CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS article
Sec. Refugees and Conflict
Volume 5 - 2023 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpos.2023.1125012
The genealogy of integrationism: Ideational foundations of the politics of immigrant integration
- 1DALC, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, Czechia
- 2IRCL, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, Montpellier, France
This article traces the idea of (“immigrant”) “integration” from its roots in classical political philosophy and the birth of the modern nation-state, to its current relevance in the European political agenda and, relatedly, its centrality in the newly consolidated field of Migration Studies. I examine the ontological (i.e., philosophical and sociological) and political rationales behind the idea that migrants need to “integrate into society”, and the different varieties of political solutions that are offered in this sense. The paper asks: How did the migrant come at the center of the idea of an integrated society? And how did integrationism become consolidated as the hegemonic idea of governing diverse societies in post-migration contexts in Europe? Employing an extensive list of secondary literature, documentary data, policy analysis of the EU-level Framework on migrant integration, and discourse analysis of integration-related research publications, I attempt a genealogy of the idea of “integration” as it traveled across the North Atlantic West and between academia and government. The paper shows how the production of the subject of integration—the misfit “immigrant” figure—is historically marked by a consensus across the learned and the governing elites that identifies the preservation of a homogenous national social order as a societal goal. I argue that the scientification of integration governance via the “evidence-based policy” paradigm (most notably promoted by EU institutions) normalizes, naturalizes and aims to depoliticize the otherwise highly normative and contested question of migrant integration.
Integrate (verb): combine (one thing) with another to form a whole. Word origin (mid 17th cent.): from Latin integrat- ‘made whole', from the verb integrare, from integer ‘whole', from in- (expressing negation) + the root of tangere ‘to touch'.
Oxford English Dictionaries
Debates on migrants and their integration are at the top of political agendas throughout Western liberal democracies. The idea of immigrant integration—as a line of thought that attempts to resolve the “ethnic dilemmas” of nation-states under conditions of cultural diversity (Favell, 2014, p. 82)—enjoys a wide approval, both in the academic realm and in society at large. A fuzzy notion that can simultaneously be a synonym of social inclusion and a legal condition for entry, settlement or naturalization, “integration” is nonetheless presented by governing elites as the best (and only) solution to governing diverse societies in “post-migration” contexts. Yet it is simultaneously being increasingly contested for its exclusionary effects on those constructed as its targets, not least through its role in amplifying anti-Muslim anxieties (e.g., Korteweg, 2017; Schinkel, 2018; Rytter, 2019).
This paper sheds light on the question of how “integration” came to be not only the main strategy for population governance in liberal democracies, but also an object of fascination for social scientists. In the text that follows, I examine the idea of (migrant) integration as it traveled across the Atlantic and between academia and governing elites. First, I identify its early roots in what was later codified as the discipline of sociology, the very same that invented “society” in the first place. Next, I examine the invention of the (assimilable) migrant through the erection of the modern border regime in the US and, later, in post-Empire Europe. I discuss how nation-building and the collapse of colonial Empires brought the immigrant into the discourse on integration, which the vastly influential assimilation scholarship (related to early twentieth century Chicago School of Sociology) helped solidify in the social scientific cannon. Next, I briefly survey the history of integration policies in postcolonial Europe, where integrationism follows North and Western European countries' self-realization as “immigration destinations”. I finally examine the role of the European Union in mainstreaming integration as a political priority since the late 1990s, and the related integration scholarship that flourished as part of the newly institutionalized research field of Migration Studies. Here, I discuss notably the effects of science-policy collaboration as part of the EU-driven “evidence-based policy” paradigm, which I argue significantly contributed to the rationalization and technocratization of migration and diversity governance. Overall, I show how the historical and current construction and validation of the idea of integration at the interstices of scientific research and governance ultimately normalize and depoliticize migration and integration as social facts. Beyond contributions to the critical scholarship on (civic) integrationism, this study answers to the political urgency to scrutinize discourses that perpetuate violent divisions, including those coming from the scholarly milieu. A social science that seeks to contribute to emancipatory knowledge must self-reflect on its complicity with oppressive and exclusionary programs, of which integrationism is, as I argue, a prime example.
2. A note on methodology
The paper draws on secondary sources, extensive review of the literature, discourse analysis of recent research publications on integration, as well as discourse and policy analysis of the EU framework on the integration of third-country nationals since the Maastricht Treaty. The latter includes not only legal and policy documents, but also documents related to funding mechanisms as well as “science-for-policy” structures set in place by EU institutions to enable a scientific knowledge base for integration policymaking. The paper relies on a genealogical analysis of discourse as a methodological tool (Carabine, 2001). Analyzing the data through discourse analysis allows for engaging with the power relations that establish “integration” as the dominant discourse on the consequences of mobility in Europe. Discourse is here understood as an assemblage of “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault, 1972, p. 49). A genealogical analysis of discourse aspires to decenter and destabilize meanings found in discourse so as to undermine their authority and disrupt their claim at “ahistory”, rationality and coherence (Hook, 2007, p. 122). As an idea strongly related to social theory and research, “migrant integration” is notably prone to rationalization and claims of non-normativity (e.g., Penninx, 2019), which makes it particularly ripe for deconstruction. A genealogy of integrationism, thus, makes it possible to disturb its status as the only imaginable framework of talking about migration-related diversity, to show that it has emerged to fulfill a very particular role in the governmentality of those marked as immigrants, and to see what kind of realities and subjectivities it produces as such. This suspicion and ultimately over-turning of the self-evident, universal, or objective would eventually mean “to politicize the de-politicized” (Hook, 2007, p. 119) self-warranting accounts of the discourse on integration and its connections to forms of power.
