Obituary for Stephen Castles

Stephen Castles, who has been a leading migration scholar and migration theorist since the 1970s, has passed away aged 77. Stephen has left a legacy of a remarkable contribution to the understanding of the complex, changing dynamics of global migration, the ways that this migration transformed sending and receiving countries and the lives of migrants themselves. 

Although born in Australia, Stephen was raised in England and his first period as a migration scholar was European-based. Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe (1973) — his first major contribution to the field — was very influential and made Stephen’s reputation within the global migration research community. Soon after the publication of his second major book contribution to the field — Here for Good. Western Europe’s New Ethnic Minorities (1984) — Stephen returned to Australia in 1986 to take up the post as the Director of the Centre for Multicultural Studies at Wollongong University. During that time, Stephen had a major impact on migration research and policy in Australia. In 2001, Stephen then moved to Oxford University as Director of the Refugee Studies Centre and worked at Oxford University till 2009 when he returned to Australia to take up a position at the University of Sydney until his retirement in 2017.

One of the difficulties in reviewing the career of Stephen Castles is that over four and a half decades, his immigration scholarship — with a range of co-authors — has been so productive and his writings so prolific. The recurring theme is that Stephen Castles regularly anticipated new global migration issues so that his scholarship was at the forefront both theoretically and in policy terms. 

Here for Good (1984) addressed the increasingly important issue of temporary migration, a theme that he returned to in later books, including Back to the Future? Can Europe Meet Its Labour Needs through Temporary Migration? (2006). His book, Citizenship and Migration: Globalisation and the Politics of Belonging (2000), was at the cutting edge of the citizenship debate that still resonates strongly in Australasia, Europe, Scandinavia and North America. At Oxford, Stephen’s publications addressed forced migration to Europe, including States of Conflict: Causes and Patterns of Forced Migration to the EU (2003) ― this was a matter that was starting to gain relevance both in academia and in the policy/practice worlds. Stephen’s global focus shifted his gaze to sending countries and fieldwork in Africa and the relationship between global migration and development in Migration and Development: Perspectives from the South (2008). The Age of Migration — first published in 1993 and now in its fifth edition — is still the most influential migration textbook in the world and has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Polish, Japanese and Taiwanese Chinese. In his last book, Social Transformation and Migration: National and Local Experiences in South Korea, Turkey, Mexico and Australia (2015), Stephen returns to the themes he addressed in his first book but in a different way: this time, the key focus is not the labour market and migrant workers per se but the transformation of the places of migrant settlement and migrants as neighbours.

One of the key features of Stephen Castles’ immigration scholarship has been the collaborative nature of his research. This is seen in the wide range of co-authors in his published work. Another has been his innovative, shifting focus, cannily anticipating new major global migration trends and issues and cutting the cloth of the theoretical lens that would be necessary to understand and interpret these trends and develop policy responses. A sociologist, Stephen always located his research in social theory though with an interdisciplinary focus, critical to a phenomenon such as global migration that transcends traditional disciplines. Another is the increasing global span of his fieldwork, with his focus on sending as well as receiving nations and his insistence that many nations are both. The global South is progressively featured in his published work over the decades. The other constant in his career has been Stephen’s focus on policy implications and the importance of policy development. His insights and advice were eagerly sought by national governments and transnational institutions.

Stephen Castles was a humble and unassuming man. His many graduate students found him very approachable, generous with his time and knowledge and so valuable as a guiding hand on their newly emerging academic careers. 

He has many friends among the Metropolis International community who are greatly saddened by his unexpected passing but forever grateful for his life and career. Stephen played key roles in the two Australian International Metropolis Conferences, Melbourne 2007 and Sydney 2018. The planning of the former benefited greatly from Stephen's intricate knowledge of the subject. He gave freely of his time in consultation with the organisers and his presence on the podium gave lustre to the occasion. As Australia's foremost expert on international migration, he brought the country's leading position in this field of study to the Conference, which attracted some 700 delegates, of whom over 300 came from overseas. He was honoured at the equally successful International Metropolis Conference in Sydney in 2018 with a Plenary Session focussing on his career. It was a way for the Metropolis International family to honour his scholarship in the field and further engage with what he so generously offered. Stephen's role as the first Chair of the Board of the Bureau of Immigration Research had a substantial impact in placing the Bureau as a respected and influential international agency. 

The Metropolis International community has lost a giant in the international field of migration studies. We send our sincere condolences to his wife, Ellie Vasta — an Australian migration scholar of substantial achievement in her own right — and to his daughters Freyja and Jenny and their families. His influence and memory will long resonate within the academic, government and community sectors that comprise the Metropolis International community and his varied and global network of friends and colleagues. 

Jock Collins 

University of Technology Sydney

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