Assembling an International Social Protection for the Migrant: Juridical Categorization in ILO Migration Standards, 1919-1939

Leila Kawar, University of Michigan

This article applies a history of knowledge perspective to interwar ILO efforts to produce generalized international instruments for governing migrant labor. The historical analysis explores what it meant in the interwar context to devise “an international common law of the emigrant.” It focuses particular attention on the process through which juridical techniques formalized a distinction between “migration for employment” and “migratory movements of indigenous workers.” Foregrounding the constructed nature of these categories highlights the underlying race-based notions of equivalence and exclusion that informed interwar ILO standard-setting frameworks. More broadly, tracing the knowledge making processes through which seemingly objective categorical distinctions have been constructed and reconstructed opens space for questioning and potentially rethinking the functionally-differentiated normative frameworks through which global policymaking approaches human mobility today.

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 Presented in Session 210. Labor Migration and Technologies of Management