Limits of the competition state? The cultural political economy of European labor migration policies

R. Paul

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Labor migration has been revitalized as part of economic competition and growth strategies across Europe over the last decade. Scholars have framed policy changes towards more liberal recruitment as a turn towards 'competition state' and Schumpeterian innovation goals. This article evaluates the extent to which British, French and German labor admission policies are dominated by competition state logics. I apply a cultural political economy perspective, thereby substantiating this relatively new approach analytically and testing its usefulness for capturing the economic governance of labor migration. I argue that the highly selective arrangement of admissions - with regard to skill-level targeted, and causal, spatial, and operational foci of recruitment - creates a fragmented cultural political economy of labor migration. While competition state logics shape the economic imaginary of 'high-skilled global labor competiveness', rival logics dominate the imaginaries of 'skilled national labor shortages', and 'lower skilled EU labor self-sufficiency'. Findings pinpoint limits of competition state theory in explaining contemporary labor migration policy. I demonstrate that semiotic and regulatory selectivity is a key remedy for coping with competing state projects and associated policy tensions. The political ordering of labor migration simultaneously entails amplification and silencing of competition state logics in policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-401
Number of pages23
JournalCritical Policy Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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