Doctoral thesis, funded by the FNRS 2005-2009. Defended on April 3rd, 2009.


Though environmental factors have always been migration drivers, the relationship between environment and migration has only been recently formalized through the concept of environmental migration. The dissertation seeks to examine how the competing conceptualisations of environmental migration have shaped the policy responses that relate to the migration of people triggered by environmental changes, and also how these policy responses have in turn informed the scholarly debates on the conceptualisation of the phenomenon as a social construct. The major ambition of the dissertation is to demonstrate how policy discourses and scholarly concepts are interlinked in the merging process of developing a normative frame of response to environmental migration.


The dissertation applies the model of the Advocacy Coalition Framework and shows how the emergence of the concept can be linked to the opposition between two competing coalitions: an alarmist coalition and a sceptical one. The former is primarily made up of environmental scholars, who tend to see environmental degradation and climate change as a key factor driving forced migration, whereas migration scholars, who insist on the multi-causality of migration, dominate the latter. Civil society and the media have traditionally aligned themselves with the alarmist coalition.


The dissertation seeks to explain how these competing viewpoints have impacted upon the development of policy responses to address environmental migration. I argue that researchers can be considered as policy actors, since the conceptualisation of environmental migration, as a research object, has a key influence on the policy process as a whole. Different policy areas are examined, relating to climate change, natural disasters, the international refugee regime, and asylum and mobility policies. The analysis of these policy areas is complemented by fieldwork conducted in New Orleans and Tuvalu, documenting respectively internal displacement associated with a natural disaster and international migration associated with sea-level rise.


Overall, the dissertation aims to make a theoretical contribution to a field of migration studies that remain dominated by a deterministic perspective. It seeks to show how the dominant assumption, on the international agenda, that climate change could lead to massive population displacements and regional insecurity is deeply rooted in a deterministic conception of the relationship between environmental change and migration, heralded by scholars of the alarmist coalition.