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Why is migration important to understand?

Posted By Kevin Jae, Friday, January 17, 2020

Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at identifying the impact of migrations on the world order by 2050. This is his first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


The figure of the migrant, diffused in media broadcasts across the world, is a political image that provokes polarizing reactions. The migrant—is it a completely novel emergence in history? Even a cursory reading on the topic reveals that migration is not a new phenomenon. A people—however nationalist myths construct them—have never been resting stagnant within nation-state borders. We are all migrants and mongrels of some sort. All desires for a pure nationalist phenotype are a nostalgic longing for idylls that have never existed.


Why is migration important to understand? While we may look upon past histories of migration with the detached interest of an academic, our contemporary migrations are all-too-close and all-too-urgent: they present an ethical imperative, a duty to decide and to act. This challenge is not one that the global community can neglect and stay a safe distance from.


The most recent mass migration has come from the Syrian Civil war, where an estimated population of 22 million Syrians were scattered about by the vagaries of historical circumstance — 13 million were displaced and 5 million of those displaced found themselves outside of Syrian national borders. The rippling geo-political effects of Syrian mass-migrations (among others) have impacted the world. Liberal democracies around the world agreed to do their fair share and house migrants; however, recent response by recipient states have changed. They have adopted a hostile position to migrants and from the fringes, alt-right parties and their leaders have begun to take center stage in contemporary politics. One commonality in these parties’ platforms has been the rejection of and the anxiety toward the foreign migrant. Migration has changed national politics. National politics, in turn, have changed international politics as nationalist discourse has led to an inward-looking and parochial political vision. The British and American exits from free trade deals and international organizations suggest the first cracks in the liberal world order, with its goals for political and economic international co-operation. A comparatively small displacement led to profound effects around the world.


The future is filled with the possibility of migration. Mass migrations will be a potent combination of push and pull factors: it will be a combination of aspirational desires in rich, urban metropolises and retreats from poverty and political instability. Of course, not all migrant populations will be undesirable. The growing, young demographics in the Global South will be welcomed in the Global North to fill labour shortages. These are likely to be in the minority compared to the potential migrations spurred on by existential threats like climate change, which has the potential to make large swaths of land mass uninhabitable. How might the introduction of a large migrant population, one that grossly outnumbers the current migrants, spark intra-national and international conflicts, both diplomatic and military?


The future of mass migration that we head towards today provokes all of these questions. To neglect this question would be to drive without headlights in the darkness. Through analysis and by writing about this topic, I hope to turn on the metaphorical headlights and illuminate the faint contours ahead. Only in the crudest beliefs in human nature is the fate of humanity doomed to economic rationality and resource-related conflicts from migration. As human beings—and this, fellow futurists should be well aware—we have the power to construct the future. We are not mere passengers driven by fate.


Why is migration important to understand? To shape the future.


© Kevin Jae 2020

Tags:  migration  nation  world order 

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Rethinking Societal Organization

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 26, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the concept of nation-state in her eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Today, emotions seem to run high about trade, politics, governments, policy, national pride, and much more. Numerous individuals may feel disenfranchised. How might society be organized such that it enables its members’ agency to harmonize civic rights and responsibilities with their values and aspirations?

Society is an instinctive human organization in which individuals continuously interact with each other, making it a living entity. Its members might share a similar social fabric, or live in the same geographical area, or participate in the same political-economic-social governance structure and avenues for civic engagement.

The two fundamental concepts that society has structured itself into are nation and state. Being human-made, both ideas are artificial. A nation is a group of individuals who share a common heritage. A state is linked to a territory and its internationally-recognized boundaries. A nation-state is a nation living within a state. In many contexts, a nation-state is equivalent to a country.

These concepts were born in the mid-1600s, during the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia. This treaty established the foundation for international law, diplomacy, sovereignty, foreign and internal affairs, which ended wars and empires, while recognizing multiple states, most being nation-states. Some might feel inclined to note that in a way, the treaty ended the times’ flavour of globalization. At that time, nation would mostly live within the boundaries of a state. As such, the distance between nation and state was almost nonexistent.

