Working Paper 2019-02

July 24, 2019 by Sherri Klassen

Decentering methodological nationalism to survey the chutes and ladders of precarious legal status trajectories

Patricia Landolt, University of Toronto
Luin Goldring, York University
Paul Pritchard, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2019-02

July 2019

Keywords: precarious legal status trajectories, methodological nationalism, survey design, administrative data, frontline epistemologies

Full Article


Methodological nationalism limits the ability of research to document and analyze the complexity of precarious legal status trajectories and their long-term impact on migrant socioeconomic outcomes and social inequality in general. We begin to address these issues by identifying the challenges of methodological nationalism for migration research. These include the sedentary bias that casts suspicion on ‘people on the move,’ and the temporal truncation and socio-spatial bordering that erase or render irrelevant pre-migration trajectories and transnational practices. Using the Canadian case, we argue that administrative data and immigration research examine state defined immigrants and selected, approved, legal status transitions.  However, they exclude precarious status migrants and their temporally indeterminate and potentially multi-directional trajectories.  This produces incomplete evidence and analyses. We detail the ways in which our research design process for studying precarious legal status trajectories has worked to decentre methodological nationalism. The process was characterized by 1) a frontline epistemology in which knowledge is created through engagement, interaction and exchange between academic researchers and other producers of knowledge; and 2) the operationalization of precarious legal status trajectories in a parsimonious survey instrument that is attuned to the directional and temporal indeterminacy of precarious legal status and the work of legal status.