Discussion Questions

I had initially posted a question, that frankly, I can't seem to find. So, I will try this again.

In order to get things going and to try to begin thinking about "migration," Anne and I would like to begin with the question, "Now that we have decided on the topic, what does the term 'migration' mean to you?" (The idea is to find areas of common interest and ideas.)

I will start with one basic question. Can migration be unintentional? That is, can plants migrate or do they spread? So, if I were to throw a message in a bottle into the sea and it ended up in England, would that be migration? I tend to think not. So, right off the bat, I would suggest that migration has some intentionality (however loosely defined—such as the instinctual behavior of herds of wildebeests, for example) attached to it. ~Ben

I agree that migration has to have some intentionality to it in order to be called that, however, I think it only holds if we assume migration has to be associated with something living (eg people or wildebeests). In the topic selection discussion we brought up the possibility that ideas, and hence norms, behaviors, etc., can migrate, but I think that's a critical question to ask- CAN they? If we say yes, then do the often subtle and unconscious means through which those things spread HAVE to have intention behind them on some level? I actually am reluctant to call the spread of ideas, norms, behaviors migration, though, because when they are passed on they don't tend to disappear from where they originated. It's a multiplying effect, rather than a movement.

It seems to me that there are at least to requirements for something to be called a migration: it has to have movement, however defined, and has to vacate or cease to exist in its place of origin. ~Jake

A migration is not an occupation or annexation, ideas that have more to do with expansion than migration. Manifest Destiny as expounded in the mid-nineteenth century wouldn't qualify as a migration because the goal was to secure land through settlement for the US. Also, when programs are transferred from one computer to another, it is common to call it a migration even though computers and programs do not express intentionality (unless that computer happens to be Skynet) -Mike, retroactively

Intention, as I see it, is not as it is described above. The instinctive migration of animals is intentional. I think the computer example demonstrates one of the problems with the term. We don't say that data migrate from one computer to anther; we use it as a transitive verb—we migrate data. That is, the intentionality is on the part of the person moving the data. So, even in that case, it appears as if intentionality, combined with movement of a relatively large number of things, is what constitutes migration. ~Ben (When you contribute, please sign your posts somehow. I'd love to know with whom I am talking. Thanks.)

The spread of ideas, it seems, must be at least peripherally related to migration and, perhaps, invasion.
I have not fleshed this out fully, but I wanted to at least stick in my two cents, because I think there is something more than simply a spread that happens - perhaps it is something like an occupation (the idea of an occupation, in itself, seems to suggest some kind of a migration as some must migrate in order to occupy), but not (rather, something short of) an annexation. In my mind, the spread of ideas is traditionally closely linked to colonialism and colonizing must involve migration. It is not always the case that this is how ideas might move about, but it is one way that they have tended to. In this nominally post-colonial world, I'm curious as to what effect the displacement of aboriginal or indigenous ideas/cultures/etc. has upon the area that move into.

As for intentionality - when one discusses migration in more scientific realms, such as genetics, how does one deal with that? Do we go for some kind of anthropomorphizing-darwinian type thing when dealing with individual sets of genes?

For me, migration is the movement of people, ideas, or other concepts or beings (in groups) to a place where they did not exist in the same form previously.

I am reluctant to consider gene movement a migration; this is more of a change or shift within one collective species. Maybe, as Kathleen suggested, a gene-specific migration could be argued (within or between species).

When talking about intentionality, I think that migration must be intentional from some force/ entity. The migration may be intended by the people, animals, or ideas migrating or by the thing forcing or causing them to move. I believe that plants, mentioned by Ben, do migrate in a sense. Their intention can be that of evolution or, in some cases, humans. Not all moving people or things need to change geographical areas; some can stay while some move. If looked at in this way, spreading is migration, but only for the members of the group that move.


It's pretty cool to see this up and running, just saying.

