In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Policy and Immigrant Integration

  • Introduction
  • Concerns over Integration and “Social Cohesion”
  • The Roots of Scholarship on Immigrant Integration

Political Science Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
Matthew Wright, Sara Wallace Goodman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0178


We note at the outset that “integration” and “incorporation” are sharply contested terms. For the time being we take a rather holistic view, namely, that immigrant integration policies are principally of two types. Some are focused on immigrants, often specifically on the development of language skills, knowledge of the host country, and other competencies as a prerequisite to citizenship acquisition. At least nominally, these exist so that newcomers will be able to perform as well as the native-born with respect to economic opportunity (i.e., employment and hiring), political participation, education, etc. Others, chief among them political “multiculturalism,” are attempts to redefine (both via symbolic and concrete means) the relationship of a society on the whole to ethnocultural diversity. Examples include anti-discrimination policy, equal opportunity policies, affirmative action policies, cultural recognition and minority rights policies, and recognition of religious governance, to name a few. Integration policies are not the same as immigration policies; the latter is preoccupied with movement, control over entry, and status of foreigners, while the former deals with policies that improve immigrant sociocultural, political, and economic integration into the host society. The latter is our primary concern here, specifically where immigrant integration policies intersect with social policy and related institutional arrangements. For social policy—like welfare provisions and other matters of social spending—the nominal goal is also improved economic, political, and sociocultural positions and identification. In that immigrants start out as newcomers, often fleeing economic hardship and political strife, they are often a population in need of social assistance. Therefore, overlaps between social policy and immigrant integration policy are bound to occur, both by accident and by design. In this annotated bibliography, we outline scholarly debates over political responses to immigrant-driven ethnic diversity. As this is a large and heavily interdisciplinary body of work, it would be impossible to cover everything pertinent in the space allotted. In response, we narrow our emphasis in two ways: First, we emphasize comparative research in the sense that we mainly focus on cross-national studies. Second, our topical focus is limited to national-level policies that directly bear on immigrant incorporation and ethnic diversity more generally.

Concerns over Integration and “Social Cohesion”

Integration policy has become increasingly salient as immigration has continued to reshape the demographics of modern, developed societies. A voluminous literature asks whether greater diversity undermines social capital, social cohesion, or support for a redistributive welfare state (for a recent review, see Harell and Stolle 2010). Critics worry that excessive emphasis on diversity reifies differences, undermines a cohesive collective identity, and hinders common political projects, whether recruitment to the national military or the ability to raise taxes for redistributive spending. Examples of this line of argument include Gitlin 1996, Goodhart 2004, Huntington 2004, and Miller 1995. In this context, scholars ask whether and how the kinds of integration policies subsumed in our definition above can help solve some of the challenges posed by immigrant-driven diversity. Comparative empirical evidence is, however, much more mixed than the strident normative argument would suggest, as evidenced by Hooghe, et al. 2008.

  • Gitlin, Todd. Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

    Argues that conflict over multiculturalism, identity, and culture spearheaded by the “New Left” in the 1960s distracted from more bread-and-butter concerns about redistribution. The Right, on the other hand, has co-opted the “common good,” and consensus-building has all but disappeared.

  • Goodhart, David. “Too Diverse?” Prospect 20 (February 2004): 30–37.

    Argues that immigration-driven diversity in Britain has led to excessive fragmentation and, in turn, the dissolving of mutual obligations that sustain (among other things) redistribution.

  • Harell, Allison, and Dietlind Stolle. “Diversity and Democratic Politics: An Introduction.” In Special Issue: Diversity and Democratic Politics. Edited by Allison Harell and Dietlind Stolle. Canadian Journal of Political Science 43 (2010): 235–256.

    DOI: 10.1017/S000842391000003X

    Surveys the large (and growing) literature on the relationship between ethnic diversity and “social cohesion” as a preface to a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Political Science on the topic.

  • Hooghe, Marc, Tim Reeskens, Dietlind Stolle, and Ann Trappers. “Ethnic Diversity and Generalized Trust in Europe: A Cross-National Multilevel Study.” Comparative Political Studies 42 (2008): 198–223.

    DOI: 10.1177/0010414008325286

    Tests the argument that immigrant diversity is associated with reductions in generalized trust across European countries. The absence of solid results suggest that the normative concerns may be overstated.

  • Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

    A polemic arguing, among other things, that America’s historically rooted national identity is under threat by immigrants from Latin America. They are treated as loyal to their native countries over the United States, unwilling to assimilate culturally and linguistically, and unwilling to subscribe to the Protestant work ethic that has defined America since before the founding.

  • Miller, David. On Nationality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    Argues that common, shared national identity predicated on cultural characteristics can help incorporate immigrants and sustain natives’ willingness to treat them as full-fledged members of society.

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