An interdisciplinary effort to make sense of migration needs to involve explanatory systems of the level of abstraction that transcend all ideologically flavored perspectives on the target issue. The hypothetical example above leads us to the formal conclusion—migration is an issue of flexible fluid borders in the relation between Migrants and Counter-Migrants. The border can by internal in the person’s mind, or external on the division lines protected by border police and barbed wire fences on political country limits. In the latter case the migrants climb under, or over, build tunnels under or fly on balloons to get to the other side. Openings in the closed borders are somewhere.

The notion of borders in cultural psychology emulates that of membranes in biology. Membranes are crucial for the work of multi-cellular organisms precisely because they both block and allow transfer of substances between cells. This double function of the membrane transfer mechanisms is crucial for life. And these mechanisms can be complex—catering both for opening and closing of the trans-membrane channels. Where are these mechanisms in the migration research—if done within the Cultural Psychology of Semiotic Dynamics? Here each of the “trans-membranal channel” is built up as a hierarchy of signs, while the border itself remains invisible. Most borders in our psychological and social lives are of that kind—themselves invisible, but the locations where they are being crossed—increasingly evident.

The hierarchy of signs is always dynamic and open to its own transformation. This makes the actions of a Counter-Migrant in relation to (real or imaginary) Migrant inherently ambivalent and rapidly moving from positive to negative relations, and back.

Figure 4 provides a simplified example of the border-crossing mechanisms. The border between the Migrant and Counter-Migrant is set up on the locus of a particular encounter—mutual rivalry for jobs, welcoming the migrants to the local community, occasional meeting in the street, etc. The border is a here-and-now local phenomenon- episodic, uncertain, and transitory. The particular transitory zone in the border is organized by the hierarchical sign organization on both sides—for the Migrant (P-Q-S-T…M) and for the Counter-Migrant (A-B-C-D…N) where cycles of signs can become subordinated to the general organizers (M, N) of the meaning construction systems. M and N need not be in action in the usual flow of meaning construction of the Other, but can be activated under conditions where re-organization of the meaning system is needed.

Fig. 4
figure4

The process of negotiation of the Migrant<> Counter relations on the border locus

As an example, let us fill in the meanings in the two cycles in Fig. 4 with specific ranges of meanings:

A(P) = “I am {positive <> non-positive} towards fellow human beings”

B(Q) = “I {recognize <> non-recognize} this person as a fellow human being”

C(S) = “I feel we must {help <> non-help} fellow human beings”

D(T) = “I feel {positive <> non-positive} about my {help <> non-help} to fellow human being”

Each meaning is accompanied by its counter-meaning (X and non-X). The movement between these opposites depends on the meta-level regulatory signs (M, N) that can re-orient the cycle below from the positive to the negative domain.

In a more specific—still hypothetical—an example a Migrant arrives into the community of Counter-Migrants and is heartily welcome. The Counter-Migrants—individually and collectively—recognize her or him as a fellow human being (equal in rights to them—rather than a category of non-equal status—such as a slave, or an enemy). The Migrant gets all kinds of needed help from the community, and the Counter-Migrants in the community praise themselves and one another for their humane help to the Migrant. The Migrant is—correspondingly—appreciative of the help and is ready to contribute to the community.

However, “contribution to community” is an inherently ambiguous notion. It includes everything from conforming to the present community status quo, to various acts of innovation that would change the existing ways of being. The Migrant brings to the community new ways of thinking and implements these. By doing that she or he becomes suspicious for the community (B→C “I recognize him-her as a competitor and do not want to help”) together with change in the superordinate meaning field N. The Counter-Migrant meaning cycle now moves to the non-X domain resulting in suspicion, discrimination, and also anti-Migrant acts of violence. The Migrant side need not recognize that (“I am trying my best to bring my skills to the community”), or—if M becomes correspondingly changed to the non-positive side- develops a parallel opposition to the new Counter-Migrant meaning cycle. The result is complete break of trust between the two, mutual suspicions, and mutual violent attacks. Societal change is a sensitive process where outsiders’ (Migrants’) role can be deeply ambivalent in how social change can be brought about. Figure 4 shows how various versions of “contact utopias”—bring two ethic groups to contact and they melt into a new society—need not work on the border encounters of Migrants and Counter-Migrants.

What would this kind of argumentation mean for the research practices of migration. The scenario is rather clear—first of all, the focus on the study is on the Counter-Migrants who create the social conditions for Migrants. Secondly—the dynamics of meaning making within the same Counter-Migrant—covering the whole range of the meaning fields. Here all actions—from generous help to the Other to discrimination and stigmatization of the same Other—are covered by the same general process mechanisms of semiotic dynamics.

Finally—it is obvious that migration is central for all development—economic, social, psychological. An imaginary scenario of no migration—with only various independent communities of Counter-Migrants existing side by side, not relating to one another, would give us a set of closed systems that would necessarily deteriorate. That this is not happening is guaranteed by the minimal migration tradition—that of exogamy that modifies by necessity the family lives in these different communities. We will always be migrants—and that keeps our societies alive.

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