MSc in Migration Studies

This interdisciplinary, nine-month master’s degree analyses global migration and mobility in historical context and as part of development and social change. Taught by world-class researchers, it will introduce you to key migration and mobility-related concepts, methods and theories across the social sciences, and prepare you for further research or a professional career.

The course provides a broad, theoretical understanding of human mobility and the role of both internal and international migration in economic and political processes, social change and globalisation, as well as an overview of the major debates and literature on contemporary migration from different disciplinary perspectives. You will gain skills in critical analysis and research, and should develop an ability to contribute new perspectives to the study of migration. You should also gain an understanding of the dilemmas facing policy-makers at both national and international level, an understanding of the value of a critical perspective for both academic and policy work, as well as the ability to help transfer theoretical knowledge to policy-oriented research.

Apart from four core faculty members who are dedicated to this degree, research staff from Oxford’s internationally renowned Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and other units will provide additional teaching input. Teaching on the degree is both theory- and problem-focused and is delivered through a combination of lecture courses, classes and tutorials, seminars, student-led presentations, essays and library work. You will be expected to prepare for each lecture, class or tutorial by reading a selection of recommended book chapters, articles and working papers. The MSc is a demanding course and, as is typical at Oxford, you will be expected to keep up with a considerable reading workload. Class sizes are small to mid-size – generally between 5 and 26 students – encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other.

The Course Director for 2019/20 is Professor Biao Xiang of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and COMPAS.


 In the first and second terms you will follow three core courses:

  • The Politics of Movement: International Migration in the Social Sciences
  • Migration, Globalisation and Social Transformation
  • Methods in Social Research

These will be supplemented by a fortnightly discussion class, Keywords: Migration and Social Theory.

In the second term, you will choose two option courses from a list which changes from year to year, and in the final term, you will write a dissertation of up to 15,000 words.

Core Courses

The Politics of Movement: International Migration in the Social Sciences

Professor Dace Dzenovska

The aim of the paper is to provide an interdisciplinary narrative about the history and politics of global mobility and migration. The course will begin with a discussion of different epistemological approaches to studying mobility and migration, following which it will contextualize mobility and migration historically, economically, and politically. Subsequently, the course will examine ways of moving and staying, modes of governing and facilitating migration, as well as the themes of integration, dwelling, identity, and social movements. The course is grounded in anthropology, but also draws on history, communications studies, sociology, economics, geography, and political theory. It will provide insight into themes that students will be able to explore in greater depth through options courses in Hilary Term.

Migration, Globalisation and Social Transformation

Profssor Ruben Andersson

This paper introduces you to the main migration theories, discusses their strengths and weaknesses, and explores whether and how theories can be integrated. The paper shows how an improved theoretical understanding of migration questions conventional migration categories and distinctions, for instance between ‘internal’ and ‘international’, ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ and ‘permanent’ and ‘temporary’ migration, which often do not reflect migrants’ experiences and ignores their agency. An improved theoretical understanding of migration processes also enables a more realistic assessment of what migration policies can and cannot achieve.

Methods in Social Research


The course aims to familiarise you with common qualitative and quantitative research methods in migration studies. It will train you to be both a critical consumer and producer of social scientific data by increasing your understanding of the choices involved in conducting research and the consequences of these choices. The materials covered in the course will also support you in developing the methodology for your dissertation.

Keywords: Migration and Social Theory

Professor Biao Xiang

Keywords are concepts that function as organizing principles or “binding words” (Williams 1977) of ways of thinking and acting. For example, contemporary political life is hardly imaginable without the notion of human rights. Shifts in the kinds of concepts we use to make sense of and organise social reality indicate wider sociocultural changes, but they can also be instrumental in shaping such changes. In this seminar-style course, we will engage with selected concepts as nodal points through which to think critically about how migration is understood and governed by scholars, policy makers, and the public.

Option Courses

Please note that the option courses available change from year to year. Below is a list of options that are available in 2019-20.

Migration, Development and Security

Professor Ruben Andersson

This option course considers the relationship between development and migration, two fields that have become increasingly interlinked in complex ways in the policy sphere, and gives students a conceptual and empirical grounding  in this area. The aim is to provide a critical understanding of how migration and development intersect from both a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ perspective: in other words, it treats ‘development’ on the one hand as a discourse and agenda driven by states and powerful international actors, and on the other as a historical process of social transformation. Additionally, the course will pay particular attention to how concerns with (in)security broadly understood have increasingly come to interact with the migration and development fields at a time of mass forced displacement, transnational conflict and reinforced borders.

The Economics of Migration: Who Wins, Who Loses and Why

Professor Carlos Vargas-Silva

This option provides an introduction to approaches used in economics to examine the pros and cons of international migration. Topics covered include migration and return decisions, the integration of migrants into the host labour market, their economic behaviour and the effects of migration on the labour market. The course will also feature the effects of migration on housing markets, trade flows, public finances and public attitudes in sending and receiving countries. The discussion will put particular emphasis on the link between theory and empirical evidence, as well as the relevance for policy purposes. Please note that you DO NOT need a background in economics to take this option. On the other hand, capacity for imagination is essential.

Intersectionalities: Gender, Sexuality, Race, and Mobility

Dr Ana Gutierrez Garza

This option course considers the relationship between migration and gender. We will examine how gender informs the migration process, produces new relationships and how women and men navigate their lives as migrants. The aim is to provide a critical under­standing of the connections that exist between the feminisation of migration and its intersections with class, race, and sexuality. It begins by providing students with a theoret­ical ground­ing in the literature on gender and migration and the ways in which the state, work, family as well as intersectional identities shape gender. It explores the links that exist be­tween these analytical categories through an anthropological analysis of intimate labour markets, legal statuses, middle-class migrations, love and romance, queer migrations and masculinities. The course will engage with postcolonial, queer and race studies in order to approach the study of gender and migration in a critical way. Adopting a comparative approach, this course will draw on ethnographic examples from various regions in the developed and the developing world.

