Last month, I reviewed David Goodhart’s book The British Dream which explores, in the words of its subtitle, the ‘successes and failures of post-war immigration’. Goodhart, I suggested, ‘touches on some of the critical issues that we face today’. But ‘his insistence on seeing contemporary problems primarily through the lens of immigration only obscures those issues and makes it more difficult to formulate adequate responses’.
In his response to the review, Goodhart raised three main issues. First, he suggested that too much immigration undermined the ‘stability and continuity’ necessary for a ‘decent society’. Second, David insisted that I am only able to defend mass immigration by adopting ‘a sort of methodological individualism’, and by denying that there is any such thing as a society. Finally, he asked, what does integration mean for me? I have already responded to the first two issues of stability and society; this post is about integration. David will himself respond in time.
Goodhart himself defines integration as the ‘convergence of life chances without convergence of lifestyles’. As a definition that is neither particularly controversial not particularly illuminating. Few people – not even the most hardline multiculturalist critic of Goodhart’s approach – would disagree. His specific policies are a mixture of the obvious – ‘English language teaching should be more easily available to newcomers’ – and the deeply illiberal – the use of quotas to limit the number of migrants on a housing estate, and reducing the number of ‘spouses brought over from ancestral lands’.
Such illiberalism exposes a more profound problem with the very idea of integration. In my review of The British Dream I suggested that the ‘twin track’ strategy adopted by policy makers from the 1960s onwards – the imposition of increasingly restrictive controls combined with a legislative framework to outlaw racial discrimination – helped promoted the idea of Britain as a tolerant nation, while also implying that social problems arose from the very presence in Britain of culturally-distinct immigrants. In other words, the debate about immigration has been framed in such a way that immigrants have from the beginning been viewed as a problem that needs to be resolved. Something similar can be said of the discussion around ‘integration’. The very notion of integration presents immigrants as a problem to solved, and integration as the solution to that problem. The trouble is, framing immigration in this manner makes ‘integration’ in any meaningful sense much more difficult.
What should immigrants be integrated into? For critics of mass immigration the something into which immigrants are to be integrated is usually defined in Burkean terms: a nation, or a community, shaped by a set of values, which in turn are defined not merely by moral or political content but also by the history, tradition, ethnie and place. This is certainly the argument that Goodhart makes. The consequence, as Bridget Anderson observes in her book Us and Them?, is that such nations and communities are also often defined against those without such a history, tradition, ethnie and place; in other words, against the migrant. As a result, the migrant comes to be defined not just in legal but also in normative terms. ‘Part of being an outsider’, Anderson writes, ‘is not sharing the same values – which easily becomes not having the “right” values’. Debates about immigration, integration and citizenship, she adds, ‘are not simply about legal status, but fundamentally about status in the sense of worth and honour’. The irony, again, is that to pose integration in this fashion is to undermine any meaningful notion of integration.
Rather than look upon integration as a special process applicable only to immigrants, it is better seen as an expression of a much broader set of developments through which the relationships between individuals, communities and society are forged. Consider, for instance, the 2001 riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, the riots that led Ted Cantle, in his report on the disturbances, to talk about the creation of ‘parallel communities’. What caused such parallel communities to be formed in the first place? David Ritchie, author of the independent report on the Oldham riots, criticised the ‘self-segregation’ of ethnic minorities. The Home Secretary David Blunkett urged ethnic minorities to become ‘more British’. The problem, in other words, was seen, as it has been throughout the debate about integration, as one of immigrants and their failure to integrate and to be sufficiently British. It was not, however, just Asians who rioted in the northern mill towns; white youth did too. And white youth were undoubtedly as disengaged from society and as alienated from any notion of Britishness as were the Asians. Yet, their disaffection was never seen in the same context as that of Asian youth.
Interesting in this context is ‘Who feels British?’, a recent study of the 2011 census by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at Manchester University. While the majority of people of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Caribbean origin defined themselves as British, 72% of ‘white British’ rejected that label, viewing themselves only as English. They could have defined themselves as both English and British, but the majority chose not to. The figures suggest a fragmentation of identity, and a high level of disengagement among those classified as ‘white British’ from a sense of Britishness. They suggest, too, that ‘integration’ is not merely a matter for minorities; indeed, that it might be more of an issue for the ‘white British’.
