This article reviews theoretical perspectives on migration and development, starting with nineteenth-century political economy theories focused on “colonizing” migrations from England and other European powers and concluding with the emerging literature on immigrant transnationalism and its consequences for sending nations. The general concept of equilibrium has until currently dominated orthodox economic theories of both colonizing and labor migrations from peripheral regions to advanced nations. The counteroffensive, led by Gunnar Myrdal and theorists of the dependency school, centered on the notion of cumulative causation leading to increasing poverty and the depopulation of peripheral sending areas. Both perspectives registered numerous empirical anomalies, stemming from a common view of migration flows as occurring between separate politico-economic entities. An alternative conceptualization of such flows as internal to an overarching global system has improved our understanding of causes and consequences of labor migration and has framed the back-and-forth complexities of these movements captured in the novel notion of transnationalism.
This paper summarizes the main theories conventionally associated with the sociology of development as well as the arguments of the principal scholars focused on what “works” to bring about economic development and social progress. This line of argument ushered the rising consensus across the social sciences that the prime causal role belongs to institutions. However, the empirical literature that has followed from this consensus has been marred by a lack of proper definition of the concept and a tendency to use nations as units of analysis, neglecting their internal complexity. The last sections summarize a recently completed study of twenty-three Latin American institutions in five countries. The study shows the feasibility of studying institutions empirically and highlights a series of important differences among then and across countries. The solution provided by Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) to the defining determinants of a developmental institution highlights the central role of meritocracy, absence of internal cliques and, in particular, proactivity toward the external environment. The theoretical and practical implications of this study are discussed.