Working Paper

The Controllability of Difference: Social Solidarity and Immgrant Integration

Published 1 January 2009 / By Ellie Vasta

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This paper is concerned with the relationship between solidarity and difference in European countries of immigration. Public and policy discourses on immigration and ethnic diversity in Europe have undergone substantial changes in recent years, revealing a shift away from the pluralist and multicultural approaches of the 1970s and 1980s. The new emphasis is on social cohesion and integration into mainstream social and cultural practices, as exemplified by a desire for listing ‘core values’, ‘integration contracts’ and citizenship tests. In order to understand the social processes underlying these changes, the article examines some major societal transformations – the techno-science revolution, the re-organization of work, and the process of individualization - that have occurred in Europe over the past half century. These changes have had contradictory effects, highlighting what I refer to as the coexistence of interdependent contradictions, creating a new social distance and transforming the collective identities of the past. While in many respects liberating, the changes have not necessarily led to an enduring openness to difference. Finally, I examine current definitions of cohesion and integration and highlight some of the problems, contrasting them with a more feasible set of principles for social solidarity. I show how the new social distancing forms an inherent part of changes in social solidarity and conclude by considering whether the turn from multiculturalism and the new social cohesion is likely to achieve its desired outcomes.


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