Down the road, during post-colonialism, while borders were drawn sometimes artificially, nations might’ve been split amongst several states, introducing some distance between nation and state. Nevertheless, the Westphalian nation-state has continued to succeed, registering its peak during the peace treaties that ended World War I.

Since then though, the nation-state seems to have declined. In the aftermath of World War II, the artificial divide introduced by the Iron Curtain was (in historical terms) short-lived. Once the Curtain fell, everyone wanted to see what was outside of it. Furthermore, the development of the European Union eliminated the borders amongst some member states. It enables each nation to travel, work, and live without boundaries across the EU while preserving the autonomy and territory of its member states. In such an environment, state borders switched from an international to an internal, administrative affair. In this context, representatives of several nations could now live within the boundaries of one state. As such, the overlap between nation and state has diminished. Nations and states seem to have continued to grow further apart.

Similar migratory trends have been observed well beyond Europe. World political and economic tensions have pushed individuals to seek living solutions beyond their birth nation-state. As a result, migration is at an all-time high. A nation now has representation across multiple states. For example, the Indian diaspora spread across the world contributes not only to the development of their adopted country, but also to that of India. In the process, they also make their heritage known outside their country of birth, creating nuances of it elsewhere. The concepts of nation and state seem to have continued to grow further apart.

Migration seems to have changed the nation-state relationship in two ways. First, the relation between nation and state is not one-to-one anymore. Second, the two concepts don’t overlap as they did during Westphalian times. A distance between them has been emerging.

What should happen with this growing distance, especially when considering the role of the nation-state in the politics-economics-social governance and in civic engagement? The situation could become even more complicated when considering how unpredictable extreme natural, political, or economic events might push populations to seek shelter in friendlier territories. Furthermore, with increasing signs of globalization shifting to more decentralized, local, but distributed preferences, trade and information wars, etc., one could wonder whether we are living the modern version of pre-Westphalia. What would it take to build a contemporary model addressing societal organization issues that becomes at least as successful as the one built in the 17th century?

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  nation  society  state 

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The Trajectory of the Nation-State

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

David Roselle‘s second post in our Emerging Fellows program concerns the apparent decline of the nation-state. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Many can only dream of having the freedom to express their opinion. The fortunate of us might take it for granted. Others might see it through biased lenses. I acknowledge mine, originating from growing up in a former communist country. In that world, information dissemination meant precisely two hours of evening TV programming. Any form of expression linked everything back to the doctrine regurgitating “glorious” dictatorship propaganda. Information beyond meant treason. Asking for a passport just to explore a different culture, stamped one as being against the system. Censorship was deeply entrenched in everyday life. It should come as no surprise that the world after the cold war sought freedom of access and expression. But with little knowledge on how to achieve that after 50 years of communist rule. As a result, even today, after almost another 30 years, the discovery of free speech is continuing. Experimentation with extreme polarization is allowed. Perhaps unknowingly, essential aspects of freedom, well-being, or even human rights are impacted. Foul language, objectifying those who are different, or talk shows exploiting fear are such examples.

However, everywhere else the discovery of what free speech may become seems to also be in question. The internet has opened massive channels of online communication. It has increased our acceptance of sharing more about ourselves, even intertwining our private and public selves. To stay informed, and to speak up when we see fit, we use a multitude of devices and apps. We freely give our consent to provide pieces of our private information. More recently though, the online life that we thought was public, has increasingly become an island that we inhabit together with those like us. The software is becoming more and more sophisticated, learning about our preferences and presenting us with the information it thinks we want. In the process, it isolates us in our own world. Not realizing we live with a different flavour of privacy, we still stay always online, expecting everything to happen now, while disseminating instantly what resonates with us, thus reinforcing the attributes of the data silo forming our world.

