Five principles of integration: policies and inclusion

By: Ben Gidley, Senior Researcher

In a recent blogpost here, Sarah Spencer commented on the new OSCE Ljubljana guidelines on the integration of national minorities. The guidelines include probably the nearest I’ve seen to a clear definition of integration as we use the term at COMPAS:

Integration is a dynamic, multi-actor process of mutual engagement that facilitates effective participation by all members of a diverse society in the economic, political, social and cultural life, and fosters a shared and inclusive sense of belonging at national and local levels.

If we take that approach to integration seriously, there are a number of principles that need to be foregrounded, of which I want to address five in this blogpost.

Addressing negative attitudes
First, if integration is not simply a duty on migrants but a responsibility of whole societies, the state and institutions in the receiving context play a vital role, as do public attitudes towards migrants. Xenophobia seems to be dramatically on the rise across Europe, manifesting in anti-migrant violence (for example in Greece), in votes for xenophobic parties and in opinion poll findings of widespread hostility to immigration. In terms of polling results, the UK is a “leader” in Europe in negative attitudes, shaped by several complex factors which include a strong anti-migrant agenda across the media and the contest between politicians to appear the “toughest” on immigration.

AMICALL, a COMPAS-led transnational project funded by the European Integration Fund, has explored what local and regional authorities can do to address negative public attitudes.

The project’s final report was launched in Brussels in September. The AMICALL research shows that cities are taking a lead across Europe, even in contexts where national governments are retreating from the integration agenda, to push forward integration by working with the receiving society and not just with migrants. This includes: tackling misinformation and misapprehensions; avoiding, mediating and defusing tensions and conflicts; creating understanding between different communities which share common places; and building a shared and inclusive local sense of belonging and identity for all citizens.

However, while negative attitudes are a barrier to integration and cohesion, they do not always lead to negative behaviour and experience. There is a gap between what people think and say and what people do. Ethnographic research on the ground in diverse neighbourhoods suggests that some of the most intolerant narratives and discourses coexist with reasonably successful muddling along and openness to difference on the street.

Concordia Discors, a transnational project led by Italian thinktank FIERI (and described in previous blogposts [1, 2, 3] here by Ole Jensen) sought to understand intergroup relations at “integration’s ground zero”, the neighbourhood. The project, which also launched its final report in Brussels last month, found many instances where public attitudes and facts on the ground were mismatched.

In the COMPAS case studies in South London, for instance, we found white working class residents expressing xenophobic attitudes while building intimate intercultural connections of profound trust with neighbours from migrant backgrounds – as well as middle class residents espousing multicultural beliefs while living de facto segregated lives insulated from living multiculture. The Hungarian research team, TARKI in Budapest, documented even more striking relationships across migrant groups that paradoxically involved positive representations of the other with negative interactions (as with Arab residents and Hungarian shopkeepers in Józsefváros), and negative representations of the other with positive interactions (as with Chinese traders and Roma employees in Four Tigers Market in Józsefváros).

Understanding integration at the local level
This points to a second key principle. Integration policy – and much of the literature on integration processes – is framed at the scale of the nation state. But the actual processes occur at a series of different scales, of which the local – the city, but at least as significantly the neighbourhood – is fundamental. Both UK government policy (e.g. the Creating the Conditions for Integration document published this year, which stresses localism) and EU policy (e.g. the statements of the conference on integration hosted by the Cypriot presidency last week) increasingly give a prominent symbolic role to the local. But what does it mean practically, and how can we analytically understand integration at the local level?

Here, the integration literature can benefit from the wealth of sociological, anthropological and geographical work emerging in the last decade that marks a “convivial turn” in the field of multiculturalism and ethnic and racial studies. Concepts like “everyday multiculturalism” (Amanda Wise), “banal intercultural interaction” (Leonie Sandercock), “commonplace diversity” (Susanne Wessendorf), “civil-integration” (Steve Vertovec), “prosaic multiculture” (Ash Amin) or the “thrown-togetherness of place” (Doreen Massey) exemplify this move.

A similar orientation can be seen in the rich literature on interculturalism developed by Phil Wood, Charles Landry, Ricard Zapata Barrero and others. This literature, often oriented towards municipalities’ practical concerns, has stressed the possibilities of mundane forms of interaction in the public spaces of Europe’s cities, and celebrated the extraordinary competences involved in ordinary citizens’ navigating the complexity of living with difference. Interculturalism has been taken up by many European city governments, thanks partly to the promotion of the paradigm by the Council of Europe, which supports a vibrant Intercultural Cities network – and increasingly is being taken up by cities beyond Europe, as evidenced by the Hamamatsu Declaration from Asian cities committed to interculturalism last month.

