The trouble with most official and academic thinking on integration.

At the heart of the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper is the idea that integration can be measured. If it is measurable then it can be prompted by government, civil society, and academia, or so the thinking goes.

At the Integration Hub, we have made it our mission to try to measure integration, looking both at patterns of residential and school segregation as well as outcomes in employment, education, and patterns of socialising.

But measuring something is not the same thing as having the power to control things. Thomas Sowell has written about what he terms the ‘chess pieces’ fallacy – that is the mistaken belief that people are like chess pieces that can be placed on a board and moved at the direction of some all-powerful player. In reality though, while policy-makers can try to shape behaviour, more often than not, people have their own ideas about what they want to do.

How do we measure integration?

One framework, that seeks to identify measurable dimensions of integration, has been put forward in a recent Bristol University policy report by the academics, Dr Katharine Charsley and Dr Sarah Spencer. Before anything is measured, it must first be defined. Charsley and Spencer define integration in the following way:

“The concept of integration refers to processes of interaction, personal and social change among individuals and institutions across inter-related areas of life.”

They continue that:

“The nature, speed and direction of these processes are affected not only by the characteristics of individuals but also the wider social context.”

But is it not the case that more or less everything in life is affected by the characteristics of individuals and also the wider social context? The definition is too vague to be helpful and any measurement framework built upon such vague foundations is likely to suffer as a consequence.

There are multiple dimensions of integration according to Charsley and Spencer. The table below names the ones they identify along with the measurable examples.

Dimension Examples
Structural Employment, education, housing
Social Integration with other people, relationships, social networks
Civic and political Involvement in community life and democratic processes
Cultural In the sense of values, attitudes and behaviour
Identity Sense of belonging, local and national identity

This is pretty uncontroversial although detail is lacking. Which values? Which attitudes? Which behaviours? It’s not easy to conceptualise.

Also, some of the examples may be said to be necessary but not sufficient indicators of integration. Take the example of the Biradiri system – traditional clan-based Pakistani politics which has been influential in places like Bradford local politics. While this is participation in democratic processes, it is hard to describe it as integration, since it is the continuation of the political institutions of another country.

Integration, we are told, is further impacted upon by individual factors (gender, age, language), as well as family and social networks, availability of jobs etc., public attitudes and discrimination. Policy matters too for Charsley and Spencer, with rights, welfare systems, educational policy, language tuition, and anti-discrimination legislation all mentioned. (No mention is given of religion and its role, which for any sociologist must be listed as one of the key integrating factors – think Durkheim.)

The model is summed up in a diagram (reproduced below) although it is not immediately obvious how it is to be understood.

Figure 1. Charsley & Spencer’s model of integration (reproduced from Charsley & Spencer ‘Understanding integration processes: informing policy and practice’ Policy Bristol, January 2019)

It is further unclear who the responsibility to integrate falls upon. Or to put it more aptly, for Charsley and Spencer, the responsibility falls on everyone. That integration is a two-way street is a cliché of the discourse; one that is both true to some degree and tone deaf to what most people think. While one cannot integrate if others don’t want to reciprocate, it is also reasonable that immigrants be expected to adapt more to the society they are joining and not the other way around.

Academics and politicians often talk about two-way streets oblivious to how out of touch they must sound in places such as Luton and Bradford where some migrants and their offspring have demonstrated a strong desire not to integrate. Telling the indigenous ethnic majority that they too have to integrate seems tantamount to saying they are just one migrant community among many. The long-rooted become uprooted by rhetorical fiat.

A better metaphor, one more politically astute, was supplied by Dame Louise Casey, who led the Government’s review of integration, published in 2016. She likened the integration process to a motorway – whereby everyone goes in the same direction and newcomers are gradually phased in via slip roads. It is the responsibility of the newcomers to slot in while those already on the road make space without deviating too much from their original course. As Casey put it, they are obliged to be kind and considerate without altering their lives too drastically to accommodate newcomers.

As mentioned, the purpose of Charsley and Spencer’s model is to allow policy makers to conceptualise integration so that they can draw up interventions in order to promote integration. The state has already gone to considerable lengths to promote integration, through anti-discrimination law. But it can only go so far in a liberal society – it can’t tell people where to live or who to be friends with.

The types of interventions mooted as being corrective to integration problems tend to be civil society programmes. A document produced by the British Academy gives us some examples, such as local community centres, measurement of outcomes by ethnic group, and art projects.

