Integration policy needs an 'everyday' outlook
As a newly crowned Nobel Peace Prize winner, the EU has a lot to celebrate, not least the role it has played in ensuring peace between the countries of Europe for the past 60 years. But over the same period European nations, particularly western ones, have struggled with the challenges of building cohesive societies.
The debate on the integration of minority communities into European societies has often been a polarised one. On one side, there is a ‘multicultural’ group-rights approach which is popular in academic circles. On the other, there is an ‘assimilative’ approach focused on a stronger sense of shared citizenship and national identity that is more popular among policymakers. Some have even tried to rank the success of different countries’ efforts to achieve integration; for example, MIPEX paints a comparative picture of integration across Europe and beyond.
But these two models have increasingly come under scrutiny. In particular, multiculturalism has been critiqued for contributing to fragmented societies in which individuals lead parallel lives. The UK’s latest government paper on integration reflects these criticisms by defining integration as a one-way process, with an emphasis on adhering to ‘British values’ and the social norms of the ‘majority’.
A new paper by IPPR argues that both ‘assimilative’ and ‘multicultural’ approaches are limited because they are premised on two false assumptions. Firstly, that the communities at the centre of the discussion are pre-set, determinate entities, instead of containing continually shifting and internally complex patterns of identification. Secondly, that the focus of concern should immediately be on the grand level of citizenship and national identity, rather than at the more prosaic but nonetheless crucial level of everyday experience. Both assumptions are a mistake.
IPPR argues that the best ways to integrate minority communities into broader society should focus on everyday sites related to the day-to-day experiences of life, in areas like early-years childcare, shopping and consumption, leisure activities, and workplaces. These areas represent common places where identities are constructed and reconstructed and where new possibilities of group allegiance are continually developed. This is especially important given changing patterns of migration.