Social constraints and the decision to leave: Emigration from Greece at times of crisis

Light lunch provided

In a 1981 article Kubat and Hoffmann-Nowotny inverted an underlying assumption in most migration theories, namely the belief that people are essentially sedentary. Claiming that people are mobile by nature meant subscribing to yet another essentialism; one that is bound to modernization theory. However despite its crudeness, their thesis does have significant analytical value in deconstructing the belief that people are free agents and highlighting that individual migrants decide whether or not to move within social and discursive constraints. This paper explores this issue by focusing on the new Greek emigration and drawing on 30 in-depth interviews with Greek migrants in Amsterdam and London. Recession and austerity has made migration a survival strategy for several people who are finding it hard to make ends meet in Greece. However, there are many more in less pressing need also leaving the country who present their migration as something they were considering already long ago. Focusing on the latter category, the paper discusses how the crisis in Greece has altered everyday discourse on emigration and loosened up social constraints towards long distance mobility.  Exploring their migration aspirations, social networks abroad and the reactions of friends and kin back home on their decision to leave, it highlights and analyzes the paramount significance of “the social” in migration decision-making.