3. A genealogy of (integrated) society
The discourse on “integrating immigrants” has historically been a product of a process of exchange between scholars and ruling elites. The roots of the modern concept of “integration” can be traced in the period between the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century in the context of the burgeoning philosophical, and later sociological, fascination with society as an object of science. The nineteenth century in particular “endowed society with a status as distinctive as that previously accorded the political order, surrounding it with the affectionate metaphors that another age had reserved for the church” (Wolin, 2004, p. 323, as cited in Schinkel, 2017). Cabrera (2018, p. 3–5) identifies the emergence of the modern idea of society—understood as more than just a sum of individuals, an entity in its own right, ruled by its own mechanisms that are not necessarily subject to human action—in the 1820s post-revolutionary France. According to him, this new societalist paradigm was triggered by a disillusionment with the promises of individualist classical liberalism, whose critics posited that it had brought with it neither the political consensus nor the predicted social equality and harmony.
While ideas that resemble contemporary imaginations of society can be traced all the way to Antiquity (e.g., the Greek polis, the Roman res publica, the early medieval societas and universitas, or the modern community, and commonwealth), there were three particularities about society as the focal object of the emerging discipline of sociology. The first refers to how social theory embraced a quasi-organicist and simultaneously a container notion of society, drawn from parallels to the biological organism. Early social theorists like Herbert Spencer and Émile Durkheim set the pace for such conceptions of society, as well as for a new science tasked with studying this entity (Cabrera, 2018, p. 1). This conception, that sees society as the container of social interactions, imagines it as a wholesome, closed, static and unified body composed of parts (be it individuals, groups, or institutions) that harmoniously unite in an organic totality. The part/whole paradigm (known also as functionalist theory) came to see “society” as “some kind of entity with an identity” and an “order with a border” (Schinkel, 2017, p. 39). A strong positivism accompanies this perspective, which posits that society can be objectively observed and quantified as a thing that exists independently of human conception. Sophisticated theories of the past century have largely moved away from explicit organicism (not least due to its infamous links to evolutionary theory and eugenics) and to some extent from functionalism as well, yet this imagination continues to linger, if only implicitly, in the presuppositions of social research that still sees society as a container of social life (De Landa, 2006; Schinkel, 2017).1
The second particular trait of the modern scientific object of “society” is its overlap with the national. Earlier accounts of society as a community tended to understand society as a small-scale assembly of companions or friends (Schinkel, 2017, p. 38), or as a way to denote the differentiation between classes (as in high society). But, the nineteenth century was, after all, the age of “national awakening”. As the most pervasively and yet unreflexively used concept in the social sciences (Wallerstein, 2004 ), the assumed wholeness and orderliness of “society” rendered it readily identifiable with the (nation)state—another entity that assumes clear boundaries, integrity, stability and unity. Hence, we have not only society in singular (e.g., Western, capitalist, or modern society), but primarily national societies (e.g., French society). The fact that society became identified with the nation-state in social research and the extent of the ramifications of this conflation cannot be overstated. This unfortunate complicity between epistemic communities and the nation-building project that began in the nineteenth century left long and nearly irreparable consequences that still condition and delimitate the ontologies and epistemologies of the social and human sciences (see, e.g., the critique of “methodological nationalism” by Wimmer and Schiller, 2002). It remains notably dominant in the case of current integration research, as many scholars have shown (e.g., Lavenex, 2005; Thränhardt and Bommes, 2010; Favell, 2014). Schinkel (2017, p. 35–67) offers the most authoritative account of this nationally-defined organicist understanding of “society” and its link to contemporary debates on integration. For him, integration is primarily a social imaginary and one of the many political programs (along with citizenship, secularity, and culture, among others) that help delineate (national) society by allowing for the separation between its inside and its outside, between those who belong and those who do not. Integrationist discourses are thus productive, in a Foucauldian sense, for they give plausibility to the idea of a bounded national society; they render “society” imaginable and legible. The ongoing pathologizing of immigrants as threats to society's cohesion is in this way a powerful mechanism of keeping alive the imagination of national society as a closed, unified, ordered body (Schinkel, 2017, p. 66).
The third peculiarity of this modern concept of an integrated society was its clinical approach. Social theory became obsessed with the health of society, devising methods to diagnose society's ills, constantly searching for spaces that threaten its integration, “a social hypochondria of constant self-observation” (Schinkel, 2017, p. 64; see also Valluvan, 2018). As in medicine, individuals and behaviors that are considered to disrupt the wholeness (health) of society are pathologized. This is to be understood against the backdrop of what Foucault has identified as a period of emergence of a new form of power—biopolitics, a technique of population governance that was centered on ensuring the health and longevity of the social body. It is, therefore, not a mere coincidence that the birth of the idea of “integration” is linked to the discovery of the population as an object of scientific interest:
Modern society, then, from the nineteenth century up to our own day, has been characterized on the one hand, by a legislation, a discourse, an organization based on public right, whose principle of articulation is the social body and the delegative status of each citizen; and, on the other hand, by a closely linked grid of disciplinary coercions whose purpose is in fact to assure the cohesion of this same social body (Foucault, 1980, p. 106).
Faced with unprecedented social, economic and political transformations at the turn of the twentieth century, functionalist sociologists like Durkheim and Parsons tasked sociology with finding ways to preserve the integrity of society, or to ensure social cohesion (Wieviorka, 2014). In the work of Durkheim—the “father” of sociology—this idea was elaborated through his theory of socialization, interested in the collective consciousness instilled in individuals through exposure to social systems (e.g., education) that have the task to bind individuals together through shared norms and values. Initially concerned with the integration of society as a whole, later theorists of integration became much more interested in the relations between the individual and society, i.e., in the integration into society (see Schnapper, 2007). The focus then fell on those individuals or groups who were deemed “asocialized persons who are in society but not of it” (Merton, 1968, p. 142, emphasis in original). Before “integration” became mainly attached to those constructed as “migrants”, its subjects were those regarded as fragile, immature, unproductive or otherwise deviant, such as women, children, the poor, the colonized, indigenous or racialized minorities, patients in psychiatric institutions, criminals and prisoners (Schinkel, 2017, p. 62; Wieviorka, 2014).
