Mapping the field: Migration Studies

We are pleased to launch a new series of blog posts aimed at providing insights into the key themes, centres of production and geographical foci in migration studies today through an analysis of the coverage of some of the key academic journals in the field. The series is written and researched by the students on the MA in Migration Studies at the University of Birmingham and edited by Nando Sigona.

The first contribution is by Hannah Kent (MA in Migration Studies, 2020-21, @Hannah_Kent1) and will focus on the journal Migration Studies published by Oxford University Press. The analysis is focused the Issues published in 2019.


Migration Studies is one of the leading academic journals drawing together research from around the world, centred on methodologically and theoretically innovative research in the field of migration. The journal is published by Oxford University Press and has an international editorial board including key scholars in the field. Although relatively young, having only 8 years of publication, in the first 6 years it reported to have been read over 222,000 times across 148 countries. (Migration Studies, 2020). The journal has traditionally published 3 issues per year, however for 2019 there were 4 issues which reached publication.  Each of these issues contained a collection of new articles, editorials and book and thematic reviews. 

The following analysis of the contents of the 2019 issues of Migration Studies (including overall 21 articles) is carried out with the support of NVivo. The analysis seeks to provide insight into the main themes and the geographical foci covered in 2019 and the main places of production of knowledge on migration. This analysis has focused on four aspects:

  • Titles and abstracts
  • Geographical focus of research
  • Country author(s) is based
  • Keywords

Titles and abstracts

The words that occur most frequently in the titles after those stemmed from ‘migration’ are asylum, detention and, return and forced

The most frequent words in the article abstracts are migrants and migration, inclusive of the stems of migration and migrants. Next, abstracts centre around words such as detention, nation, policy, practices and processes.  As the abstract is a summary piece, there are many words with have high frequencies that are key to structure, such as studies, paper, findings etc. One theme detected is around family, identity and integration.  The word ‘home’ occurred 9 times in the abstracts, and when reading the abstracts in full it is easy to see that identity and family are things which were recognised as presently relevant. A second theme is around borders, states and immigration enforcement. This is latter is particularly common in articles covering forced migration.

Geographical focus of research

Overwhelmingly, the articles focus on immigration and destination countries. The articles are predominantly focused upon the ‘Global North’ with the UK, USA and Canada as the most frequent geographical foci.  In the cases of the four articles with a geographical focus on a country in the ‘Global South’, the articles are written looking at emigration from these places to a western country, or the forced migration experiences of individuals from these places.  There is a lack of articles which explore domestic or regional migration, and papers looking at migration from North to South, and South-South.

Geographical focus of articles, Migration Studies, 2019

Country where the author/s is based

The authors published in 2019 are based in 13 countries, all of which are OECD countries. The US (8), the UK (6) and EU member states (17) (in particular the Netherlands, Finland and Germany) ranks most highly as main centres of scholarship. It is important to note that this is representative of the country where the authors are based, and does not account for the nationality or country of origin of the authors.  Additionally, many of the articles which were comparative or had multiple authors, represented academics based in several countries.

Affiliation of authors, Migration Studies, 2019


Keywords are given to an article by the authors in order to ensure that it reaches its most relevant audience.  Therefore, one might argue that these keywords are the author’s perception of most frequent words, or certainly those they deem most important.  Migration once again has the highest word frequency occurring 15 times.  Transnationalism is the second most frequent keyword, despite it not appearing often in the abstracts or article titles. Other words that occur multiple times, include deportation, law, and mobility, all of which hadn’t previously ranked highly in other categories and yet are all important topics within migration studies.

In conclusion, while only offering a snapshot of the contents and foci of the publication, the word frequency analysis provides nonetheless some insights into the priority areas covered by the journal and the main places of production of knowledge of migration (a closer look may reveal the centres and universities which play a major role in migration studies today). While not unexpected, the almost exclusive attention to countries of destination and immigration is also a reminder of the areas currently less covered in scholarship. Further analysis is needed to ascertain variation in country of origin of authors, and the immigrant groups researched. In addition, a longitudinal perspective and comparison across different journals could help to give a clearer picture of recurring and trending themes. This could also provide insight into the extent to which themes are echoed in other publications in the field. 


Migration Studies (2020) ‘About’, Oxford University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 16 December 2020).

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