Is it possible that there is two types of migration; intentional and non-intentional. For instance, a tribe follows and animal for food. This migration across the land is an intentional migration, as is the migration of the animal, who also seeks food. However, along the way the tribe encounters another, and they trade goods and materials. In this way we have a sort of migration of cultures, which will then spread out further when both tribes set out on different paths.

I think another important thing to investigate is the variance between intentionality and "purpose", although overall benefit may be a better way to describe it. For instance, birds may have the intention of seasonal migration, but do all birds truly prosper from the plan? Or is it more of a instinctive tradition that they follow more blindly?

Another last idea, does water migrate. I joked about putting a message in a bottle and seeing where it ended up. I don't really think that is migration, but I'd gladly be proven wrong. But the water that carries that message, does it have the capacity to migrate? It naturally more freedom to move around, so to speak, but has no intention. Or is this just about as silly as saying air and oxygen migrate?

Just food for thought.


Fair warning, I didn't know this discussion board was here, so my thoughts won't be very well articulated. I'm sure I was told about it, but I'm like a goldfish.. you all know. VERY short atte-

Migration has, for me, a certain temporary quality to it. Birds migrate south towards the warm weather when the winter months approach, but they return whence they came when the temperature rises again.

Unfortunately, this outlook is rather restrictive. If ideas can migrate, then a necessary stipulation of my definition is that the ideas would return to where they began, and- like Camille said- it would probably mean that the idea was gone from one place while it was in another. But ideas are not physical things, like birds, and giving somebody a sandwich is not the same as giving somebody an idea. So, either ideas cannot migrate (unlikely) or I need to think about Migration differently (very likely). And that's all I WHOA. THAT THING IS SERIOUSLY SHINY. HOW IS IT DOING THAT?!


Perhaps we should be asking somewhat of an inverse of the question. Can migration ever be curtailed or stopped even with intangible things such as ideas or customs. Things it seems naturally diffuse throughout time and space. For example globalization, whether you consider it cultural imperialism or not, has spread our notion of "western" ideas throughout the world despite many attempts by others to stop it. No matter how hard hard-liners try to prevent elements from our culture to enter their society, they still wind up with Coca-Cola, Gap and TGIFridays (apparently the most sinister of all MNCs according to some terrorist groups) around them. And this type of cultural diffusion is not just one way. If only for the novelty of it, many Americans are obsessed with homeopathic remedies from China, Pad Thai, Humus and many other cultural elements from other societies (I apologize if this seems like a superficial list, it is very hot outside).
Obviously this does not just apply to ideas but other tangible things as well. As for whether or not plants migrate or spread, one can look at the Ginkgo tree that is currently choking out local flora in the US; it was brought intentionally to the United States, clearly a migration albeit not natural. Some plants have have "hooks" on their seeds that cause them to get lodged in animal fur so that they can travel (or migrate) to other areas. This, I think, is a type of migration, one that is hard to stop.
Perhaps this is not very cogent but this is what's rattling around in my (overheated) brain.


Aaron, you have somewhat inspired me (isn't the first time). I think another thing we should study is "anti-gration". What is this exactly? Just some word I made up. I guess we should look at how migration "ends". Look at how to stop "migration", especially when it is not in a physical form. Also, can migration be undone? Food for thought.


I want to throw in a thought here before I leave for a conference in Finland. Right now I am reading an introductory book on human migration by Patrick Manning called Migration in World History (Routlege: New York/London, 2005). There Manning treats a number of the questions that we have been raising. He outlines different kinds of migration models. So, for example, colonization or cross-community migration. He also deals with culture. Anne and I are considering having us all read this book. For the older human migrations (pre-5,000 BP [that's Before the Present, not British Petroleum] years or so) he looks at historical linguistics as a methodology for trying to understand the spread of humans across the planet. Anyway, I am learning a lot here, and I would recommend the book, even if we don't end up asking everyone to read it. I am really glad to see the conversation moving along. Those of you who suggested the topic—nice suggestion. Now, back to prophetic inspiration in the book of Ben Sira. ~Ben

Just a few quick thoughts. I strongly believe that migration cannot be undone, though an interesting concept to think about. Even if the people, animals, plants, Coca Cola, McDonalds, or hummus is taken out of where it was introduced, it's effects will still have changed culture, surroundings, habbits, and life in the area it migrated to. I suppose migration itself can end, but it will still have had influenced it's new community. I think though, that migration is very difficult to stop. Without death of a species or group, idea or coorporation, migration will eventually continue.