It is, therefore, in these early sociological accounts of society as the container of social life that we trace the idea of an integrated society. A wholesome and contained society constantly requires the integration of all its parts, and necessitates intervention when some of its parts are considered, for one reason or another, detached, excluded, unfitting or disintegrated. Notions of society—even those centered on conflict, like in Marxist theory—always presuppose the necessity of cooperation, “commonness”, shared values and a shared consciousness. For instance, for Gisbert (1957), cooperation is the most elementary process of social life without which society is impossible. Similarly, in one of the earliest sociology textbooks, Giddings (1927 , p. 6) defines society as a “number of like-minded individuals […] able to work together toward common goals”. These assumptions continue to inform integrationist discourses of present, where all efforts are directed toward socializing newcomers into what is imagined as a shared goal of a particular (national) “society”. Immigrants are deemed in need of intervention when they do not appear to cooperate toward the shared goal, i.e., when they do not conform to the expectations of “society”, be they related to material contributions or culturally defined traits. The nature of this shared goal, or even the question whether there can be a consensus in this respect at the level of a mass and versatile nationally defined population, is continually a subject of contestation in public debates. Yet, the contested nature of the idea that society is based on cooperation and shared values is never acknowledged in integration discourses.
4. Bringing the immigrant at the center of integrationism
Whereas, the above explains the roots of the idea of an integrated society, the conception of integrating migrants developed to a large extent in the context of the newly emerging immigration regimes in the early twentieth century North America and, later, in post-war Europe. The social sciences played a crucial role in developing and mainstreaming this idea in line with dominant contemporary political worldviews. Before describing how the field of assimilation and integration research developed in the United States and Northwestern Europe, respectively, it is important to briefly outline the historical political context that created the modern immigrant and made it central to the question of an integrated society.
The history of settler colonialism and slavery in the US, its rising imperialist ambitions at the turn of the century, and the system of racial segregation all form a crucial backdrop for the emergence of the immigrant as a figure on which existing racial, class, nationalist and gender divisions were reflected (Carter et al., 1996; Ngai, 1999). Therefore, assimilationism can only be understood against the background of a newly consolidating nation-building project from which emerged a new bordering regime based on a racialized social taxonomy (see Ngai, 1999). The US was a pioneer in developing what was then a novel conception of border controls and policies designed to regulate mobility by classifying “immigrants” based on categories of race, ethnicity and nationality (as well as class, to a lesser extent). The rest of the Western world built on this model to develop own comprehensive immigration control apparatuses, that rapidly replaced loose and sporadic border controls as former European empires collapsed and were being reinvented into nation-states. While the US enthusiastically encouraged immigration during the centuries of settler colonialism, the end of the American Civil War (1865) established a consolidated federal state that developed in the following decades some of the first instruments of migration control. From its very onset, this apparatus was rooted in a worldview that naturalized racial hierarchies and essentialized ethnic and cultural origins, an early example of which is the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). Following the so-called “great wave” of mass immigration to the US between 1900 and 1920, the US took a more restrictive approach and introduced, in 1921, the national-origin quota system, that openly favored Northwest-Europeans and continued to exclude undesired racialized populations from across the “Eastern Hemisphere”. The 1924 Immigration Act—which formally established the US border patrol—effectively prohibited all migration from Asia and capped the immigration from the rest of the countries in the Eastern Hemisphere at 165,000, effectively limiting migration from Africa as well. Eastern and Central European migration had already been indirectly but significantly limited by introducing the condition of literacy with the 1917 Immigration Act. The purpose of the US border regime was, therefore, to preserve the racial composition by ensuring the dominance of white citizens of Northwest-European origin at a time when eugenicist claims were mainstream (Ngai, 1999).
The discourse on assimilation in the US context at this time was expressed through the symbolism of the melting pot: the notion that the mixture of nationalities, cultures and races resulting from processes of settler colonialism, slavery and immigration will all blend together into a utopian “American man”. Initially, assimilation policy was reserved for Native Americans who underwent systematic erasure of their indigenous identity, among other ways, through bans on religious ceremonies as well as through the notorious boarding schools for Indian children. The African-American population was, on the other hand, not a target to assimilation policies, because these ran contrary to segregation laws and the taboo on “miscegenation” between White and Black citizens. Despite the fact that aspects of African-American life were always considered quintessentially American, the melting pot idea was rather reserved for those that were perceived as capable for more easily crossing the color line into whiteness. In the early twentieth century, assimilationist discourses were mostly concerned with white European newcomers or their descendants, encouraging them to “Americanize” in order to avoid self-segregation, intercultural conflict and discrimination, but also in order to join the system of production and advance on the social status ladder. Linking assimilation in this way with achieving the “American dream”, the term did not necessarily have a negative connotation (Holohan, 2012).
Several decades later, the collapse of European empires and the formal decolonization of their former possessions will prompt the rise of integrationism across Western and Northern Europe. While the US long saw itself as the product of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity (and this formed an important part of Americanness), Europe was rather shocked to find—after continuous post-war movement from outside of the continent—that it was no longer exclusively white or Christian. The question of “integrating immigrants” arose specifically in relation to the arrival of people from the former colonies, as well as from regions impoverished by European imperialism (in the case of “guest workers”). Therefore, it should be understood in the context of racial anxieties despite the fact that—with the exception of the UK—race hardly figured in public debates. The period between the 1960s and 1980s witnessed a growing interest among political elites in Northwestern Europe for developing solutions in a new policy field that began to be variously known as immigrant integration in Germany, race relations in the UK, insertion in France, and ethnic minority policy in the Netherlands. Many of the early policies in these two decades prioritized socioeconomic concerns related to the productivity of non-citizens in the labor system. The case of France is an example of this, where the early pragmatic approach to insertion économique rooted in the republican tradition left political elites unburdened with questions of belonging and cultural values during these two decades (see Favell, 2001a). As a contrasting example, British early integrationism—a rather hands-off policy—was centered on questions of “race relations,” “ethnic minorities,” and “cultural tolerance”, in line with the historical legacies of the Empire that saw itself as multi-cultural and multiracial (Favell, 2001a, p. 94–97).
