Integration and multiculturalism

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what is Integration?

Integration has been variously defined. Here we use the term broadly to refer to a variety of processes by which individual and groups of immigrants are incorporated into various social arenas and segments of society. S uccessful integration can be seen as a state in which a community that has migrated to a society reaches levels of educational, political, social and economic progress comparable to those of the broader population.

Assimilation or integration

Commentators on integration can be broadly divided into those who see the process as 'one-way' and those who see it as 'two-way'. The one-way approach is better described as assimilation. Roy Jenkins, Labour home secretary in the UK during the 1960s Wilson government, defined integration in 1966 as "[Integration does not mean] the loss by immigrants of their own national characteristics and culture. I do not think we need in this country a "melting pot"... It would deprive us of most of the positive benefits of immigration that I believe to be very great indeed. I define integration, therefore, not as a flattening process of assimilation, but as an equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance." (13) In this definition, Jenkins makes a clear differentiation between assimilation and integration, highlighting the mutuality involved in the latter, and he characterises assimilation as a 'flattening’ process - a process that levels down. Integration is nowadays increasingly viewed in its ideal form as a two-way process in which both the immigrants and the host society adopt new features as a result of their interaction.

Canadian multiculturalism

Canada is probably the country that has taken policy towards integration the farthest. In Canada, integration has been defined as 'the ongoing process of developing a community of shared values, shared challenges and equal opportunities within Canada, based on a sense of trust, hope and reciprocity among all Canadians' (14). In this definition, integration is not seen as involving an essential, unchanging norm to which new immigrants have to adapt themselves but a process in which new and old immigrants can engage in an ongoing, open-ended and creative process of self-discovery through recognition of others; importantly, regardless of the outcome, all are accorded recognition in this process as 'Canadians'.

Models in the EU

Within the EU there are a variety of models of integration. The multicultural approach of the British has been contrasted with the more assimilationist approach of the French although Bleich (15) regards the two approaches as more similar than usually presented. Both countries have given citizenship to the vast majority of their immigrants in stark contrast to Germany where many migrants, for example some in the Turkish community, do not have citizenship even in the second and third generation.

Many EU Member States have adopted a raft of policy measures to prevent discrimination both in employment and in other services (health, education, housing) as well as to promote social and economic integration.

Integration or Assimilation ??

The USA provided a particularly significant test bed for early theories about integration because apart from its indigenous peoples it had been settled by people coming from a wide range of backgrounds in Europe and elsewhere, as well as by slaves brought from Africa.

In 1894 Theodore Roosevelt wrote: 'After passing through the crucible of naturalization, we are no longer Germans; we are Americans.' (16) The image here of assimilation is of a process that takes place in a crucible in which all cultural variation would be purified, or burned away. The assumption at this time was clearly that new immigrants would have to take up the habits and practices of the host community.

By the 1920s this crucible had softened somewhat, and become a 'melting pot'. The Chicago School of Sociology provided a theory of assimilation to explain the 'melting pot'. Their theory differentiated between four stages of assimilation in what became known as the 'race relations cycle': contact, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation. The theory was evolutionary, and they believed that all communities would go through the cycle unless something external prevented it. Proof of assimilation could be seen in inter-marriage rates.

The race relations cycle has since been widely criticised both because of its deterministic evolutionary approach and because of the normative way in which it anticipates that transformation will be towards a version of the 'host society'. Other more recent interpretations point out that multiple 'host societies' exist and that integration may take place into ethnic enclaves, or into a specific social class.

Many immigrant communities maintain their transnational links, and some, such as the Palestinians or Tibetans; can be thought of as Diaspora communities whose main orientation is not towards the host nation at all but towards a State or movement.

More recent commentators have noted that some choices about the form of integration are made by the immigrant community themselves. Extreme examples include communities such as the Hassidic Jewish community, which consciously maintains a high level of separation from host communities. In addition, the level of racism and discrimination displayed towards a group will also affect its integrative behaviour. Recent Eastern European migration to the UK (in the case of Poles and other accession countries) and to Portugal (in the case of Ukrainians) has illustrated that white migrant groups may have a tendency to disperse more widely, and become more integrated, than black and Asian groups, whose locational options are often limited by the justified fear of racial attacks which occur when they move on to predominantly white housing estates.

Some commentators have suggested that many of our commonplace notions about integration, particularly one-way integration (or 'assimilation') are still conditioned by the way that nation building took place in Europe in the 19 th Century based on ideas of nationalism. In this period states were created based on the idea that each sovereign state could be defined around a unique culture and history, and their creation often involved violence and outright war. In this process the existing states were broken up (e.g. Austro Hungarian empire, Ottoman empire) and new states were created ( Germany, Italy etc). The unity of the state was based on descent, culture, language and often religion. The homogeneity of the nation was encouraged through the education system and the adoption of 'national' languages. Regional languages (e.g. Gaelic, Breton, Basque, and Catalan) were either ignored or suppressed. The nation-states that resulted often pursued aggressive policies of assimilation of internal minorities. This process of nation-state building combined with the reorganisation of Nation State boundaries following the two world wars and the effects of the holocaust meant that by the 1950s European nation states were relatively homogeneous for a short period. With the disintegration of many colonial systems after the war the long post-war boom, and large-scale migration of post-colonial populations this situation was to drastically change.