As an answer to Rob's post, the birds' migration is, for me, based off of some benefit that at the least was true (and probably still is).. in an evolutionary midset. The movement of water is not migration to me. I was going to say that water isn't living and only living things migrate, but ideas and culture are not living (and I definitely think that they migrate). Things like water, air, and rock do not migrate for me, even if I'm having trouble figuring out what makes them different exactly.


Camille: Transience

I think there may be an argument to be made for the notion that ideas and culture are living things (as they must, at the least, be transmitted by living things in one way or another - they certainly don't just float about on their own). Also, I don't think I posted the article about the Americanization of hummus. I'm going to go look for it.

I'm sorry I haven't said much on migration but my head has been lost for the past few months in "The Fountainhead." The one major thing that I have been thinking about has been how change and, adversely, comfort can lead to migration or lack thereof. I was thinking about how change may force certain groups of peoples/animals to move in order to survive because of a food source or because of a natural disaster such as drought. In addition, I also considered how nomadic humans moved with the seasons and with their favorite prey and then, agriculture and domestication of livestock made permanent settlements possible. Is it more natural for humans to want to move or to stay in one place? Or is it just dependent upon the individual?


(thank you Mary for inspiring this post)

Part 1:

Migration, at bottom, might be said to imply….

bodies which move across a given surface over a given amount of time.
(two elements: a body and motion)

"How did the salsa migrate out to the deck?
After the destruction of their old hill the ants migrated nearer the poplar.
The definition of migration has migrated very slowly over the past couple of years."

With this elementary definition, there's no reason why we should reject any fruitful application of the word.
Or, you could say that the way a word is used is always its definition, which also bypasses the problem (of a definition).

Part 2:

Migration: Either a contraction, a becoming dense, a stabilizing, or, an expansion, a disordering, an overflowing.

When you migrate, whatever you are, you may not know where you are going, but you know where you're coming from; or you don't know where you're coming from, but know where you're going. Memory and Prediction.

It's possible to be done with both of those (they are always creating problems). Nomads do not migrate because they always migrate. Likewise, brownian motion (visual: http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/more_stuff/Applets/brownian/brownian.html (I'm reminded here of thoreau's sauntering and klee's walk for walks sake)) Each end is a beginning and each beginning is an end or, better yet, neither … only conjunctions.

It could be said that if you migrate, the space you move in is stratified or segmented (all those contractions/expansions, stabalizations/overflowings), as opposed to the smooth space of the nomad/particle which is always migrating.

That's all for now.


Just some random things in response. In my opinion, the answer to Mary's final question, is that humans tend to want to move. In general, we want to explore, grow, and improve our lives. There is something to be said though, about certain humans wanting to stay, liking stability and afraid of change. I feel that most of the time, humans instinctively look for change and improvement, and therefore will migrate (as will their ideas and cultures as a result). Also, I'm thinking about the definition of "place" as it refers to a physical area in relation to migration; what constitutes one place? What distance does there have to be between two coordinates on the earth to truly differentiate between them? If other factors determine the separation of two places, what are they and how are they measured?

And as a comment to Xavier's post (Part 2), I'm still partly uncertain how to describe what you're talking about when saying that nomads do not migrate because they always do. Paired with the idea that a beginning is the same as an end and that both are just a way to connect things, their movement can be seen as a constant. Outside of this philosophical way of looking at their movement, their displacement still brings about change.. and migration of ideas and concepts, even though the fact that they are moving is not a migration of custom(?) Again, still fuzzy on my own thought's here, but interesting to think about. Thanks!