From the 1980s, governments across Northwestern Europe began to recognize that laborers from the Global South are here to stay, and the integrationist agenda began to transform accordingly from short term toward long term solutions. A discourse on “immigrant integration” became dominant as the “sensible”, centrist position emerging from the post-1960s clash between an intolerant and xenophobic assimilationism and an anti-racist radical cosmopolitanism (Favell, 2014). On the one hand, this integrationism of an allegedly multicultural Northwestern Europe of the 1980s and 1990s was more accommodating to differences and more tolerant toward diversity, which led some scholars to differentiate it from an earlier “strict assimilationism” (e.g., Brubaker, 2001). On the other hand, it was precisely this embrace of difference that opened space for the reification of “culture” and “ethnicity”, which, soon gave birth to a different integrationism (“renewed assimilationism” in Brubaker, 2001), where culturist elements began to be used as the main markers of non-belonging. For instance, in the case of France, there was a sharp break in the mid-1980s between the preceding pragmatic approach to insertion économique and the succeeding debates on intégration that now centered around
France was not unique in this sense; the question of “culture”, especially with respect to the alleged incompatibility between “Western” and “Muslim culture”, entered the integrationist imagination all throughout Northwestern Europe in the 1990s and took center-stage in the 2000s (Brubaker, 2001; Lentin, 2014). Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands were front-runners in introducing culturist demands in their “civic integration” programs for migrants (from language acquisition, to learning national history, to demonstrating “liberal” attitudes with respect to national norms, such as acceptance of homosexuals), and even the UK started to depart with its pluralist tradition rooted in race relations policy from 2005 (Schinkel, 2017, p. 128).
This turn toward questions of culture, belonging and nationhood (particularly as citizenship and naturalization took a central place in integrationist debates in the 1990s) was perfectly absorbed in the individualist tradition of liberal democracies—something that many commentators found counterintuitive (e.g., Joppke, 2021 in his discussion of “repressive liberalism”; or Triadafilopoulos, 2011 with his “illiberal” or “Schmittian liberalism”). Yet, liberal democracies have historically successfully managed—even if not without controversy—what has been called “the liberal paradox” (Hollifield et al., 2008): reconciling, on the one hand, the liberal tenets of individual rights and openness, with, on the other hand, the nationalist tenets of exclusion of foreigners (including from liberal rights). If the basic assumption of liberalism is a society of shared values, consensus, and toleration (as per Schinkel, 2017, p. 23), the logic of ethnicization of different segments of “society” and the reification of culture (whether in assimilationist or in multiculturalist discourses) does not necessarily run counter to its tenets. This explains why it was precisely in the Western “cradles” of liberal democracy that integrationism blossomed, and why there was a necessity to center integrationist discourses around the question of adherence to “liberal values” (see, for e.g., Kotef, 2015; Dahinden and Manser-Egli, 2022). Since its involvement in matters of border control and diversity governance in the 1990s, the EU became a notable promotor of this kind of liberal integrationism. But instead of creating more inclusive societies that thrive on diversity, as it claims, it eventually reinvigorated the old European civilizationism (Brubaker, 2017) that presents Muslims and other “incompatibles” as a threat to the humanist tradition of Europe.
5. The emerging of a research field
As I discussed above, the twentieth century saw human mobility become the object of regulation, centered on ethnic, cultural, religious and racial differentiations linked to the concept of migrancy. Against this backdrop, the social sciences remained crucial in nurturing this social imagination, and entrenching “the ethnic lens” (Wimmer, 2007) in the study of what became known as “immigrant societies”. The following section outlines how the integrationist paradigm became an integral part of social research, both influenced by and influencing political debates.
5.1. US assimilation studies
In the US, social scientists quickly embraced the political transformation of the conception of mobility into “(cross-border) immigration” in line with the ideology of the nation-state, and did little to question the ethno-racial foundations in which this conception was rooted. One of the earliest studies of “immigrants” is Thomas and Znaniecki's five volume “The Polish Peasant in Europe and America” (1918–1920). The book, which investigated how immigrants change in a new societal context, paved the way for the flourishing of research on assimilation. Quantitative assimilation studies formed a central research focus of representatives of the Chicago School (Thomas and Znaniecki's alma mater), such as Robert Park and Ernest Burgess (see also Andersson and Schmidt, 2020), and were primarily interested in European immigrants who arrived by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as their children. The classical assimilation model, developed by Gordon (1985 ) based on Park's work, remained hugely influential until it was abandoned in the 1980s for the more nuanced theory of “segmented assimilation”. Gordon posited the well-known “melting pot” hypothesis—a process toward unification where all groups eventually lose their distinctive ethnic, cultural and religious characteristics and “melt” into the white middle class, or “Anglo-conformity”, as he called it.
