De 3 voorwaarden voor sociale cohesie – toespraak prof Entzinger in New York

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Professor Han Entzinger is één van de personen die het woord ‘allochtoon’ heeft bedacht. Hij is al jaren op het gebied van integratie en migratie een vooraanstaande denker en onderzoeker. Tijdens de United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) conferentie hadden wij het eer om hem mee te nemen naar New York. Hier sprak professor Entzinger over dat migratie de samenleving diverser maakt en dit op zijn beurt sociale cohesie onder druk zet. Hij geeft drie voorwaarden aan om met deze nieuwe situatie toch nog sociale cohesie te kunnen bereiken. 

 

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Diversity and Social Cohesion

Han Entzinger[1]

Panel 1 at the UNGA Conference 2019, organized by the Journalists and Writers Foundation, New York, 25 September 2019

 

Migration is a major source of diversity in today’s world, and it will continue to be so tomorrow. It is often claimed that diversity has a negative impact on social cohesion. The more people in a society differ, the less likely they may be to accept one another and to develop mutual contacts. Is this true? Does diversity negatively affect social cohesion? And, if so, what policies can control or even redress this process?

 

Before I shall try to answer these questions, it is important to understand the scope of migration as a phenomenon. About 250 million people (3.3 per cent of the world’s population) live in a country other than their country of birth, and therefore can be called immigrants. Immigrants, however, are spread quite unevenly over the world. In traditional immigration countries such as Canada and Australia well over 20 per cent of the population are immigrants (not including the so-called second generation, i.e. children of immigrants). In the USA and Western Europe, this percentage lies between 10 and 15, while in other countries, often the migrants’ countries of origin, it is much lower. There are also countries outside the Western world that attract large numbers of migrants. The Gulf States have the highest shares of foreign citizens in the world – up to 85 per cent, while certain states in Western and Southern Africa and in South-East Asia serve as regional poles of attraction. And don’t forget Russia, which houses many people from countries that were part of the former Soviet Union. Large and populous countries, such as China, India, Brazil or Nigeria may not have high numbers of international migrants, but are characterised by a substantial internal migration, often with a comparable social and cultural impact on the original local or regional communities. If one includes internal migrants, an estimated one billion people, or fifteen per cent of the world population live in an area other than where they were born and raised.

 

It should also be noted that migration can be a major source of diversity, but it is not the only one. People also differ from one another in many other respects: religion, nationality, gender, ‘race’, sexual orientation, education, political preferences, age, skills, etc. etc. Some of these characteristics are genetically determined (‘ascribed’), others may be the result of individual choice or achievement. In the case of migrants, however, several characteristics ‘accumulate’ so to say: religion, ethnicity, physical traits, unfamiliarity with dominant values and customs and with the local language, often in combination with a relatively weak legal position and social deprivation.

 

Back to the question whether diversity has a negative impact on social cohesion. In 2007, Robert Putnam, a reputed US political scientist published an article called ‘E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century’. ‘E pluribus unum’, as you will all know, is Latin for ‘Out of many, one’, the traditional motto of the United States, a long-standing country of immigration. Putnam argued on the basis of empirical evidence that living in an ethnically heterogeneous environment was harmful to interpersonal trust and undermined social connections within and between ethnic groups. Faced with ethnic diversity, people would tend “to hunker down – that is, to pull in like a turtle”, as he wrote it, or, in common language, to retreat from social life. Under such conditions, ongoing immigration would erode social cohesion.

 

Putnam’s conclusions received wide attention in the media and among policy makers, serving as input to public policy debates in various countries. His conclusions have also been challenged by literally hundreds of other scholars from all over the world, who have carried out similar studies in their own countries. The results of these studies are very mixed: some confirm his findings, others reject them, and again others find no significant relationship between heterogeneity and social cohesion. This is partly due to the fact that social cohesion can be interpreted in many different ways: e.g. do we measure attitudes vis-a-vis others, or do we measure actual intergroup contacts? It is also due to the fact that countries differ not only in the composition and history of their immigrant populations, but also in their policy approaches. As a general rule, however, Putnam’s findings appear to hold much less often for Europe than they do for the USA. What also matters is the size of a neighbourhood: the larger the area under consideration, the less noticeable the negative impact of heterogeneity on social cohesion. Social cohesion is something that becomes more concrete in the direct neighbourhood. Policies to promote social cohesion, therefore, should primarily take shape at the local, if not at the sub-local level.

