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Movers and Stayers: Social Mobility, Migration and Skills


Izabela Grabowska

The author examines social mobility in the enlarged EU by analysing the work sequences of 1865 movers and stayers in Poland. Using indicators of upward and downward social mobility, she explores the role of migration in careers. Her research shows that migration adds dynamism to work paths and contributes to the improvement of people’s working lives. It also suggests that agency and reflexivity guide the acquisition of tacit skills during migration, resulting in various patterns of social mobility.
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Chapter 1. Agency @ structure in social mobility of migrants


International work-related human mobility affects millions of people across the globe every day as migrants and as sedentary persons. Migration can provide much-needed financial and non-material, resources in the lives of individuals, families and communities. It can be studied from various theoretical paradigms explaining different dimensions of this phenomenon. Migration cuts to the very heart to notions of careers, agency, and structural conditions. The aim of this chapter is to theoretically entangle the concepts of opportunity structure derived from the wide sociological discussion on social structure and multi-component agency derived from recent sociological discussion. Structure and agency have seldom been explicitly juxtaposed in migration studies. Multi-components of agency (see Emirbayer and Mische 1998) relate to (i) routine acts; (ii) innovative strategies; (iii) reflexivity and action. The chapter breaks down both opportunity structure and agency into their prime factors and uncovers their importance for explaining the significance of migration in occupational paths. The chapter demonstrates examples of the interplay of structure and agency in migration processes from Poland in various periods.

1.1 Structure and agency: Competing approaches?

Questioning the impact of migration on occupational paths may involve two potentially competing sociological approaches: the first stating that work lives are a product of social structure, and the second one underlining the significance of individual action, described in sociological literature as agency. Therefore one can distinguish two rival models of analysis: structure without agency and agency without structure.

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