The classical assimilation paradigm was reinvigorated in the 1980s by theories that tried to make up for its simplicity and ahistoricity (Morawska, 1994), while accommodating periodic trends in the social sciences (such as Marxism, transnationalism, and pluralism) (Jung, 2009). Although these theories attempted to incorporate more social complexity, they continue to be informed by Gordon's model in that they still “focus on factors that explain the fading of ethnic distinctions over time” (Jiménez and FitzGerald, 2007). This tendency, of course, presupposes an essentialist view on “culture” and “ethnicity” that migrants allegedly bring with them—a view that remains foundational in contemporary assimilation and integration research in the US and Europe, respectively. The term “segmented assimilation” was coined by US sociologists (Portes and Zhou, 1993) to indicate that immigrants sometimes “assimilate” only into specific parts of society, based on race or ethnicity and class. For instance, Mexicans in the US are said to become assimilated as African-Americans (i.e., into the excluded “underclass”), while Koreans become assimilated as white Americans (i.e., into the reference group). At the time, it provoked much debate because it suggested, for the first time, that there can be such a thing as “bad” or “downward” assimilation (Luthra et al., 2018). However, besides reifying ethnicity and implying right and wrong ways to assimilate (pointing fingers at certain groups, most notably Mexicans), this theory retained the classical organicist vision of society as an integrated whole (see Schinkel, 2017) and, implicitly, white Anglo-Protestant “society” as the ideal type. The same can be said for another competing attempt at restructuring classical assimilationist theory, Alba and Nee (2003) more individualist and equally influential “neo-assimilation” theory. They define assimilation in a manner centered around “ethnicity” as “the decline of an ethnic distinction and its corollary cultural and social differences” through an “assimilation into a mainstream”. The “mainstream” as the reference point from which to measure “assimilation” is, again, the white middle class. Segmented and neo-assimilation theories remain dominant in discussing immigrant and minorities “assimilation” in the US and were highly influential in shaping European integration research.
5.2. European integration research
In Europe, both the study of immigrants and of their integration developed much later than the US, considering the continent only became self-fashioned (and reluctantly so) as an “immigrant destination” from the second half of the twentieth century. The socio-political debates of what to do with guest workers and postcolonial arrivals quickly became reflected in social research, where a significant body of scholarship, mainly rooted in the positivist tradition, became occupied with measuring how integrated migrants are in terms of their cultural and demographic characteristics relative to the “majority” population. The integration research agendas were to a large extent shaped by the particularities of the respective national contexts (Lavenex, 2005; Thränhardt and Bommes, 2010; Favell, 2014), including by operationalizing the adherence to liberal values in integration measurements (Schinkel, 2013). A search in Google Scholar reveals few studies mentioning immigrant integration (or another of the similar terms) in the European context before the 1970s.2 A quick overview of some of the early studies reveals that “integration” was the preferred term, alongside cognate concepts such as “adaptation”, but unlike in the US, “assimilation” does not appear to have been commonly used in this sense. It also reveals that “integration” was used as the solution to what was perceived as social problems at the time, not unlike the way it is discussed today. Authors, for example, problematized immigrant criminality (Killias, 1989) and their (lack of) contribution to the labor market (Schmitter, 1980), expressed concerns for the “persistent” attachment of Muslims to Islam (Azouz, 1990), investigated the change in “ethnic” identity (Schierup and Ålund, 1986), and scrutinized the children of immigrants, i.e., the “second generation” (Castro-Almeida, 1979). While US assimilation theory was influential in shaping early integration studies in the European context, what was more relevant in this sense was the historically strong interrelationship between integration research and national-level policies on immigrants—a result of the historically strong collaboration between governments and academia in European countries (Favell, 2014; Entzinger and Scholten, 2019).
In addition to the strong interest in measuring integration, another group of scholars investigated the newly forged integration policies that took on since the 1980s. One of the earliest studies that investigates integration policies (Hammar, 1985), uses the term immigrant policy to account for measures developed in response to the fact that guest workers and postcolonial migrants began to be seen as “potential ‘immigrant minorities' with special needs and problems” (p. 263). At present, this scholarship is concerned with understanding how states manage diversity through integration policies and the effects of the latter on actual “integration outcomes” (e.g., in the European context: Joppke, 2007; Scholten and Penninx, 2016; Neureiter, 2019). The scholarly interest in integration policies gave birth to the much criticized literature on so called national integration models (see Gregurović and Župarić-Iljić, 2018 for an overview), that sought to typologize the country-specific approaches outlined above. The tropes of “assimilationist France,” “multicultural Britain,” “ethnic Germany,” “melting-pot USA”, are all a result of (now often disputed; see Gregurović and Župarić-Iljić, 2018) key works on “integration models” (most notably Castles, 1995; Brubaker, 2002; also Heckmann, 2005). Beyond just analyzing the ways states respond to diversity from the perspective of observers, many scholars of this research tradition took a more or less active part in devising new policies. For instance, in the case of the Netherlands, Schinkel (2017) credits sociologist Han Entzinger with introducing, through a 1989 WRR report, the notorious (and racializing) distinction between autochtonen (the “real” Dutch) and allochtonen (the non-quite Dutch) through which Dutch integration policy is still conceptualized (Schinkel, 2017, p. 89). The word allochtoon, was meant to describe the antonym to indigenous, native, authentic citizens and included residents born elsewhere as well as their children, even those born in the Netherlands with one Dutch parent (Essed and Trienekens, 2008). This taxonomy—further divided into “Western” and “non-Western allochtoon” to isolate the true undesired subject—was formalized in the 1990s as part of legislation for increasing the “labor integration” of non-western allochtonen, which involved the obligation for companies to gather statistics on ethnicity. Scholars (e.g., Yanow et al., 2016) have argued how the usage of this legal category is not a mere question of ordinary bureaucratic taxonomy, but has the productive effect of making up race-ethnic identities that render legible related hierarchies of citizenship, belonging and rights.
