Hegemonic discourse across divided economic imaginaries? Making sense of competing state projects in European labour migration policy

Regine Paul

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper scrutinises the expression of hegemonic discourse in the governance of competing state projects in labour migration policy-making. Based on evidence from three European countries (France, Germany, the UK) a three-fold argument is developed:
1) a hegemonic discourse of ‘economic selectivity’ is inherent to all labour admission decisions and serves as necessary entry condition, however,
2) we can empirically trace the articulation of three distinct economic imaginaries within this discourse with highly differential sets of sufficient conditions for access.
3) It is this very division and re-assemblage of the economic space that allows for a notional ‘solving’ of tensions between economically derived policy objectives such as competitiveness and free trade with other state projects such as the protection of the national labour force and the activation of the domestic unemployed.
More precisely, the competing projects of economic openness and closure tendencies in labour migration are being ‘made sense of’ on a strategic policy-making level by a notionally clear division of the socio-economic space into at least three distinct ‘economic imaginaries’ (Jessop 2007; Sum 2009): Global labour competiveness, national labour shortages, EU labour self-sufficiency. These imaginaries feature not only different spatial foci concerning the locus of the pool of labour – from global to local, there is also a miscellaneous role ascription to migrant – and indeed resident labour – in specific economic spaces. For example, we find a dominant economic project of open access to highly skilled migrants in the ‘competitiveness’ imaginary supported with talk of attracting the ‘brightest minds’ or creating ‘international champions’. Here, economic utility based on qualification and salary levels serves as a sufficient condition for admission. Yet, this hegemonic and allegedly ‘neo-liberal’ logic is clearly distorted by social and political aspirations beyond economic reasoning – such as activation policy or social cohesion concerns – in the other two imaginaries. This is the realm of ‘British jobs for British workers’, migration caps (UK) or the management of an often irregular post-colonial resident population (France). Consequently, the division of the policy field into tacitly distinct economic spaces materialises in highly differential rights regimes for different migrants, rather than a hierarchical determination of rights based on neo-liberal ‘economic utility’ in labour migration policy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Jun 2011
Event6th Annual Interpretative Policy Analysis Conference - Cardiff University, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jun 201125 Jun 2011


Conference6th Annual Interpretative Policy Analysis Conference
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom
CityCardiff University


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