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 2018/19 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 were available in 2017-18.

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.

Migration, Policy and Governance: A Critical Approach

Professor Franck Düvell

Migration is one of the top global policy concerns and migration control is a core aspect of state sovereignty. This course focuses on the global, international and national dimension of migration governance and management, on policies and politics; it does not cover integration or development policies. It will study various actors ranging from supranational institutions (i.e. the European Union), international organisations and national authorities as well as non-governmental organisations and also touches upon the national and international legal frameworks. We will look at cases ranging from the old powers, like the US and Europe, to emerging powers, such as Russia and Turkey but also the Gulf countries; at issues ranging from highly skilled migration to refugee and irregular flows; and at themes ranging from modes of controls including border controls, visa-diplomacy and bio-politics to policy discourses/narratives and the ethics of migration politics. The course rests on politics, sociology and ethnography, it will draw on the lecturer’s extensive experience in research and stakeholder engagement and will take a self-learning, interactive and student-centred approach.

Socialist and Postsocialist Perspectives on Mobility and Migration

Professor Dace Dzenovska

This course examines mobility and migration through the lens of postsocialism. It understands postsocialism not only as a historical period that follows socialism or a set of practices and discourses of “transition” from socialism to capitalism or totalitarianism to freedom, but also as an analytical category. As an analytical category, postsocialism invites attention to geopolitical shifts after the end of the Cold War and their relationship with mobility and migration.

The course begins with a discussion of mobility and migration in socialist thought. It continues with an examination of practices and governance of mobility and migration in the context of Cold War political orders marked as socialist – for example, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia. The course then moves to consider shifts in practices and governance of mobility and migration after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialisms. It covers themes, such as rebordering after socialism, changing political regimes and forms of citizenship, displacement, migration governance, and postsocialist diasporas. In the end, the course invites students to think about how the collapse of actually existing socialisms – and the end of the Cold War more broadly – have affected political imaginaries in relation to mobility.

The course is primarily grounded in anthropology, but also includes texts from history, political theory, geography, and sociology.

Ethnographies of Transnationalism and Diasporas: Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives

Dr Leslie Fesenmyer and Dr Marie Godin

The course is an introduction to ethnographic approaches to transnationalism and diasporas with an emphasis on the cultural, social, 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: identity and belonging; gender, generation and life course; diaspora mobilisation; memory and home-making; and urban diversity, among others. Adopting a historically-sensitive lens, the course draws on ethnographic examples from across the world.

Labour Migration and Social Participation of Migrants

Dr Emre Korkmaz

This course will focus on the labour market participation of immigrants and will examine the engagement process of migrants with the local working population. This will include discussions of different approaches to labour migration, the social struggles of migrants together with those of local workers and trade unions’ policies towards migrant workers in Europe. The course will also feature case studies such as the representation of Turkish immigrant workers through trade unions in Western European countries (mainly Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK) and the informal labour market participation of Syrian refugees in the Turkish garment industry. There will be debates on theoretical frameworks and concepts such as the public sphere (Habermas), transnationalising of the public sphere (Fraser), transnational social space (Preis and Faist) in order to understand the challenges migrants face in participating in social movements and political activities, long before the commencement of the citizenship process.

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.

Mobility, Order and the Anthropological Imagination

Professor Biao Xiang

Population mobility, both domestic and international, has historically been an important subject of governance and is ever more so today. From Chinese emperors’ great fear of the ‘floating people’ to the E.U.’s initiative of encouraging student exchange across Europe, from the Soviet propiska (internal passport) to the U.S. government’s requirement about transfer of air passenger data ... different political regimes adopt different measures to induce, curtail or manipulate mobility. This seminar examines how mobility challenges established political systems and how, in turn, governing mobility becomes constitutive of particular political regimes.

The course will address various types of mobility: labour, marriage, military, forced, internal and international, pre‐modern and contemporary. Conceptually, we will review and explore connections between various critical theories on state, governance, and governmentality and draw from them as we address specific realities and questions. Throughout the seminar students are expected to read across disciplines and genres, and particularly to engage anthropological and historical ideas and perspectives to reinterpret studies from other social science disciplines. The seminar thus aims to help students to develop an anthropological imagination, i.e., the ability of connecting and thinking together phenomena and ideas that tend to be treated separately and addressing context‐specific logics of practice and actors’ point of view.

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.