Integration trade-offs - Sciences Po Access content directly
Journal Articles European Political Science Year : 2013

Integration trade-offs


Rahsaan Maxwell's book has the potential for opening a new path of research regarding the integration of migrants in western democracies. Maxwell's approach is distinctive for two main innovations: the notion of integration trade-offs and his group-level analysis. Too often integration is considered as a one-dimensional process, ‘a spectrum that can be measured as more or less successful’ (p. 11), but clearly this approach is not sufficient regarding the various phenomena at stake (political participation, employment, language fluency, intermarriage, social mobility, etc.). Maxwell builds its approach upon the ‘segmented assimilation’ theory of Portesand and identifies three dimensions of integration: the Social, Economic and Political dimensions. Maxwell's real theoretical breakthrough appears with the notion of trade-offs. Positive results on one dimension can produce negative results on another, he argues, whereas difficulties on the social dimension, particularly weak upward mobility or residential segregation, can result in positive outcomes on economic and political dimensions. This is particularly the case for political representation approximated here as the number of ethnic elected officials or the capacity to get support vis-à-vis community projects from local authorities. Segregation contributes to a strong ethnic network and a sense of solidarity. This is particularly true when two intervening factors are favourable: the size of the group and ethnic independent financial resources. On the contrary, groups considered as successful can lack the necessary ethnic networks or the sufficient numbers in the neighbourhood for backing for their claims. The second innovation of this book is the analysis of these integration trade-offs at the group level. Maxwell argues that the existing literature on integration, particularly the one focused on institutional settings and national models, does not provide any explanation for the success or failure of various migrant inflows, except judgmental arguments or ad hoc explanations based on groups’ supposed peculiarities. Basing his research in two different national settings, the multicultural Britain and the republican France, Maxwell carefully analyses the situation of Caribbeans, Indians and Pakistanis/Bengalese in the first case and Maghrebians and Caribbeans in the second case. The multi-method approach has to be praised. The author uses large-N surveys, has put together a comprehensive survey of ethnic minorities elected officials and has made two local case studies of the Borough of Brent in London and Sarcelles in Paris. The results are quite straightforward. In both countries the Caribbeans enjoyed the best situation at the time of their arrival in the metropolitan areas: placement agencies, access to public service jobs, etc. Caribbeans seem also the less segregated and enjoy the highest intermarriage rates in Britain. On the social integration dimension they are the most successful. But today, Indians are in a better economic situation than Caribbeans, whereas Indians and other South Asians benefit from a better political representation. In France the results are less evident but Caribbeans are now economically speaking in the same situation than the Maghrebians, whereas the latter have much more elected officials than the former. Two causes are identified. First, Indians, Bengalese, Pakistanis and, to a lesser extent, Maghrebians have developed private business and self-employment for struggling against institutional barriers and discriminations in the mainstream job market, while Caribbeans were in a less disadvantaged situation thanks to public sector jobs. Consequently, ethnic networks have emerged and these networks help second generation immigrants get jobs and adequate professional training when such resources are less available for second generation Caribbeans, particularly the least educated ones. Second, Indians, ‘Maxwell's real theoretical breakthrough appears with the notion of trade-offs. Positive results on one dimension can produce negative results on another, he argues, whereas difficulties on the social dimension … can result in positive outcomes on economic and political dimensions’. South Asians and Maghrebians seem to be more segregated than Caribbeans and this day-to-day connectedness helps to mobilize the group and maintain a strong bonding social capital, which can be particularly useful to put pressure on elected officials. Clearly the higher the numbers of an ethnic minority in one neighbourhood and the higher its turnout rate the more sensitive to their needs the local authorities will be. This explanation holds in the local case studies where Maxwell looks at Caribbeans and Indians in Brent and at Sephardic Jews, Caribbeans, Maghrebians and Assyrian Chaldeans in Sarcelles. Generally speaking Maxwell's thesis is convincing and based on a careful examination of the available evidences. His idea of integration trade-offs provides an innovative framework of analysis for the group-level integration process. But no scholarly work is without default. First, the definition of migrants is controversial: by including Caribbeans who hold British and French citizenship for decades, and the Sephardic Jews in the case of Sarcelles, among immigrants, the definition of migrants is probably stretched too far. True, Caribbeans are a visible ethnic minority and thereof suffer from discrimination and the legacy of slavery, but Sephardic Jews are French citizens since 1870 and were clearly among the winners of the colonial order. Migrants, ethnic minorities or religious minorities share commonalities, but the categories are not interchangeable. Second, Maxwell's comparison is based on a small number of countries (though Maxwell briefly covers the US and the Netherlands) and groups. Even in France, surveys and data are now available in order to extent the analysis to other inflows such as Chinese, Vietnamese or Turks. Turks could be a very interesting case for future research: why have Turks been politically successful in the Netherlands but not so in other countries?
No file

Dates and versions

hal-03399907 , version 1 (24-10-2021)



Vincent Tiberj. Integration trade-offs. European Political Science, 2013, 12, pp.539 - 541. ⟨10.1057/eps.2013.25⟩. ⟨hal-03399907⟩
17 View
0 Download



Gmail Facebook X LinkedIn More