Most of the discussion about integration has been about post-colonial ethnic minorities. In his paper for the Udiex Alep's fifth Workshop on Ethnic minorities, Bobby Sayyid in his overview paper differentiates between broad categories of 'postcolonial ethnic minorities', and 'sub national ethnic groups' (such as Basques, Catalans, Welsh and Scots) and 'nomadic groups' - by which he refers to groups that had no specific geographical 'homeland', a situation that applied for different reasons to the Roma and the Jews.

In these sub-national ethnicities he includes groups such as Bretons, Galicians, Welsh and Sicilians, to which could be added Scots, Corsicans, Catalans and so on. For a whole range of reasons these groups were unable to create nation states around their own geographies and became part of larger states. Often they went through long periods of repression and large numbers migrated within Europe and to other continents including the Americas and Australasia. Within their own territories these groups frequently make up the majority population rather than being ethnic minorities - although at the level of their Member State they are minorities. The recent emphasis on regions in Europe and a certain level of devolution in some member states - notably the UK and Spain - has offered these sub national minorities a greater level of political control. It is interesting to contrast the autonomy afforded to Catalonia by Spain under [XX] in 2006 as compared to the situation 30 years earlier under Franco in which it was forbidden to utter a word of the Catalan language on the street.

Sub national minorities: nomadic populations

Sayyid refers to the second sub-national minority, the Nomadic groups, as ‘populations that were considered to be too territorially dispersed [to] have a'specific dwelling'. In this group he includes the Roma people and Jews. He goes on to argue that these ethnic minorities were 'nationalized' in a process lasting many decades (if not longer) that involved a good deal of repression both subtle and direct. In both cases the extent of this 'nationalisation' is debateable. For the Roma there is evidence that integration has never really taken place in many of the Member States in which they form significant populations. They continue to be highly excluded in some of the recent Eastern European accession countries such as the Czech republic and in Romania itself as well as in Western Member States such as Spain. The Jews represent a special case where the holocaust has forever destroyed the significant populations that existed pre-war in continental Europe. Although many of these communities were well established in cities before the war and had a relatively successful economic situation the communities that survive represent only a tiny fragment of what existed before.

In the past two decades the trend in international migration has shifted. Increasing numbers of migrants come to the EU either as refugees or as economic migrants. There are also refugees from conflicts in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia as well as from other parts of the world where particular difficulties exist for certain groups, such as the Kurds in Turkey, or where repressive governments are in power, such as in Iran and China.

Economic migrants may be internal migrants in the European Union particularly from Eastern Europe who have moved from Eastern Countries to the West, or from other countries farther afield. Most of the internal EU migrants experience the problems of adapting to living in a new country but do not necessarily face the racism and exclusion that is the everyday experience of the postcolonial and sub-national ethnic minorities.


What prevents some ethnic minorities from becoming full participants in the larger societies where they reside? The problems migrants face with Nationality legislation and the right to work can be a critical barrier to integration. The other major factor that limits successful integration is racism. This conclusion was reached as early as 1965 by the UK government when it introduced the first anti-discrimination legislation and set up institutions such as the Commission for Racial Equality to promote equality of opportunity for all ethnicities.

Thinking about racism has drawn on these foundations. The recognition that racism is not simply about racist behaviour of individuals but also frequently involves entire institutions was re-emphasized, for example, in the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, which reported in 1999 in the UK. Stephen Lawrence was a young black man living in South London who was murdered in 1993 by a group of white men. The failure of the police to adequately investigate the murder led to a government enquiry and the recognition that this failure was due to deep institutional racism within London's Metropolitan Police. Institutional racism has been similarly identified as endemic in, for example, the country's educational system.

Clearly policies to promote integration need to include and exist alongside efforts to combat discrimination both in individuals and in institutions.


Multiculturalism is an ideology advocating that society should consist of, or at least allows and include, distinct cultural groups, with equal status (17) .


Multiculturalism as a concept can be said to have originated in Canada where a 1971 Act for 'Multiculturalism within a bilingual framework' incorporated it into official policy. This was later reinforced by the 1988 Canadian Multi-Cultural Act, which sought to assist in preserving culture, reducing discrimination, enhancing cultural awareness and understanding, and promoting culturally sensitive institutional change at the federal level. Other countries with formal policies on multiculturalism include Australia. Until recently several European countries including Holland and the UK had a similar policy consensus but few have formal legislation based explicitly on the principle of multiculturalism.

Below is a list of policies that are seen to characterise multi-culturalism.