If we see the problem of ‘integration’ merely in terms of the ‘problem’ of immigration, then the kinds of illiberal policies that Goodhart advocates may make sense. But in purely targeting immigrants rather than considering the wider set of social issues, the debate about integration, and indeed the very concept, comes to act as a barrier to integration in any real sense. This is not to say that there are not issues specific to immigrants and minority communities, but they are best understood in the context of the wider debate about the relationship between individuals, communities and society. There are many social factors that shape the relationship between migrant communities and broader society. Let me here mention four that seem to me, or have come to be regarded as, particularly important: the character of immigration, the degree and nature hostility to immigrants, the shape of state policy, and the state of civil society.
For many critics of mass immigration the most significant of these factors is the character of immigration. So, Goodhart believes that certain groups (Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Carribeans) are, for different reasons related to their culture of origin, much more difficult to integrate. Britain, in his view, needs to sift immigrants and take in primarily those from a background that can integrate well.
The character of immigration is, in my view, the least important of these factors. It is true that immigrants carry with them cultural baggage, have attachments to particular traditions and institutions, and adhere to particular moral codes. But migrant communities are neither homogenous nor are such attachments fixed. Immigrants from the same origins and the same background often have very different lives, values and prospects depending on the countries to which they migrate – consider, for instance, the difference between Caribbean communities in Britain and in the USA. In Britain, Caribbean immigration has been, in Goodhart’s view, a ‘tragedy’. In America, the same kinds of immigrants from the same islands have been seen as one of the great successes of the immigration story (a difference that Goodhart, indeed, acknowledges). There are also major differences within minority communities and especially across generations. I mentioned in a previous post the shifts between three generations of postwar Muslim immigrants to Britain. David Goodhart himself observes in his book how ‘some British South Asian communities seem laughably old-fashioned to their actual South Asian cousins’.
All cultures, traditions and institutions change and evolve. British cultures, attitudes and values are significantly different today than they were half a century ago. How those of immigrant communities transform depends less on where they have come from than on where they are. That is why the other factors I mentioned above are far more important than the character of immigration.
The character of hostility to immigrants has changed over the past fifty years. The kind of old-fashion racism that blighted the lives of minorities in the sixties, seventies and eighties is, thankfully, much reduced. Nevertheless, hostility to the very idea of immigration, and the belief that immigrants are responsible for much of Britain’s social ills, remains immensely strong. And such hostility inevitably shapes the relationship between minorities and wider society.
State policy has played a particularly invidious role. In the first decades of postwar immigration, the attitude of state institutions to migrants was often defined by racism, from police brutality to local authorities’ discriminatory housing policies. More recently it has been defined by multiculturalism, the attempt to manage diversity by putting people into ethnic and cultural boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. The consequence has been to create a more tribal Britain, to undermine diversity within minority communities, to give legitimacy to more reactionary voices, and to make more difficult the creation of social bonds across communities.
While there has been considerable debate about state policy, the importance of civil society in shaping integration has often been forgotten. The structures of civil society – political parties, trade unions, campaign groups, community organizations – are the means by which the individual becomes part of wider communities and society, and hence form the real mechanism of integration. Those structures have, however, corroded over the past three decades. And it is this corrosion of the structures of civil society that has primarily has led to the sense of social disengagement that is now so widespread, a feeling of greater political and social isolation. It has also, as I suggested in a previous post in this series, led to people viewing themselves and their social affiliations in a different way, so that ‘Social solidarity has become increasingly defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of ethnicity or culture’.
The process by which the politics of ideology has given way to the politics of identity is both the cause and consequence of social disengagement and the creation of a more tribal Britain. Integration, in other words, is not a question of asking ‘what policies do we need to get migrants to fit in?’. It is rather about tackling that wider sense of disengagement that is felt by all communities, the irrelevance of ‘Britishness’ to the ‘white British’ even more than to minority communities. Goodhart’s key solution is to establish a more Burkean notion of nationhood, an insistence that a civic notion of nationality has to be undergird by an ethnic concept too. The irony is that such reworking of nationality can only reinforce the politics of identity, reinvigorate the sense of immigrants as the problem to be solved, buttress the sense Us and Them, and make integration in any meaningful sense that much more difficult.
The top image is of ‘Crowds in the war’ by Petra Olsakova.