Theorising voluntariness in return

Book chapter

Erdal, Marta Bivand & Ceri Oeppen (2022) Theorising voluntariness in return, in Handbook of Return Migration. Elgar online: Elgar (70–83).

Publisher's webpage

The distinction between voluntary and forced return is an important binary in migration policy and migration management.

Whilst recognising the significant impact which policy-defined categorisations can have on migrants' experiences, we caution against allowing binaries to dominate scholarly analysis. We aim to look beyond the labelling of return as either voluntary or forced. Instead, we explore how a theoretical understanding of voluntariness, combined with empirical observation of migrants' return decision-making, can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the voluntariness of return. Analysis of the voluntariness of return requires a comprehensive understanding of the context in which return decisions are made, including the availability of acceptable alternatives to return that the potential returnee can choose from. We conclude by reflecting on the ways in which voluntariness, agency, force and coercion can operate at different scales, in different places and at different stages of the migration experience, necessitating thorough analytical attention.

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