Ha! Brownian motion! This makes me think some things. Specifically:

After Xavi's poem about migration (bodies which move across a given surface over a given amount of time) he points out two elements: a body and motion. However, there lurks an additional element which he does not go on to identify but which I believe is particularly important: a given surface. A brief and insulting illustration of what I mean: I am sitting in my room. If Aaron observed me, he would not say that I was migrating. However, I am a body and I'm currently travelling at hundreds of thousands of kilometers an hour - I'm on a spinning planet that's zipping around on a bunch of different axes. But Aaron has still made a correct and useful statement. I'm not migrating. This is because, as far as Aaron is concerned, I'm not moving in any way that matters - he can continue to watch me through my window (creepy!) without moving his head.

This doesn't just have to do with frames of reference, though. If I compose a poem and later move to Detroit without ever reading my poem to anyone, it hasn't migrated. But my body has - I'm certainly in a different location than I was previously. How can this be? Well, the surface over which ideas can be said to migrate is not the same as that for physical bodies. Rather than moving across the surface of the earth or through a Cartesian plane or whatever, ideas move from one idea-container to another (people, data storage technology, things that remember, etc.) and often ignore spatial constraints in that motion. With ideas, it's often more interesting to ask "Who thinks what?" than "Where are the ideas located on this map?" Because of this, the "motion" of the idea-"body" is not motion in the traditional high school physics sense, but transmission through a non-spatial medium (language, maybe? I'm not sure.) between things that can know.

So! What I'm trying to say here is that a body in motion isn't necessarily migration. You need the motion to matter somehow, and this can (at least sometimes) be accomplished by having a surface to talk about.

An interesting question about several of the examples of migrating things discussed above is one of agency. Folks seem to be wondering about whether things which migrate must have intent, or mustn't have it, or something. I suspect that when migration occurs, migrants both act and are necessarily acted upon.

This fits several previously mentioned migrations well. Brownian motion, when looked at from the level of an individual particle, can be seen as a combination of the actions of the particle (energetic vibrations) and its interactions with its environment (other energetic particles suspended in a liquid medium). When birds fly south for the winter, they physically push themselves through the air. But they would not do so if the nippy Pennsylvania winters were not compelling them to find more temperate vacation homes. In both cases, migration would not occur without everything shoving everything else around.

If you're talking about migration, you're discussing motion that matters. If Body A is migrating, whether Body A is in Detroit, or Seattle (or both [or neither]) makes a difference. I think this may be close to Xavi's statement "…the space you move in is stratified or segmented…". Body A's position on whatever surface is being discussed must affect that surface, or else there's nothing worth talking about. Why does it make sense to talk about birds migrating through space? It is because a bird takes up space and relies on forces acting spatially to exist and/or survive. Additionally, the lack of those birds during Pennsylvania winters, and their presence in Aruba or wherever birds go, matters somehow. The absence of those birds in PA during the winter allows them to hang out up here again next summer (since they avoided becoming birdsicles).

So here is what I think:

Nothing may migrate alone.


1) Things that migrate cannot do so in a vacuum. Their displacement must matter somehow, and the way(s) in which it matters define the migration.

2) A necessary consequence of a body's displacement mattering is that it will affect the migration of other stuff (or itself reflexively). Not necessarily along with it, not necessarily in the same direction, but something else has to move.

This was a quick post, so I apologize in advance for tpyos and incomprehensible sentences.
- David

:::::::::::::Response to David's Sections 1 & 3: The Surface is what matters: sensically speaking or speaking sensically (your pick).

"After Xavi's poem about migration (bodies which move across a given surface over a given amount of time) he points out two elements: a body and motion. However, there lurks an additional element which he does not go on to identify but which I believe is particularly important: a given surface" (David)."