The paradox of the bubble is that it still drives the fragmentation of our attention with methods that have their own chapters in economics, politics, or social realms. Some are fair, some are not. Most of these methods have recently emerged and our language is catching up with the times by adding these contemporary meanings to the dictionary. For example, “someone who posts inflammatory messages online to provoke emotional responses” is called an internet troll. Sadly, though, our “always on,” instant, share-all expectations have become a medium for expanding trolling into the physical world, making it ubiquitous. With this, everything goes, it seems, including extreme, hateful, and harmful speech that has been recently coined in media as the “weaponization” of free speech.

We have the freedom of assembly, religion, and speech, or the freedom to marry and love, but is this enough? OCAD Professor Suzanne Stein argues for a “greater form of freedom: freedom from harm.”

The question is what do we do about it? Perhaps zooming into this proliferation of trolling, online anonymity, social media bubbles and their connection with the fight for our attention would provide an answer. In a world in which we’ve become omnipresent, attention fragmentation seems to illustrate the contemporary version of the divide and conquer paradigm. Attention holds the key to today’s competitive advantage, starting from the individual level. At the same time, the more we realize our attention is selective yet limited, the more we seem to crave it while giving it freely away at the expense of freedom itself. Has the freedom for attention become a basic need, and right?

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  economics  nation  politics 

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Does a lack of infrastructure represent an opportunity for developing countries?

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 5, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Daniel Bonin‘s third post in our Emerging Fellows program concerns infrastructure in developing countries. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 

A lack of infrastructure creates opportunities and carries risks for developing countries. Legacy infrastructure reduces the degree of freedom for infrastructure planning in developed countries. There lies the opportunity when planning infrastructure from scratch for developing countries. Infrastructure layout and services could be completely re-thought without the confinements of existing infrastructure and tailored to their specific needs. This is in the interest of developing countries as they need unique solutions that work at their scale. As a consequence, new infrastructure paradigms could emerge.

New paradigms could be based on both frugal and high-tech concepts, depending on the state of the economy of each country and other regional specifics and trends. For example, a lack of waste management infrastructure could be overcome by both artisan like circular economy approaches and even more futuristic solutions that consider automated underground waste collection systems. In other areas, a lack of infrastructure could facilitate the implementation of novel concepts around topics such as clean energy and water. There is already a shift towards decentralization and prosuming, a new paradigm under which consumers turn into producers. Developing countries might leapfrog towards renewable energy generation of prosumers, microgrids, and atmospheric water generation. This would constitute a paradigm shift compared to centralized infrastructure and grid dependency of today.

Sometimes less is more – this also holds for urbanization. Entirely new neighborhoods or even entirely new cities will emerge in developing countries until 2050. Today, we see uncontrolled urban sprawl and conversion of precious arable land. For tomorrow, we need to steer the rapid urbanization. New urban areas could look completely different if they were to be designed from scratch. Entirely new paradigms for urban planning would be possible. More green space or even forest cities could be realized without the disruption to established processes and grown structures. Last but not least, a lack of housing and surrounding infrastructure paired with more powerful infrastructure development banks hold potential for employment and economic growth in developing countries.

A lack of infrastructure is only an opportunity if actions are taken at the right time and at the right place. It is necessary to develop future scenarios to understand where people might move and what their future needs might be. In order to exploit the potential of a fresh start, it is also important to anticipate technological change. Otherwise, there is a danger that a large amount of legacy infrastructure is created.

This also highlights the thin line between the risk of delaying infrastructure and meeting the growing demand for infrastructure in developing countries that comes as a result of ongoing urbanization and income growth. If these challenges are mastered, infrastructure planning can play a new role besides the provision of services. Infrastructure then defines the order of societies and economies in developing countries. How developing countries deal with a lack of infrastructure will determine whether they will be characterized by decentralization, prosuming, and more livable urban areas. This could be their contribution towards a more sustainable world and might cause them to emerge as role models.


© Daniel Bonin 2018

Tags:  economics  infrastructure  nation 

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