Despite the centrality of the notion of “capital,” scholarship on international migration has yet to fully explore the generative potential of Bourdieu’s theory. This article “thinks with” Bourdieu to theorize how states, aspiring migrants, and migration brokers interact over the valorization, conversion, and legitimization of various types of capital for migration purposes. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theorization on the state, I identify the variegated ways in which state policies and their enactment by frontline gatekeepers constitute migration-facilitating capital. I show how migration brokers help migrants acquire adequate capital—or the semblance of possession of such capital—to contest the state’s monopolistic claim over the governance of identity, qualification, and mobility. Drawing on Bourdieu’s conceptualization of field, habitus, illusio, and symbolic violence, I analyze how migrants partake in “organized striving” for migration-facilitating capital, the uneven distribution of which produces material and symbolic stratification.
Jaeeun Kim is Assistant Professor of Sociology and the Korea Foundation Assistant Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Michigan. She is a political sociologist and law and society scholar interested in questions of human mobility, inequality, power and agency. She studies race/ethnicity/nationalism and international migration and citizenship from a comparative and transnational perspective. Kim is the author of multiple articles and an award-winning book Contested Embrace: Transborder Membership Politics in Twentieth-Century Korea (Stanford University Press, 2016). She is currently working on her second project about the asylum-seeking of undocumented migrants on religious grounds, based on her ongoing multisited ethnographic fieldwork. Kim was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study during 2016-2017.