Hmm. I did include the idea of a surface as you quoted (the word appears in your quote of my quote after all), but I didn't include it in the two elements because I believed a surface to be presumed by motion. Aaron doesn't think you moved because he didn't consider the same surface (in fact he did (i.e. a spatial surface), but just not the same scale you did). Motion= dx/dy. Y is time, and X is displacement upon a surface (therefore it was implied), which as you stated correctly, need not be physical, it need only be sensical to say. To ask if something has migrated would be to ask, "does it make sense to use that word here?" To which the only good response is a pragmatic one: "we should not deny any fruitful application of the word."

This 'sensical' qualification would be how i would modify your statement (instead of using the word matter or value):

"translated 1) … Their displacement must matter somehow, the ways in which it matters define the migration" (David).

You even seem to come across the same thought as you develop your point. "Why does it make sense to talk about birds migrating through space?" (Sir David Tench)

::::::::::::::::::: Displacement: Surface X, or lack thereof

Finally, coming back to stratification and segmentation, migration has it. However if there is constant migration/displacement…

It seems to me that if something can be said to be truly constantly migrating this means that migration is immanent or graphically speaking, that it has migrated the same distance on Surface X from point A to C as from point A to B or point B to C or any point to any point, the distance is always the same. What is the peculiar nature of this Surface? Think here of either irrational numbers or the distance 0, no differentiation, the surface does not exist. (Which is why I said something which truly constantly migrates can well be said not to migrate at all.) (I think here of also of the structure of the Real in psychoanalysis. http://www.enotes.com/psychoanalysis-encyclopedia/real-lacan)

All for now…


A brief addendum: The purpose of my post (and citation of Xavi's statement about migration) was to further explore the idea of "surface" and some related issues that Xavi's statement got me thinking about, not to point out mistakes in what he said. Motion does indeed imply a surface, but what sort of surface? Well, it depends on the motion, etc. etc… That's all I was trying to say. Also: I agree with the sensical thing.

- David

Yeah, so what Xavi and David said. I really can't think right now but I'm interested in applying this argument to a real-life situation. The surface thing and the constant migration thing, that is. If something is "moving" I would think that all observing parties would have to agree that it is moving, meaning that any speak of surface or reference frames is kind of pointless. Unless we get more complicated and not all parties agree on the motion of something.

And as far as intentionality… Camille, your post hits me in a sensitive spot. I don't know if it's possible to say that humans "tend" to do this or that. I mean, if any other animal had as high a population as we did, they would move just to have more space. And there is always variation (among human personalities), depending on environment, mostly, so some people may "tend to migrate" while others tend to… not. And why do only humans "instinctively" look for change and improvement? (I remember our conversation in Investigations last year about change for change's sake…) I don't think there is an "instinct" toward change. It can be taught, sure, but I think the instincts that we have, if there are any (which is another huge conversation/argument I've partially had), must not be much different from animal instincts. We are not not animals. Animals tend to safety, assuming they are driven by the "desire" to survive. I have so much trouble choosing my words… My point is: … migration appears sometimes as necessity or an inevitability. But it seems to me that it is also impossible to talk about intentionality. How can I tell you with complete certainty why I am sitting with my feet tucked under my chair? How can I tell you, then, why I decided to go to college in a different state? I have migrated, of course. But (I'm just ranting) what if… I don't know. How do we decide what is migration?

By I think Xavi's definition (one of them) it seems like anything can be considered migration if there is motion involved. Motion can be in many different senses (i.e. not only physical, unless you consider ideas to be physical things). Does motion through time count? Am I migrating right now, because it is getting later and later? Also, is there some set distance that any given object or idea or whatever has to travel before it is considered "migration"? It seems like a trip to the supermarket is just simple motion, but a move to a different state is migration. And what if there is a return trip? Can we retroactively negate the "fact" that the first trip was in fact migration? I know someone brought up back and forth motion but I can't remember who and am too lazy to scroll up.


Just to clarify for myself the definition for migration so far includes 4 elements
1 body
2 motion
3 surface
4 intentionality?


Well, I'm sure there's a body and motion, but I don't know if surface is necessary. Maybe instead of surface there should be distance or maybe just displacement? I don't know. And intentionality is the other thing I'm confused about because sometimes you can't tell what the intentions were.


