Integration debate

Concepts of Integration for Germany and Europe

Cover des Buches No Integration?! © transcript Verlag© transcript VerlagThe concept of integration has dominated the discussion of immigration in recent years. Cultural scientists and immigration researchers find fault with the one-sided demand for the adaptation of immigrants to the majority society.

Integration courses, integration summit, integration barometer – the catchword “integration” is on everybody’s lips and has replaced the concept of multi-culturalism. The multi-cultural society is now in bad odor. More popular are reports of failed cases of integration. If today the talk is of immigration, it usually consists in problem discourses about parallel societies, honor killings or forced marriages.

Sabine Hess, ethnologist at the University of Munich and co-editor of the collection of articles entitled No integration?! Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Integrationsdebatte in Europa (i.e., No Integration?! Cultural Studies on the Integration Debate in Europe), sees the book as an “attempt to make a different position thinkable”. One such change in perspective would be, for instance, not to look upon immigrants primarily as people with deficits that have to be made up for in “integration courses”. The goal of integration must be equality of opportunity through participation in social, economic, political and cultural life. And that demands an effort from “non-immigrants” as well as from immigrants.

Cultures are not containers

Cover of the book “No Integration?!”; © transcript VerlagThe current integration debate is, in the view of the editors of the volume, based on an essentialist conception of culture. It views the society receiving immigrants and the immigrant groups as closed containers. This idea, the collection of articles argues, is a disintegrative one and stresses what separates rather than what connects cultures.

Following the concept of gender mainstreaming, the editors counter this container model with the concept of “immigration mainstreaming”. Immigration mainstreaming would say goodbye to the idea of a homogeneous national society as the foundation for peaceful co-existence. In the age of the mobilization of people, goods and ideas, lives that cross national borders have long been common. Therefore, the volume argues, we should give greater consideration to the immigrant perspective, the specific interests, living conditions and achievements of immigrants. This transnational perspective culminates in the call for global social and civil rights.

The thoroughly readable articles in this book throw light on the subjects of immigration and integration from the perspectives of politics, society, art and science. The critical discussion of the dominant concept of integration runs through them all. Most articles consider the integration debate in Germany. Criticized, for example, are not only the racist undertones of the public discourse about parallel societies but also the “positive racism” of some positions within so-called multi-culturalism.

For a cosmopolitan Europe

The Italian political scientist Sandro Mezzadra and the cultural anthropologist Regina Römhild make their arguments from a determinedly European perspective. Mezzadra sees contemporary immigrants as a legacy of colonial Europe. In particular, he observes, illegal immigrants possess no civil rights, but are welcomed as a labor force. They are “second-class citizens” and so still “colonial subjects” within Europe. In this way historical colonialism has been reproduced in contemporary Europe and threatens to bring with it a “European apartheid”. This could be prevented if Europe, following the suggestion of French philosopher Étienne Balibar, created a European “citizenship of residence” that was open not only to citizens of EU member states but also to everyone living permanently in Europe.

Following the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, Regina Römhild considers the idea of a cosmopolitan Europe. In immigrants that, with or without residence permits, live in precarious circumstances in Europe or on its periphery, she sees the forerunners of a “cosmopolitanism from below”. The cosmopolitan dream of a life beyond borders and national identities, she argues, is for these immigrants not some lofty utopia but rather a practical necessity, namely that of “managing with and establishing oneself in the precarious circumstances of the new immigration societies”.

Sabine Hess, Jana Binder, Johannes Moser (eds.): No integration?! Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Integrationsdebatte in Europa, transcript-Verlag, Bielefeld, 2009. 

Holger Moos
The author is a Germanist and economic and social historian.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
Januar 2010

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