  • Dual citizenship
  • Government support for newspapers, television, and radio in minority languages
  • Support for minority festivals, holidays, and celebrations
  • Acceptance of traditional and religious dress in schools, the military, and society in general
  • Support for arts from cultures around the world
  • Programs to encourage minority representation in politics, education, and the work force (18)

==Critiques of Multiculturalism Multiculturalism has been criticized from a range of directions. Multiculturalism is interpreted by some a leading to the entrenchment of cultural identity, and the 'ghettoisation' of particular groups etc., as well as endorsement of questionable and oppressive practices such as female circumcision among communities from parts of Africa and suttee in India, etc.

Amartya Sen in his recent book "Identity and Violence" (19) has highlighted some of the problems with the liberal version of multi culturalism: "We have to distinguish between the idea of cultural liberty, which focuses on our freedom either to preserve or to change our priorities, and that of valuing cultural conservation which has become a big issue in the rhetoric of multiculturalism (often providing support for the continuation of traditional lifestyle by new immigrants in the west)", he says. The importance of cultural freedom has to be distinguished from the celebration of every form of cultural inheritance, irrespective of whether the persons involved would choose those particular practices given the opportunity of cultural scrutiny and an adequate knowledge of other options.

In recent years the notion of multi-culturalism has been increasingly under attack in a number of EU Member States and particularly in the UK, France and the Netherlands. These debates pre-date September 11 th 2001 but have gained significant traction as a result of the growth in terrorism and more specifically from events in Europe including: ethnic minority riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in 2001, the Spanish train bombs in March 2004, the killing of radical film maker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch born Muslim in Holland in 2004, the London suicide bombers in July 2005 (all of whom had grown up in the UK) and the riots in Seine St Denis and other banlieues in France in the autumn of 2005.

Critics have criticised multi-culturalism for promoting separate development of ethnic minorities and for failing to support national identity. These critics come both from the right and from the liberal centre. A specific critique comes from feminism (20) . More recently even the defenders of integration have joined in. Trevor Philips chair of the UK's Commission for Racial Equality said that Britain was sleepwalking towards apartheid and blamed multiculturalism for the emergence of separate communities.(21)

His comments were influenced by the findings of the Cantle report (on riots in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham), which observed:

'Whilst the physical segregation of housing estates and inner city areas came as no surprise, the depth of polarisation of our towns and cities particularly struck the team. The extent to which these physical divisions were compounded by so many other aspects of our daily lives, was very evident. Separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. These lives often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges'.(22)

Although it is rarely articulated - the blame for non-integration is invariably placed at the door of the migrant groups themselves. White communities are rarely criticised for avoiding mixed schools or for moving out of areas where ethnic minorities live. In essence what the critics of multiculturalism are advocating is a return to a one-way form of integration, closer to assimilation in character in which the migrants adapt to the host society. Some might see their opposition to multiculturalism as the expression of a desire for eradication of difference. The debate is inevitably linked to discussions about tighter immigration law and notions of citizenship and national values.


The alternative to multi culturalism is sometimes termed mono-culturalism. Monoculturalism has a number of elements:

  • Compulsory language courses and language tests

Courses and tests in national history (as a requirement for citizenship)

  • Restrictions on spouses and children joining immigrants that are already in the country
  • Prohibitions on Islamic dress (veils, burqua)

In addition in some places there is an emerging tendency to proscribe non-national languages. This recently took an extreme form in Belgium where a Flemish municipality outside Brussels has banned children and parents from speaking in French or other languages on school premises.


Even though critics of multiculturalism policies see multiculturalism as obstructive of cultural assimilation, one could point to Canada to show that structural assimilation is supported by multiculturalism. In Canada, immigrant groups are encouraged to participate in the larger society, learn the majority languages, and enter the labour force.

Multiculturalism is not inevitably about enabling cultural enclaves to exist within a society along with their own unique practices and customs, cleaving to their original nation: it is rather about adopting a viewpoint that is fundamentally open and respectful of the needs and viewpoints of people from different cultures, and the recognition that cultures are inevitably shaped and made different by their unique circumstances and history - and in as much as cultures are shaped by their history, they will therefore inevitably change with time. In actual practice, multiculturalism must surely inevitably involve a two-way process, one in which aspects that inhere in the 'host' culture and the immigrant culture will in time rub off on each other mutually.

Notes and References

16 Speech by Roy Jenkins May 29th 1966

Theodore Roosevelt, True Americanism April 1894 The Forum Magazine 17 Wikipedia 18 Wikipedia 19 Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time) by Amartya Sen,

The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Trevor Philips sept 23rd 2005 speech at Manchester Community relations council Magazine publishers of America [1] R. Florida, 2002 The Rise of the Creative Class, Basic Books

Cantle report: Bradford, Burnley, Oldham Community Cohesion: a report of the independent review team, chaired by Ted Cantle (London, Home Office 2001).