And for the Government’s Green Paper, while solutions are touted as possible, no clear plan is given. Instead what was proposed was the setting up of 5 ‘integration areas’ which are to be monitored and from which lessons applicable to all, are to be drawn. A lack of obvious policy interventions must surely stem from the fact that people are free to choose how they conduct their lives. But Government won’t admit it as it needs to be seen to be useful in order to try and manage the anxieties of the ethnic majority.

My Integration Hub colleague David Goodhart managed to land himself in some hot water when he wondered out-loud about what David Willets referred to as the ‘progressive’s dilemma’ in an article for Prospect magazine back in 2004. This is the idea that there is a trade-off between diversity (something modern liberals like) and solidarity (something modern liberals also like). Research by Robert Putnam has shown that greater ethnic diversity is associated with lower levels of social capital – the so-called hunkering down thesis. This has been further evidenced by James Lawrence who observed how social capital declined in British neighbourhoods as ethnic diversity grew. These ideas are now non-controversial but Goodhart’s article which was reprinted in The Guardian, led to him being accused of racism when it was published.

Intriguingly, Lawrence’s work has found that the trade-off between ethnic diversity and social capital can be mitigated through ethnic integration – non-segregated residential areas have no such penalty. But this is not something easily acquired and will be largely reflective of cultural compatibility as well as the will to get on. As Douglas Murray has acerbically pointed out, if a devout Muslim is offered the choice between living a segregated life in line with the word of God as revealed through his prophet Muhammed along with centuries of sacred tradition, and whatever it was that then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd might have to say about integration, then it isn’t really much of a choice.

I do not wish to sound too cynical about well-meaning initiatives, and it is essential that we not give up on integration. Attempts to stamp out destructive imported cultural traits such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and grooming are obviously correct although the state has a patchy record on delivering. To date, only one FGM conviction has been secured – occurring this year despite the practice being outlawed since 1985.

We have to accept that mass-immigration has its trade-offs. Given the strong impulse towards homophily – the preference for the familiar – patterns of segregation are near-inevitable. No amount of nudging is going to alter this while the clunking fist of the state has proven precisely that – clunking. All it can really do is avoid encouraging separatism through allocation of public money etc.

Generally, there has been a failure of the sociological imagination with all too often those in positions of power falling behind the dogma of ‘diversity is a strength’ – it enriches us culturally. The harms from mass migration are subtle and not easily observed. Enoch Powell infamously warned of ‘rivers of blood’ (words he never actually used). While there has been racial violence, such attacks are relatively rare and declining in frequency, at least according to evidence from the Crime Survey. Instead, the costs have been harder to pinpoint but can be summed up by the phrase ‘rivers of recrimination’.

Mass migration has resulted in two polarised camps with most people sitting somewhere between them. On the one hand you have those who favour diversity as a social good in itself. They tend to be younger and university educated, and focused in prosperous metropolitan centres. Their social circles will tend to be more ethnically mixed and so criticism of mass migration is interpreted as a direct attack on them. Those who criticise are seen as racist.

The other side by contrast tends to be older, less well educated, and more likely to live in towns and cities that are not as prosperous and where immigration has been experienced as disruption. The benefits of diversity are not immediately obvious. In this camp, mass migration is seen as evidence of a betrayal by the political elite. For most there is simply a switching-off from the traditional political parties that they supported.

The two sides, which will map onto what Goodhart has termed Anywheres and Somewheres, now need to be re-integrated with each other. Mass migration has some economic benefits though they are unevenly distributed and overall the impact is small. But we do also have some truly wonderful people who are an absolute asset to this country.

The downside is that you end up with some communities that are divided with little feeling for each other. Things are further compounded by the fact that large sections of the ethnic majority need to be re-integrated with each other. Traditional political loyalties are collapsing and space is created for political populists.

While all this may be true, it is important that we never lose sight of what successes there have been with ethnic minorities forging real and lasting bonds with Britain, and with the ethnic majority, and a growing minority middle class. But it is hubris on the part of academics and politicians to think they can have the benefits of mass migration without the costs; that they can just correct things through clever ‘nudges’ or legal sanction.

Measuring things is not a solution. For all that the British Academy might dream up integration schemes that are “shown to make significant positive impact”, one walk down Rye Lane in Peckham will show you that people have other ideas and are forced to deal with the reality of what is presented to them. They might participate in a successful community scheme to promote integration, but they will return to their daily routine. It’s called regression to the mean.

Uneven levels of integration are par for the course with mass migration drawn from across the cultures of the world, where there are varying levels of compatibility. Perhaps more academics would do well to consider the other side of the equation – that integration is easier with lower and better controlled flows of migration.

Login or register as a guest to comment below