As the study of migration grew out to be identified as an established (interdisciplinary) field in its own right throughout the last two decades (King, 2015; Pisarevskaya et al., 2019), the research on integration of migrants came to be seen as one of “migration studies”' central themes. Every good textbook that overviews the state of the art invariably dedicates significant portions to this issue (e.g., Bommes and Morawska, 2005; Castles et al., 2014; Brettell and Hollifield, 2015). During the 1990s and the early 2000s, there was an explosion of works measuring the “integration” of immigrants and discussing “best practices” in terms of policymaking (Favell, 2014). European scholars of integration have attempted to define the concept—with little success in terms of clarity—independently from US assimilation studies tradition. “Society”, of course, plays a major role in the conceptualization of immigrant integration. For instance, Penninx (2019) defines integration rather vaguely as “the process of becoming an accepted part of society”, while Heckmann and Schnapper (2003, p. 10) see it as “the inclusion of new populations into existing social structures”. For Bommes (2012, p. 113), who prefers the US term “assimilation”, it refers to “no more (and no less) than the conditions under which [immigrants] succeed or fail to fulfill the conditions of participation in social systems”.
To compensate for the fuzziness of the concept of integration, various indicators are being used (borrowed from studies of demography, social psychology, and social stratification, among others) that are assumed to reflect the phenomenon of integration. Different indicators give rise to different “integrations”; for instance, economic integration is measured through the employment rates among immigrants, social integration through school-attending rates, cultural integration by measuring knowledge of host language, identificational integration by measuring feelings of belonging, and so on (e.g., Heckmann, 2005; Penninx and Garcés-Mascareñas, 2016). Measures such as minority fertility rates (e.g., Smith and Brown, 2019), rates of “intermarriage” (e.g., Choi and Tienda, 2018), and migrants' attitudes to “liberal values” such as gender equality or homosexuality (e.g., Kalmijn and Kraaykamp, 2018) are notably racializing. They tend to choose already stigmatized groups (such as Mexicans in the US, or Muslims in Europe) and reaffirm their non-belonging through a culturist and civilizationist discourse—legitimized through the scientific paradigm—of “incompatibility” and multigenerational failure to integrate. Terms that are used interchangeably with “integration” throughout the literature include assimilation, acculturation, adaptation, incorporation, and inclusion, while race relations and naturalization are related terms (c.f. Castles et al., 2002, p. 116–119). The strongest differentiation is linked to the opposition between “assimilation” and “integration” (e.g., in King and Lulle, 2016, p. 54), with the former embodying the “melting pot” ideal that tolerates no cultural differences, whereas the latter supposedly encompasses some degree of recognition of cultural diversity (whether passive tolerance or active encouragement). However, in practice many of these concepts are indistinguishable from the point of view of the models used to measure them, with the only difference often being solely at the level of terminology depending on the authors' provenience.
Finally, it is important to outline that for all the authority and acknowledgment that integration research enjoys, recent years have witnesses strong contestation in the literature with respect to the usage, purpose, instrumentality and effects of the normalization of integrationism through the social sciences. Overall, critics converge in the verdict that there is no room for scientific research in an idea that has historically been used for preserving nationalist ideology through the stigmatization and control of migranticized and undesirable populations (e.g., McPherson, 2010; Favell, 2014; Korteweg, 2017; Schinkel, 2018; Rytter, 2019). Yet, despite such resistance among some scholars, integration research continues to hold a prominent place in the field of Migration Studies, as well as important links to policy and governance. This is evidenced, for instance, in the numerous committees, workshops, conference panels and publications on the topic of integration that are carried out in the scope of IMISCOE (International Migration Research Network), the largest association of migration researchers in Europe.
6. The scientification of integration governance and the role of the EU
In the European context, the rise and institutionalization of integration research (and Migration Studies more broadly) has been closely linked to the rise of migration and integration at the EU-level political agenda, on the one hand, and the establishment of the EU as a key player in the research and innovation area, on the other. Since the 1990s, EU institutions emerged—somewhat curiously—as key actors in the discourse on migrant integration in Europe, and as such, they require some attention for their role in reinforcing the integrationist paradigm as the hegemonic way of governing immigration societies.
Although earlier (largely non-binding) intergovernmental directives provided guidance with respect to non-citizens and their rights and obligations,3 it wasn't until the 1990s that the governance of mobility and diversity was formally “Europeanized” (c.f. Favell, 2001b; Carrera, 2009; Rosenow, 2009; Block and Bonjour, 2013). The creation of the pillar “Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)” in the Maastricht Treaty (1992) paved the way for intergovernmental cooperation in migration issues. Member states saw an opportunity in joining forces in view of strengthening capacity for security measures, as well as circumventing national constraints on migration control (Guiraudon, 2000). Upon signing the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam and the drafting of the Tampere Program in the same year, national legislation targeting immigrants officially became a new policy field at the EU level, as immigration and integration moved toward the top of the EU policy agenda. At the 1999 European summit in Tampere, “integration” of third country nationals (TCNs) was framed as granting them comparable rights to EU citizens. This rights-based approach was to transform in subsequent years toward more securitarian, neoliberal and nativist rationales behind EU integration policy (Dodevska, 2022). During the 2000s, EU institutions adopted several resolutions that remain the basis of what is now a common EU Framework on integration, including the 2004 Common Basic Principles and the 2005 Common Agenda for Integration. Integration remained a key priority throughout the “crisis” of 2015–2016 and was reaffirmed as such with the latest program4 of the Commission under Ursula von der Leyen. The EU defines integration as “a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents” (Council of the European Union, 2004). Not unlike scholarly research, EU institutions also speak of “social, civic and cultural integration”, which should be based on a “balance between migrants' rights […] and duties” (Council of the European Union, 2008).
