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date: 26 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

A comprehensive review of the scholarly literature that considers ethical questions surrounding human migration flows across international borders covers themes of membership and belonging, the right to exclude, the liberal impasse with regard to immigration, the role of property rights at the international level, movement through visa categories, and the problem of jurisdiction during migration journeys. Such an examination reveals that migration provokes a particular problem for international relations when the nation-state is the primary unit of analysis, and that the current literature acknowledges yet does little to correct a Western bias at the heart of scholarly work on the ethics of human migration flows.

Ethical questions regarding human migration have been at the forefront of news and public debate, particularly in recent years. The implications of human migration for membership in political communities have received much attention in political theory, international relations theory, international law, human rights, and ethics. Migration, by definition, challenges some of the key assumptions, categories, and ways of theorizing international relations (hereafter IR). The conventional assumptions of IR reproduce the notion that states as unitary actors interact with each other in a global sphere or within the confines of the international system and its structure and rules of behavior. In this rendering of the global, there is little room for people who seep outside of state borders, people who move with no national affiliation, or people who retain multiple national affiliations. The embodied contestation of the territorial categories of IR that is practiced by the movement of people is particularly relevant to constructivist IR theory. If the world is constituted through social interactions and intersubjective understandings, when social interactions happen across borders the intersubjective understanding of state units containing human populations is called into question. When people manifest multiple identities, the state-based identities of the international system are called into question. Studies of the ethics of migration flows then must tackle these lines of inquiry.

Keywords: migration, immigration, mobility, borders, citizenship, belonging, exclusion, territory, hospitality

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