I've been thinking there is a 5th element (as per mikes list) that works inversely with intentionality; size. Not that I really know how to measure size, per se (it's quite hard to imagine the "size" of an idea, especially in comparing it to the "size" of a migrating population). With this kind of haphazard definition of "size" though, i think the inverse relationship becomes logical. A small group of people must have the intent of migration for it to succeed, while a larger group does not need to rely on the intent of migration.

Also, intent is interesting to. Nomads moving in search of food certainly have "reason" to migrate, but not necessarily "intent", especially if the said "intention" is to migrate. This sentence unfuzzed a little bit: Birds migrate for the sake of movement, migration. People often moved for the sake of finding something through migration.

All of this is kind of loose thoughts, need to be formulated better.


It pleases me very much that this space is being used. Oh, so much.

I think trying to collectively define what "migration is or is not" may be, ultimately, a waste of time - or something like it. Which is not to say that we should not discuss it, because I think conversations branching from that trunk could be interesting and fruitful, but it is to say that we should not make finding a collective definition our be-all, end-all. If all persons were to pursue what those aspects of migration there were passionate about, that could well be more fruitful than halfheartedly slogging along towards an imagined consensus for 15 weeks. I am not saying that we are necessarily on a path towards getting stuck in such a crevice, but I my experiences would point me to believe that there is potential for it and I would certainly hope to head it off. As Xavier said, "there's no reason why we should reject any fruitful application of the word."

I will probably end up looking at more modern migration - though I'm not sure where the cut-off for modern will be. I am supremely interested in the idea of "home". As such, I am currently leaning towards personally defining migration as a displacement from home - this gets a bit hairy if migrants come to think of their new settling-place as home, and I have not quite worked out how to deal with things in that situation, except to say that, at that point, they are no longer migrants. That may not be correct.

It may be in light of my personal interests, but as I have been ruminating on the issue (and here I am falling into the collective defining again), I think memory may be relevant to migration of living (conscious? - by which I mean, I am willing to give the power of memory, even if it be genetic/instinctual/self-preservative to "higher beings", such as birds, but not to "lower beings", such as bacterium… also, things like geological migration is an entire barrel of monkeys I am ignoring in this piece) beings. That is, if one is not aware one migrated, has one? I believe, though I could be incorrect, that this meshes pleasantly with Xavier's statement that "something which truly constantly migrates can well be said not to migrate at all" - because if one has no memory of stillness (home?), can one ever be said to have been displaced? Perhaps - theoretical pursuits are, I think, not my strong suit.


Kathleen, There is much Deleuze to be read on the home quite in the vein of what I think you have in mind, if you are interested.

Also, this 'home' sentiment is, i think, similar to what i was driving at when i wrote:

"When you migrate, whatever you are, you may not know where you are going, but you know where you're coming from; or you don't know where you're coming from, but know where you're going. Memory and Prediction" (Me, First Post.)

(This is newly edited. I realized i had improperly switched the terms beforehand.)

I think I too would like to concentrate on something sorta like modern migration/home/identity formation. Crying of Lot 49 and White Noise (still in progress) both have quite a bit to say on this topic, perhaps i'll continue readings in that direction


Rob - I'm kind of confused as to what you mean by size and how it has to do with… I guess whether something is migrating or not. And yes intent is kind of confusing.

But Kathleen and Xavi, I really like this home thing. I can relate to ponderings of what home is. And while I agree that defining leads sort of in circles, I think it's important to at least talk about the definition (a lot, sometimes) before you can talk about the thing itself, so people are on the same page. For example: Kathleen, you say that you want to look at displacement/migration from home. You kind of said yourself that your discussion of the "home" concept depends on the observers'/participants' understanding of the nature of migration. But yeah maybe we could dive right in and worry about discrepancies/misunderstandings later.

And yeah I would love to look into the idea of home and feeling/sense of home (or belonging?) but hopefully I'll go in a different direction than you two.. or just work with you/choose a different topic.


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