EU's role in reinforcing the integrationist paradigm is not relevant only in relation to its authority with respect to policy guidelines. My research on the Europeanization of integration policy suggests that EU institutions had an important role in the scientification of integration governance, and that this, in turn, provided an impetus for the field of integration research. “Scientification” refers to the increasing importance of using scientific evidence when developing policies, which simultaneously requires that research agendas are adapted to politically defined problems. EU institutions have been notably important in establishing this “evidence-based policy” paradigm as not merely one way of governance, but as the essence of regulating liberal democracies: in the words of Stephen Quest, the Director-General of the Commission's Joint Research Center, “democracies cannot work without some kind of consensus on the facts” (Quest, 2022). This reflects an empiricist, laboratory-like approach to governance, where the mission is “to put knowledge and reason at the heart of political decision-making” (European Commission, 2022). Along these lines, one way integration research has been boosted is indirectly through the availability of attractive funding that favors policy-relevant research projects. The European Union has been releasing substantial funding for research into migration and integration issues through its consecutive Framework Programs (1984–2013), Horizon 2020 (2014–2020) and the ongoing Horizon Europe. A recent study conducted by the ERC that provides and in-depth analysis of the 6,707 research projects funded since 2014 (through ERC only), found that research was “highly relevant to Europe's policy ambitions”, with “human migration” the second most frequent topic (6% of projects in the Social Sciences and Humanities) (ERC, 2022). One of the main tasks set by Horizon Europe is to “deliver solutions to societal challenges”.5 Even the Marie Curie Actions, where the sole criteria for awards is supposed to be scientific excellence, encourages applicants to “identify solutions to current and future challenges” and “reach out to society”.6
But the scientification of integration is achieved through more targeted and structured means as well, including through a network of knowledge-for-policy structures set in place by EU institutions to “apply” integration research into policy. From knowledge platforms (e.g., the European Website on Integration) and policy guidelines compiled by social scientists (e.g., the Handbooks on integration), to knowledge-policy events (e.g., the European Integration Forum) and networks (e.g., the European Integration Network), EU institutions have set in motion a veritable science-for-policy apparatus to cater to the needs of governing migranticized and undesirable populations through the integrationist paradigm. Needless to say, this apparatus is fully dependent on the collaboration of social scientists, be it those based in academia, those from policy institutes and think tanks, or “in-house” scientists at the Commission's Joint Research Center. Hence, EU's interest in the governance of migrant integration, in conjunction with its evidence-based policy paradigm, increased the profile and reputation of integration research as a field. However, the opposite is also true: the participation of researchers in integration policymaking and their commitment to policy-oriented research provides legitimacy for EU-level governance (as well as for the integrationist paradigm in general). For instance, researchers participate in science-for-policy events such as seminars, ministerial conferences and the European Migration Forum, take part in calls for addressing questions relevant to integration governance,7 provide expertise for policy implementation (e.g., through the Handbooks on integration), and contribute to databases of knowledge on integration (such as the European Website on Integration and the Knowledge4Policy platform managed by the Commission's Joint Research Center).
An important area of research-policy collaboration is the measurement of “integration” through various indicators, which has been the foundation of integration research for decades. In the late 2000s, the EU framework on integration incorporated the paradigm that integration is something that can be measured by compiling statistics on various sociodemographic as well as attitudinal aspects. A series of indicators were agreed upon by ministers of member states, upon expert advice by social scientists, in Zaragoza in 2010,8 which continue to form the basis for evaluating “integration outcomes” at EU level (a task carried out by Eurostat). The agreed list of indicators of integration differs from indicators we see in the integration literature in that it mostly covers sociodemographic questions (in the areas of employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship), excluding any identity- or value-related aspects of “integration”. The reason for this was mostly practical, as these are indicators on which data had already been available (for instance, through national-level population surveys and censuses, or via Eurostat and the Labor Force Survey). Yet questions of culture, values and belonging that so occupy the social sciences could not be entirely disregarded by governing elites either. Even though indicators of “cultural integration” were ultimately not included, the Zaragoza declaration contains a note that ministers consider “sense of belonging” as an indicator “which most or all Member States consider important to monitor (although comparable data is currently lacking).”9 At a subsequent Ministerial Conference in Milan in 2014, EU ministers responsible for integration again expressed a dissatisfaction with the fact that “cultural” indicators are not included in their methodology.10
More than merely creating and using “evidence”, practices such as indicator measurement, public opinion polls, experiments with “big data”, and consultations with experts achieve several effects. First, they set in motion a process of subjectivization of particular, not always neatly defined, individuals and groups as migrants and integration targets. Through integration measurement, the “migrant” is enacted both as a subject of integration and as a subject of governance. The scientification of migration and diversity governance constructs the immigrant body as an object that warrants regulation, at the same time as it obscures this objectification under the guise of its objectivist, technocratic and empiricist logic. Second, such rationalization and technocratization of migration and diversity governance depoliticizes migration and integration, i.e., takes them out of the political realm of contestation into the realm of regulating the “facts” of social life. In this way, the scientification of integration governance leads to normalization of the idea of integration and, through that, a reinforcement of the integrationist paradigm as a hegemonic paradigm of dealing with self-identified “immigration societies”.
Throughout this article, I attempted to build a genealogy of “integration”, tracing this modern idea in different areas of social activity through the past two centuries. I sought to investigate the link between the classical sociological imagination of (the integrated) “society” and present-day ideas of “immigrant integration”. What is today a narrative related to questions of diversity and hyper-mobility, began as a question of the foundation of a cohesive social body, imagined in an organicist fashion. Both then and now, integrationism was and is fundamentally concerned with matters of social order. I have attempted to show that the quest for a static, orderly and harmonious society is ultimately oppressive, because it implies repression of parts of the population that are seen as (potentially) unfitting with the framework of homogeneity (i.e., a framework of cooperation and shared goals that all must subscribe to). The idea of an “integrated society” as a cohesive, harmonious and homogenous whole leaves no room for disunity, disorder, fluidity and movements, diverse viewpoints and ways of life, and conflict, all of which are indispensable for ensuring the individual freedoms that liberal democracies purport to guarantee.
