Clements Center Annual Symposia


Global Migrations Crisis

A joint symposium co-sponsored by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, the Tower Center for Political Studies, and the Center for Presidential History, at SMU

Our symposium on the Global Migration Crisis will look at the rapidly evolving trends in international migration in the 21st century, the root causes and the challenges that mass movements of people present for states and regions, including the exodus from the Middle East and Africa to Europe; Mexican immigration and the surge in child migration from Central America through Mexico to the United States; the fluid populations and boundaries of south and southeast Asia; and the displacement of populations in Africa resulting from climate change, failed states, and other natural and man-made disasters.

Since the 1940s international migration has been increasing in every region of the globe, stoking the fears of some who give voice to a sense of crisis – a crisis that is as much political as social and economic.  But migration is not a new phenomenon in the annals of the human past. Indeed, for much of recorded history and throughout many civilizations, the movement of populations was not unusual. Only with the advent of the nation-state in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe did the notion of legally tying populations to territorial units and to specific forms of government become commonplace.  In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, passport and visa systems developed and borders were increasingly closed to non-nationals, especially those who were deemed to be hostile or undesirable to the nation and the state. Almost every dimension of human existence – social-psychological, demographic, economic, and political – was reshaped to conform to the dictates of the nation-state. 

In looking at recent migration “crises,” particularly, it is important to keep in mind la longue durée -- to put these major migration flows into historical perspective.  The migration crises of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, for example, pale by comparison with the upheavals associated with the industrial revolution, the two world wars, and decolonization, which resulted in genocide, irredentism, the displacement of tens of millions of people, and the radical redrawing of national boundaries, not only in Europe but also around the globe.

Does this mean that the latest waves of migration do not rise to the level of crisis, threatening the political and social order in various regions of the globe? What are the drivers and dynamics of migration in a world that by most measures is relatively open in market terms and where human rights play an increasingly important role?  What are the consequences of population movements and displacement for human development, and how can states manage these flows in light of the fact that there are strong economic pressures for openness and equally strong political and legal pressures for closure? These are some of the questions that we seek to address from historical, theoretical, and policy standpoints, looking across regions and countries. 

The symposium will occur in two stages and in two places. The first will be held in October 2017 at SMU’s satellite campus in Taos, New Mexico, where there will be an initial workshop for those authors accepted into the conference. The second workshop and public symposium will be held in Dallas at SMU in February 2018..

Conference co-organizers Neil Foley and Jim Hollifield (SMU) will co-edit a volume of selected papers to be published by a major press. For more information about the symposium please contact Neil Foley ( and James Hollifield (

Migrants walking along in the sunset after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia near Roszke, Hungary, on Aug 30, 2015. About 100,000 migrants, many from Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East, have taken the Balkan route into Europe this year, heading via Serbia for Hungary and Europe's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.Photo: Reuters/Bernadett Szabo