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 critical perspective for both academic and policy work, as well as the ability to help transfer theoretical knowledge to policy-oriented research.

The core curriculum is mainly taught by core teaching staff with additional teaching input provided by the staff of Oxford’s internationally renowned migration research centres.

Teaching on the degree is both theoretical and problem-focused and 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 2017/18 is Biao Xiang of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology.


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

  • Migration and Mobility 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

Migration and Mobility in the Social Sciences

Dace Dzenovska

The aim of the paper is to discuss mobility and migration from an interdisciplinary perspective. It will introduce students to fundamental themes, concepts, and debates in the analysis of mobility and migration across key disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, geography, economics, and politics.

Migration, Globalisation and Social Transformation

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

Dace Dzenovska 

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 2016-17.

Transnationalism and Diasporas

Leslie Fesenmyer

The course is an introduction to ethnographic approaches to transnationalism and diasporas with an emphasis on the cultural and social 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 themselves, and asks how they make sense of mobility and displacement and construct 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 concepts such as place, space and context, and to reflections on methodological nationalism in social science research on migration and mobility. Drawing on ethnographic examples from across the world, the course is structured  around key topics, including identity and belonging; gender, generation and life-stages; the state; creolization and hybridity; memory and home-making; and urban diversity and multiculture.

Migration and Mobilities in Africa

Gunvor Jonsson

Wildly inflated estimates of the number of African migrants headed to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea appear frequently in current political and media debates, and have been given further credence due to fears over future tides of “climate refugees” flooding Europe, as they will be fleeing desertification in Africa. Such narratives obscure the dominant patterns and complex reasons for African migrations and mobilities, which are primarily directed to destinations within Africa and which often constitute a normal feature of life on the continent. Analyses of African migration tend to focus on the “brain drain”, trafficking, displacement from conflict, and irregular migrants in the global North. This risks “pathologising” African migration, portraying it as a problem and a symptom of all that is wrong with Africa. This regional course challenges such mainstream discourse and misconceptions, by examining the experiences of African migrants themselves and moving beyond a purely crisis perspective to explore both the continuities and discontinuities of African migrations. The course provides students with an empirically grounded understanding of the past and present socio-cultural, political and economic contexts shaping human mobilities in Africa. Through this improved empirical and theoretical understanding, students will acquire the skills to critically evaluate research and policies that target African migrants.

Migration, Development and Security

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 Rights of Migrants: Economics, Politics and Ethics

Martin Ruhs

There is a large gap between the rights of migrants stipulated in international human rights law and the rights that migrants in high-income countries experience in practice. Many UN agencies and other international and national organisations concerned with migrants have responded to the widespread restrictions of migrant rights by emphasizing that migrant rights are human rights that are universal, indivisible, and inalienable; they derive from a common  humanity and must be protected regardless of citizenship. A key argument and starting point of this course is that we need to expand current debates and analyses of migrant rights by complementing conversations about human  rights with a systematic, dispassionate analysis of the interests and roles of nation-states in granting and restricting the rights of migrants. This is because the rights of migrants not only have intrinsic value, as underscored by human rights approaches, but also play an important instrumental role in shaping the effects of international migration for receiving countries, migrants, and their countries of origin. This course explores how and why high-income countries restrict the rights of migrants, with a focus on labour migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Why do high-income countries restrict the rights of migrant workers, and how do these restrictions vary across countries? What  explains the differential responses by high-income countries to the ongoing “refugee crisis”? Why have some countries done much more than others to protect the rights of people fleeing violence? What do we know about the determinants of immigration and asylum policies in high-income countries, and what are the implications for global governance of international migration and asylum? In addressing these questions, the course engages with theoretical debates and empirical research on the tensions between human rights and citizenship rights, the agency and interests of migrants and states, and the determinants and ethics of immigration policies.

Migration, Law and Everyday Life:socio-legal approaches

Agnieszka Kubal

Whilst the law (international norms, regulations, state immigration law and policies) regulates the movement of people, the black letter law does not operate in a vacuum. It is important therefore to ask how the law is experienced ‘in  action’ by the governed mobile populations, and with what consequences? This option will provide an overview of the different analytical, often ethnographically informed, approaches developed by the socio-legal scholars to capture the nuanced relationships between migrants and the legal systems of the host countries. The different seminars throughout the term will critically review the following perspectives: legal pluralism, cultural defence, anthropological critiques of illegality and legalization, legal culture and legal consciousness, criminalisation of migration, deportation and deportability, legal violence, human rights. The readings will draw on rich ethnographies of Europe, United States and Russia – the largest destinations for migrants globally.

Mobility, Nation and the State

Dace Dzenovska

Contemporary life is hardly imaginable without mobility – of capital, things, ideas, images and people. At the same time, some forms of mobility – for example, migration – are often thought to undermine modern political forms, such as the nation-state, as well as threaten the polities associated with them. This course will investigate the relationship between mobility, modern political forms, and associated conceptions of the polity. It will pay particular attention to some of the crucial tensions of the current historical moment – for example, the tension between the principle of freedom of movement and nation-state sovereignty. It will also ask whether and how practices of mobility open possibilities for imagining organization of collective life beyond the currently predominant political forms. The course will engage concepts, such as the state, sovereignty, nation, the people, democracy, freedom, governmentality, and the commons. Firmly grounded in anthropology, the course will draw insights from other disciplines, such as history, political theory, cultural studies and geography. The course will question conventional regional divisions, instead emphasizing relational constitution of people and places. Within that, the course will pay particular attention to postsocialist perspectives and critical analysis of Europeanness, all the while viewing these as co-produced with other spaces and places.

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 Anthropology courses that were available in 2016-17 were:

  • The Anthropology of Europe
  • The Anthropology of South Asia
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Anthropology of Muslim Societies

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, Marie Curie Fellow, IMI

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.