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Assessing Uncertain Migration Futures: A Typology of the Unknown

Migration is one of the most, if not the most uncertain of the major demographic processes. A complex network of interacting drivers and factors, coupled with a key role of human agency in migration decisions, well-known issues with ambiguous conceptualization, and problematic measurement of migration flows, all contribute to the very high levels of complexity and uncertainty. This limits our ability to study migration, not to mention predicting it. The aim of this paper is to shed light on the different facets of migration uncertainty, by offering a unique typology of the knowable and unknowable features of migration, with a special focus on the complexity of the underlying drivers. The typology is centered around the limits of knowledge of different migration concepts, definitions, drivers and multidimensional driver complexes, measurements, features, spatio-temporal and life course regularities, as well as possible impacts. By doing so, we hope to illuminate the promising areas of migration studies which have the highest potential of reducing the associated uncertainty through further research in the future. At the same time, the typology helps to identify those features of migration processes, for which the uncertainty is irreducible, and needs to be adequately managed. The conceptual work underpinning the typology is based on a systematic review of the state of the art in migration studies with respect to how migration uncertainty and complexity are being defined, measured, and analysed.

This report is part of the deliverables of the Horizon 2020 project QuantMig: Quantifying Migration Scenarios for Better Policy.

QuantMig has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 870299.