The sort of concerns that animate the convivial turn and interculturalism have belatedly found their way into the integration debate. A recent paper by  Myriam Cherti and Clare McNeil of IPPR, for example, calls for a turn to a notion of “everyday integration”, suggesting that “future work on the best ways of integrating minority communities into broader society should focus… on sites where identities are constructed and reconstructed and where new possibilities of group allegiance are continually developed”, such as sites of leisure, childcare and consumption. The suggestion is a move away from the overloaded territory of shared values, extremism and conflict and into the quieter territory of quotidian life.

Integration not an isolated issue
However, and this is the third principle I want to raise, integration cannot be addressed in isolation from structural inequalities in society, from issues of class and power that generate persistent disadvantages from some groups. Central to integration are what Stephen Castles has called “public outcomes” and Alastair Ager and Alison Strang have called integration’s “means and markers”: whether or not migrants are accessing jobs, housing, qualifications and other social goods in the way that non-migrants are. This is perhaps the hard, measurable dimension of integration, which involves, as Shammit Saggar and Will Somerville put it, “comparing the educational, social, and labor market outcomes of immigrants to those of natives, and assessing whether this gap is closing over time.”

In shifting to a focus on mundane conviviality and everyday integration, it is vital that these hard dimensions of integration are not forgotten. Issues of racism and of class injustice are too often missing from accounts which stress commonplace diversity. As I noted in one of my previous posts here, for example, the words race and racism do not appear in the government’s localist Creating the Conditions document. While reality on the street might be one of banal interculture and un-panicked openness to difference, fundamental inequalities wired into our system (and worsening in the context of austerity) constitute a major barrier to successful integration.

Although integration mainly happens at the scale of the local, these kind of systemic disproportionalities are probably outside the power of local governments and require larger policy levers. However, local governments do have significant powers to shape integration outcomes, and not least to shape public attitudes. Often, though, it is not “integration policy”, at either a local or national level, which makes a difference to integration, but simply policy in general – mainstream policies that affect the different domains of life in which the processes of integration occur, from housing to employment, from civic participation to public space. Hence, as Han Entzinger wrote in a recent report on integration policy in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, “good integration policy is really nothing more and nothing less than good urban policy.”

This understanding underlies a new COMPAS transnational project, EU-MIA, developed in partnership with the International Training Centre of the ILO and FIERI. EU-MIA seeks to work with municipalities to document promising practices in integration, to use in developing training materials to work with cities on improving policy. We do not hope to find perfect models of integration policy which can be adopted wholesale across different city contexts, but we believe there is a wealth of effective activity being carried on by cities, in partnership with civil society, across Europe, often despite diminishing resources.

Mainstreaming integration
This brings us to the fourth principle which I want to flag. As the Migration Policy Institute has documented, funding and support for integration policy has been declining across Europe recently, at every geographical scale. In the context of austerity, many public agencies see it as an expendable luxury, while in other contexts the backlash against multiculturalism means that migrant-focused policies are out of fashion. A language of “mainstreaming” has emerged, which has emerged, which can be seen as an alibi for cuts.

However, taking a holistic approach to integration – seeing it as a natural process that occurs across several domains – means some kind of “smart mainstreaming” is the only credible approach. As Saggar and Somerville argue, it is mainstream policy rather than tailored migrant-oriented policy that has the greatest purchase in securing better public outcomes for migrants across the main socio-economic domains – but most effectively when attention is paid to the evidence on where particularly intense disadvantage persists.

This fourth principle structures another new COMPAS transnational project, Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policies In Europe, led by the Migration Policy Institute working with COMPAS and Erasmus University Rotterdam and commissioned by the Dutch government. This is a comparative research project to investigate the concepts and practices of mainstreaming immigrant integration policies at a local and regional level in four European countries: Denmark, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The four research projects mentioned in this post have all been funded by the European Union’s European Integration Fund.

Sharing practices and experiences
The transnational dimension, made possible by EU funding, brings me to the fifth and final principle I want to address. That is the importance of sharing practice and experience across different local contexts. The AMICALL project involved bringing local authority and civil society agencies together transnationally, to learn from each other’s successes and failures in improving their own practice. Similarly, the Concordia Discors final conference brought resident activists from the project’s eleven research neighbourhoods together in Brussels.

These sorts of platforms for cross-border knowledge exchange, reflexive practice and action learning are especially vulnerable in times of austerity, which I think gives a greater responsibility to academia, as a space for reflection outside of the immediate externalities of policy-making, to support local officials, activists and migrant communities in shaping better integration policies that can lead to more inclusive outcomes for everyone.

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