Current Institutional Affiliation
Global Academic Fellow, University of Hong Kong

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Cornell University
Negotiating Settlement: Technocratic Governance and Global Migration, 1919-1951

As unprecedented numbers of migrants flow into overburdened Middle Eastern states and a wary Europe, the question arises: why is there no dedicated international legal framework to governing how all migrants are treated or where they eventually settle? My dissertation will provide answers by exploring the history of attempts to create such a framework in the period between the world wars and just after the second, primarily due to the efforts of the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization. This period witnessed the introduction of international legal protection for unprecedented numbers of refugees – a legacy, I will argue, of humanitarian aid groups organizing mass population transfers in the immediate wake of the First World War. Furthermore, I will contend that states agreed in principle, around the same time, on a scheme to organize the export of refugees and migrants to colonial and Latin American frontiers of European settlement. Yet European states could not agree among themselves on a specific scheme by which the protection and distribution of all migrants, everywhere would function. Consequently, they conferred the right to design a system to migration "experts". Nonetheless, "experts" proved no less amenable to consensus on the issue, and their talks disintegrated. By 1951, international law granted protection – and continues to grant it – only to a narrowly-defined group of refugees, and there is still no coordination of migrant distribution at the international level. Investigating the archives of international organizations as well as influential European states, I will seek to show what drew states toward the notion they should cooperate to organize global migration, why states placed such faith in technocratic decision-making, how the expert decision-making process broke down, and the extent to which its breakdown affected the eventual narrowing of migrant protection to a relatively small subset of refugees.