Working Paper

Aspirations, capabilities and (im)mobility: Integration policy and migration experiences in Germany

Published 15 March 2019 / By Timo Schmidt

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This paper empirically maps the association between the German integration regime and the lived integration experiences of refugees and migrants through the lens of an aspirations-capabilities model. Field research in Berlin and the nearby town of Zehdenick in the Brandenburg state provides insight into how informants navigate their integration trajectories through local incentive and opportunity structures. The findings reveal different forms of social (im)mobility that can unfold during the integration process. These outcomes move beyond the colloquial and largely normative language used in German political discourse on integration (i.e. ‘willingness’ to integrate), and instead illustrate how integration processes conceal a deep-seated interaction between aspirations and capabilities. The personal narratives of informants are analysed in the context of Germany’s political transformation – from the reluctance to identify itself as a country of immigration to the introduction of structural reforms in the form of the Integration Act 2016. Fördern (support) and Fordern (demand) emerge as key policy dogmas of the government that guide national policy-making in the area of integration. The policy approach produces additional venues for refugees and migrants to integrate but simultaneously ties these to specific integration commitments. These mechanisms are found to (a) increase integration capabilities through developing opportunity structures and (b) increase integration aspirations through developing incentive structures.


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