As I discussed above, the twentieth century saw human mobility become the object of regulation: as soon as border and citizenship regimes were firmly established, the act of crossing national borders and settling as an “alien” became subject to both legal-political intervention and heated public debates. As arrivals increased throughout former Empires following decolonization, liberal democracies saw a threat in their impending demographic transformation. Social imaginations of society as an integrated organism remained pertinent since its early sociological conceptions, but ethnocultural differentiations centered on migrancy overshadowed other axes of social stratification since the 1930s in the US and since the 1970s in Western Europe and Scandinavia. The social sciences remained crucial in nurturing this social imagination, as well as in entrenching “the ethnic lens” (Wimmer, 2007) in the study of what became known as “immigrant societies”. Integration is currently high both on research agendas and on political agendas, and not only of “immigration destination” countries but also of the EU as a supranational entity. In the European context, EU institutions helped reinforce integration as a desirable (and inevitable) outcome of dealing with potential interethnic and interreligious conflicts that immigration allegedly brings along. As I argued throughout this article, the research-policy collaboration in the area of diversity governance and the increasing importance of the paradigm of evidence-based policy achieved two simultaneous effects: the scientification of integration governance, and the politicization of integration research. Both of these developments are crucial in reinforcing “integration” as the hegemonic paradigm of “the age of migration” (Castles et al., 2014): the “truth” of governing diverse societies in “post-migration” contexts. Most notably through the “evidence-based policy” paradigm, integrationism was normalized and depoliticized, even as it remains one of the most controversial issues of present.
Today, the idea of integration still enacts a similar social utopia as in the late 1800s: a wholesome, cohesive society based on cooperation and order, where ethno-cultural-religious-racial differentiations remain entrenched (and even encouraged), but members are “united in diversity” (to use the EU's motto) through a universal acceptance of “common” (Eurocentric) values. This, of course, by default implies a major accommodation on the part of minoritized and migranticized populations, but only a minor sacrifice on the part of those that claim membership “by blood” in the national ingroup. The difficult questions that this utopia raises—What are “common values”? What happens to cultural “misfits” when they are deemed non-compliant with these values? What happens when this acceptance is used as a condition for access to rights and freedoms?—remain hidden behind its promises of an ordered, harmonious, and wholesome society.
The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication.
This article was supported by the European Commission's H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action under Grant No. 812764, project ‘MOVES - Migration and Modernity: Historical and Cultural Challenges'. Open access funding provided by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No 857366, project 'MIRNet-twinning for excellence in migration and integration research and networking.
The author would like to thank the American Studies Department at Brown University, and especially Matthew Guterl, for providing the space and support to complete this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
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1. ^While quasi-organicist undertones continue to characterize integration scholarship, social theory has witnessed significant resistance to organicist conceptions of society based on the whole/parts scheme, e.g., Luhmann (2012, ) systems/environment differentiation, Wallerstein (2004 ) world systems theory, Laclau and Mouffe (2014, ) work on hegemony, Castoriadis' (1987 ) concept of social imaginary, and Bauman's (1992, 2000) discussions of the dynamic (“liquid”) character of (post) modernity. See also a summary on critics of “society” in Schinkel (2017). In migration-related research, the representatives of the so-called “mobilities paradigm” have also sought to “develop through appropriate metaphors a sociology which focuses on movements, mobility and contingent ordering, rather than upon stasis, structure and social order” (Urry, 2007, p. 18).
2. ^I used Google Books Ngram Viewer, which displays a graph showing how the selected phrase(s) have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English,” “American English,” “French”) over the selected years. It allows to see when certain notions, concepts or phrases started to appear in selected corpuses and how prevalent they have been through time. I searched for archived publications published between 1940-2019 containing the concepts “(im)migrant integration,” “adaptation,” and “assimilation” in the “British English” and “American English” corpuses.
3. ^This includes, for instance, the 1977 (1983) European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers (ETS No. 093) and the 1992 Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at the local level (ETS 144), as well as the numerous conferences of European Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs since 1980. The Council of Europe—an intergovernmental body that is not an EU institution—was a pioneer in advancing the integrationist agenda to a supranational level, notably with respect to the rights of non-citizens.
6. ^MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships, Call 2022. Source: Funding and Tenders Portal, European Commission.
7. ^For instance, special calls for Horizon-funded projects on the topics Sustainable practices for the integration of newly arrived migrants into societies (topic Migration-10-2020) and: Addressing the challenge of migrant integration through ICT-enabled solutions (topic DT-MIGRATION-06-2018-2019). Source: https://cordis.europa.eu/programme/id/H2020_MIGRATION-10-2020 and https://cordis.europa.eu/programme/id/H2020_DT-MIGRATION-06-2018-2019, respectively.
8. ^Zaragoza Declaration on Integration. Council of Ministers, 2010.
9. ^Zaragoza Declaration, p. 16.
10. ^Draft Outcome Of Proceedings, European Ministerial Conference On Integration (Milan, November 5 and 6, 2014), p. 5. Available at: https://www.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/allegati/documento_definitivo.pd.
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Keywords: immigrant integration, ideations, genealogy, border regime, social research, European Union, discourse
Citation: Dodevska I (2023) The genealogy of integrationism: Ideational foundations of the politics of immigrant integration. Front. Polit. Sci. 5:1125012. doi: 10.3389/fpos.2023.1125012
Received: 15 December 2022; Accepted: 21 February 2023;
Published: 16 March 2023.
Edited by:Leif Kalev, Tallinn University, Estonia
Reviewed by:Svetluša Surova, Bratislava Policy Institute, Slovakia
Raivo Vetik, Tallinn University, Estonia
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