 

Yet, such policies should not be limited to the local or the neighbourhood level. They should be facilitated by higher levels of governance, the state level, the federal level or even the international level. The tensions that immigration provokes today in many societies are due not only to a lack of acceptance by the native population, but also to a lack of opportunities for newcomers. This is why public authorities should develop policies to redress this situation. Several of the Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations has defined provide clear guidelines for such policies. I am thinking here, inter alia, of goals such as ‘No Poverty’, ‘Good Health and Well-being’, ‘Quality Education’, ‘Gender Equality’, ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, ‘Reduced Inequality’, and ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’. Each of these, and several others, can be translated without much effort into concrete policy measures that, if properly implemented, would benefit immigrants and native populations alike.

 

A crucial condition for more cohesive societies is the granting of a sound legal position to immigrants. After they have resided in a country for a certain number of years they should be given a full residential status, preferably of a permanent nature, or even full citizenship. Security of residence provides a perspective to newcomers, and for that reason it is a necessary condition for a fuller participation in a society’s major institutions, such as the labour market, housing, education, health care and the political system. The principle of equal opportunity should be leading here: after a limited number of years – a ‘probation period’ – immigrants should have the same rights as everyone else, which obviously implies that they must also have the same obligations.

 

In the liberal democracies of the Global North we can distinguish two basic ways of creating equal opportunity. One is what I would call the ‘Anglo-Saxon way’: a strong anti-discrimination legislation combined with efforts of affirmative or positive action to compensate for disadvantage and discrimination encountered in the past or the present. The other one is the ‘Continental European way’, which uses the social policy instruments of the welfare state to correct and prevent social deprivation. A drawback of the ‘Anglo-Saxon way’ is that it spurs feelings of being discriminated against among members of the original population, while a weakness of the welfare state approach is that it creates dependency on the state rather than preventing such dependency. As is so often the case, the ideal solution lies in the middle, I think. Discrimination should be attacked under all circumstances, but affirmative action may be a bridge too far. And, more than in the past, social policy instruments should be used to encourage a fuller participation of everyone, not only immigrants. It is better to invest in language courses and in education and training for everyone than in the financial support of newcomers, though they too should, of course, be guaranteed a minimum income level.

 

A fuller participation of all members of a society, whether immigrant or not, whether at the neighbourhood level or at the national level, is indispensable to achieve more social cohesion. Still, this does not come without certain challenges. A major challenge, particularly in the case of immigrants, is that a fuller participation requires a certain degree of cultural adaptation. It would be tempting to say that such adaptation is reciprocal. In reality, however, newcomers adapt much more strongly to the dominant culture than vice versa. Opinions differ as to how far this adaptation should go; this is one of the big debates in contemporary society, certainly in liberal democracies. The potential tension between participation and the preservation of a separate identity is an issue that keeps coming back in the academic literature, but also in political debates. My Canadian colleagues Will Kymlicka and Michael Banton have labelled this as the tension between ‘recognition’ (of different cultural identities) and ‘redistribution’ (of scarce resources and opportunities). Another colleague, Irene Bloemraad, has written about the difficulty of reconciling the granting of rights, the promotion of participation and the recognition of identity in diverse societies.

 

It is a struggle that we all recognise, because we all live in societies characterised by a certain degree of diversity, which is increasing in nearly all cases. What is needed under such circumstances is respect for others, and also acceptance of others. That should not be too difficult as long as the other respects and accepts you, but the question is how to act if and when the ideas of the other are disrespectful or are perceived as disrespectful. There are certainly limits to the degree of diversity a society can accept, but opinions differ on how far such acceptance may reach. There is a clear and probably growing gap here between more cosmopolitan attitudes, open to diversity that stems from globalization on the one hand, and more restrictive nationalist attitudes, that wish to protect societies as they once were (or are perceived to have been), often with populist slogans, on the other. This gap is noticeable, certainly all over the Global North. Yet, I think we all agree that complete assimilation – wiping out diversity – provokes and perpetuates inequalities, while fully institutionalised forms of multiculturalism lead to segregation and fragmented societies. In order to achieve inclusive social development, we need to find the middle road that I have tried to describe here in very broad terms.

 

In short, we can conclude that diversity is on the increase, not the least because of growing immigration. Diversity may challenge social cohesion, but these challenges can be coped with through policies that guarantee a sound legal position, that encourage social participation for everyone, and that promote respectful ways of handling cultural difference. I am not suggesting, though, that this will be an easy road to go!

[1] Dr. Han Entzinger is Professor Emeritus of Migration and Integration Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam (Netherlands). From 2013-2018 he chaired the Scientific Committee of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna (Austria).

 

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