, negatively affecting low-income migrants. The economic downturn has caused many women to live independently, a stigma among men and women in Sulawesi. Using surveys and interviews with men and women in immigrant and emigrant places before and after the economic decline, Stivey shows that threats to women’s sexual integrity are culturally formed. Ideas about women’s economic and sexual independence greatly influence women’s decision to migrate in this region.

South Sulawesi

Gendered migration

Sexual integrity

Stigma of women’s independence

Feminist geography

White, Jenny B. 1996. Belonging to a Place: Turks in Unified Berlin. City & Society 8: 15-28.

White investigates the identity and concept of foreigner in Germany following the country’s economic instability post-unification. Political attacks on foreigners, including asylum-seekers and long-term immigrant residents, especially Turkish immigrants, increased during Germany’s unstable economy. In turn, many immigrant populations and long-term resident immigrant communities re-evaluated their identities vis-à-vis German national society. While some Turkish immigrants withdrew from Germany’s national identity by identifying themselves as foreigners, others chose to emphasize multi-ethnic identities.


Turkish immigrants

National identity

Cultural anthropology

Cultural Constructions of HIV/AIDS and Risk through a Gendered Perspective

Heather Papp

A survey of anthropological and related literature pertaining to cultural constructions of HIV/AIDS and the risks of contracting the virus yields invaluable information that should be incorporated into any intervention program designed to prevent the spread of the disease. The sources appearing in this annotated bibliography primarily draw upon ethnographic research conducted in various regions of the world, including Africa, North America, and South Asia. The research reveals how local understandings of HIV/AIDS, gender, and identity vary across cultures. Moreover, such cultural constructions greatly influence the manner in which individuals understand and negotiate the risk of contracting the virus.
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