Mobility, Nation, and the State

Professor Dace Dzenovska

Whether desired or dreaded, free or forced, mobility is an increasingly common feature of everyday life for the privileged and the disadvantaged alike. It is also subject to practices of governance and intense political struggles. Mobility, its governance, and associated political struggles occur in a transnational and reterritorialized world, where a variety of actors move and act upon movement across scales and territories. Nevertheless, the nation and the state remain meaningful territorial and political entities. For example, as of yet, there is no other way to organise democratic governance, but through the nation-state framework. 

This course will analyse the nation as political community that aspires to govern itself and the state as a nodal point of power in a reterritorialized world. It will investigate mobility-related political tensions of the current historical moment – for example, the tension between the unbounding of nations and the assertion of territorial sovereignty, or the ten­sion between the recognition of multiplicity of identities and the re-assertion of various communities of value. The course will engage with different theories and ethno­graphies of sovereignty, nation, and the state, as well as consider whether and how prac­tices of mobility open possibilities for imagining alternative political forms and futures. Firmly grounded in anthropology, the course will draw upon insights from other disci­­plines and fields of study, such as history, political theory, cultural studies, and geography.

New Technologies and People on the Move

Dr Emre Korkmaz

The course aims to analyse the impact and actual/potential consequences of the new technological revolution over the people on the move. While governments, international agencies, NGOs and corporations benefit from big data, mobile phone data, block-chain and arti­fi­cial intelligence to conduct projects and implement policies to support/empower, control/manipulate the movements of people; refugees and immigrants use social media and various software applications for their survival strategies. New technologies are also effectively used for humanitarian aids and responses such as cash support or disaster preventions.

The course will elaborate on these new developments from a critical perspective and discuss the positive and negative consequences. Such an approach will also include a critical approach towards the technological revolution, and its consequences will be debated for migrants, refugees, diasporas, humanitarian response and how authorities aim to exploit the technological progress to increase surveillance and control over the people on the move.

Reproduction Migration in the Asia Pacific

Professor Biao Xiang

This option course explore how biological and social reproduction – activities that maintain and reproduce human life on a daily and generational basis – is becoming a main driving force of migration. Reproduction migrations (RM) include the migrations of domestic helpers, students, retirees, medical patients, marriage partners (especially of the commer­cial­ly brokered transnational unions, which differ from conventional family reunion migra­tion), ‘birth tourism’ (would-be parents move a country to give birth in order for the new born to gain certain legal status), and investment migrants who move for the access to high-quality education, care and retirement life.

RM is encouraged by policy makers firstly because of the shortage of reproductive labour in the receiving country. Some nations have to reply on foreigners in order to reproduce them­selves. RM is encouraged also because reproduction activities, for instance commer­cial­­ized education, care and entertainment, are becoming a new engine of growth. Ad­van­ced countries are remaking themselves from centres of production into global hubs of reproduction. The reproduction of life, instead of the production of goods, may shape the world division of labour in the twenty-first century.

Please note this option course will run from Weeks 1­–9 in Hilary Term.

Transnationalism and Diasporas

Dr Emmanolis Pratsinakis and Professor Nicholas van Hear

The course is an introduction to contemporary approaches to diaspora and trans­nationalism in migration studies, with an emphasis on the cultural, social, economic and political aspects of transnational mobility and diasporic formations in an interconnected, post-colonial world. The course takes as its point of departure the lived experiences of migrants, refugees and other diasporic people, and asks how they make sense of mobility and displacement and construct senses of belonging. We will discuss the challenges of con­ceptualising, interpreting and contextualising new forms of transnational mobility and dia­sporic formations, but also ask if they really are new phenomena. This leads to a critical re-assessment of such concepts as place, space and context, and to reflections on method­o­­logical nationalism in social science research on migration and mobility. The course is structured around key topics such as, identity and belonging; gender; state diaspora relations and diaspora politics; diaspora mobilisation; memory and home-making; and urban diversity, among others. Adopting a historically sensitive lens, the course draws on ethno­graphic examples and case studies from across the world.

External Options

Students can also choose from option courses run by the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, and by the Anthropology department. The available Anthropology courses are:

  • Japanese Anthropology
  • South Asia Anthropology
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Anthropology and Language

I believe the MSc in Migration Studies allowed me to gain a solid understanding of migration and displacement, related policies and impacts and gave me a firm social science background.

Caroline Schultz, MSc in Migration Studies 2011-12, now Research Associate & PhD Candidate, University of Bamberg

The MSc in Migration Studies seeks to prepare students for further social science research, or for a career within the increasing number of organisations – public and private, national and international – concerned with migration issues. 

Graduates of the MSc have gone on to doctoral degrees, law school, research and consultancy. Many are now employed by organisations such as the European Commission, ILO, IOM, UNICEF, RAND, Red Cross, Red Crescent, think tanks, national governments and leading universities.

Find out more about what some recent graduates of the course are doing now.


Photo: Julien Brachet

Teaching Awards

The degree has received four University Awards for its innovative and effective teaching (two in 2012, one in 2013, and one in 2014), and one shortlisted nomination for the Student Union Teaching Award (2014).

Please refer to the course webpage on the University's Graduate Admissions pages for full information on selection criteria, application deadlines and English language requirements. Also see our How to Apply page.

Enquiries about the MSc in Migration Studies should be addressed to the Graduate Student Administrator,

The MSc Migration Studies is partnered with the Said Business School's 1+1 MBA programme. More information can be found on the University's course page for the Oxford 1+1 MBA and also the Said Business School's page.