Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Governance and Human Security

First Advisor

Stacy Van Deveer

Second Advisor

Dolly Daftary

Third Advisor

Bipasha Baruah


This thesis aims to investigate the relationship between household aspirations and migration decisions of seasonal migrants in India. The focus on income-based and demographic determinants of rural-urban migration undermines the agency of migrants in the process. By presenting migration as a response to external drivers, migrant individuals and households are reduced to passive carriers of external change. This dissertation extends the capabilities approach to understand the agency of rural migrant households under conditions of economic distress. With a case study of migrant households in rural Odisha, India, this project examines the role of household aspirations in high-risk low-return form of seasonal migration. Seasonal migration in Odisha is an instance where entire families migrate during the agricultural lean season without substantial improvements in well-being, or risk mitigation. First, the project conceptualizes the aspirations of a rural household through a mixed-methods approach. Through group discussions, literature review, and personal interviews this project uses a unique household survey to compare 27 different aspirations of a household in rural Odisha. Throughout the process, the project centralizes the household as a unit of analysis, contrary to the focus on migrant individuals in rural-urban migration scholarship. Second, this project uses a within-case analysis to understand the distinctions between migrant and non-migrant households in the sample. Through a quantitative analysis of 507 household surveys, I find that migrant and non-migrant households are distinct in their capacity. Within a limited relationship between aspiration dimensions and migration decisions, migrant households are characterized by higher aspirations for children’s education, community contribution, and participation in elections. Contrary to existing evidence. migrant households are associated with a limited short-term view of the future and do not invest in livelihood diversification. The personal interviews also indicate similar experiences and identify three key characteristics of migrant households’ aspirations- resources as a precondition to aspire, prioritizing household collective goods over individual aspirations, and normalizing of debt cycles. The interviews also indicate that the role of debt and labor broker systems need to be investigated urgently to understand high-risk low-return forms of migration better. While seasonal migration research in India relies on census extracts and, in cases, decade-old data sets, this project contributes valuable primary data on seasonal migrants in India. Finally, by using a mixed-methods approach to explore the aspirations of households, this project enhances the emerging literature on migration and the capacity to aspire.


Free and open access to this Campus Access Dissertation is made available to the UMass Boston community by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. Those not on campus and those without a UMass Boston campus username and password may gain access to this dissertation through resources like Proquest Dissertations & Theses Global or through Interlibrary Loan. If you have a UMass Boston campus username and password and would like to download this work from off-campus, click on the "Off-Campus UMass Boston Users" link above.