Moving in and out of Vulnerability: Interrogating Migration as an Adaptation Strategy along a Rural‐Urban Continuum in India

Abstract

Migration is a key livelihood strategy to diversify incomes, reduce risks associated with rainfed agriculture (and the effects of climate change), and meet personal aspirations. Drawing on life history interviews with migrant and non‐migrant families, we explore the role of migration and commuting in addressing livelihood vulnerability along a rural‐urban continuum in Karnataka, India. We find that labelling migration as an adaptation strategy or not does not necessarily capture the breadth of experiences and implications for livelihoods that migrants and their families face. At an intra‐household level, migration and commuting can alleviate vulnerability for some family members while exacerbating vulnerability of others. At a larger scale, migration that is adaptive at a household scale can be maladaptive at a system‐scale, where cities are unable to provide for or absorb migrants who often live in highly vulnerable conditions. Finally, on a temporal scale, migration and commuting affect livelihood trajectories and choices beyond the migrants alone, and understanding how these strategies affect household vulnerability over time is crucial for adaptation research. We also highlight the use of life histories as a methodological tool that complements current econometric approaches exploring migration and allows for in‐depth and temporally sensitive inquiry into the drivers and consequences of migration.