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New Ways of Thinking About Integration: The Transnationalism Paradigm


Over the past 20 years, transnationalism emerged as one of the major research paradigms in migration and ethnic studies (Dunn 2005; Mügge and De Jong 2013). Transnationalism is a container concept and is applied to reveal and understand the ties and activities developed between individual, collective, or governmental actors located in two or more countries. 'A transnationalism paradigm encourages holistic analysis of movement (including immigration but also subsequent visitation and communication), and it transcends some of the assimilationist assumptions of earlier migration policy and research' (Dunn 2010, 3).

To study transnationalism empirically, scholars have attempted to classify transnational activities by differentiating between economic, political, and sociocultural aspects and whether these take place in the home country or host country (Portes et al. 1999, 222; Al-Ali et al. 2001, 618–626; Portes 2001, 187). Table 7.1 presents various examples of such classification. Economic activities include remittances to and investments in the homeland as well as donations to migrant organizations. Transnational sociocultural activities encompass, for instance, visits to friends and

Table 7.1 Classification of transnational activities and their degree of institutionalization




Low institutionalization High institutionalization

Informal trade between home and host country

Home town community groups created by migrants

Amateur sports matches between home and host country

Small businesses created by returned migrants

Alliances of immigrant committees with home country political associations

Homeland folk music groups giving presentations in immigrant centres

Circular international labour migration

Fundraisers for home country electoral candidates

Priests from the hometown visit and organize parishioners abroad

Investments by multinationals in the homeland mediated by migrants

Consular officials and representatives of national political parties abroad

Imams sent by homeland institutions to visit and preach in migrant mosques

Tourist locations developed in the homeland by migrants

Dual nationality granted by home country governments

Major artists from the home country perform in countries where compatriots live

Home country banks in immigrant centres

Migrants elected to home country legislatures

Regular cultural events organized by home country embassies

Source: Adapted from Portes et al. (1999) and Mügge (2010, 37)

family. Participation in homeland elections is a form of transnational political activity. The distinction between economic, sociocultural, and political activities is an analytical one; in reality they overlap (see Van Amersfoort 2001).

To examine the durability of transnational activities, scholars assess their degree of institutionalization. Activities are institutionalized when they become predictable, constant, and structured (see Beerling 1978, cited in Penninx 1988). Activities are highly institutionalized when they are held on an organized and regular basis, such as annual festivals and congresses or weekly discussion groups governed by written or unwritten rules and attendance norms. Activities can also be distinguished by whether they are initiated and institutionalized from “above” or “below”. Political initiatives institutionalized from above include governments' allowing migrants to be elected to home country legislatures. Initiatives from below include fundraising among migrants for hometown committees. The durability or persistence of transnational activities is important, since many scholars argue that the majority of migrants who are not—or are only weakly—attached to the homeland “are clearly here to stay” (Kasinitz et al. 2002, 117).

Scholars have further categorized transnational activities by distinguishing between various types of transnationalism (Koopmans et al. 2005; Mügge 2010). In particular, transnational activities may be said to take five forms (Table 7.2). The first is transplanted homeland activities, where habits or conflicts between ethnic groups in the homeland are transplanted to the immigrant community (see Koopmans et al. 2005, 126–127). The second type is transplanted immigrant activities, which emerge when migrants return to the homeland with skills and ideas acquired in the host country (Nell 2007). The third type is homeland-directed transnational activities. Here, migrants in the country of settlement direct their activities towards their country of origin. Homeland-directed politics generally consist of attempts to improve the legal, economic, and political status of particular groups in the homeland. Activities take place either in the host country or in the country of origin. The fourth type, diaspora activities, is a subset of homeland-directed transnational activities for groups that do not have a homeland. The fifth category is country of residence-directed transnational activities. Here, homeland-based groups mobilize to intervene on behalf of the group's interests in the country of settlement (see Koopmans et al. 2005, 127). This typology transforms the straightforward question “is transnationalism harmful for integration?” into “what types of transnational activities are harmful for integration?” It also underlines—to paraphrase Bivand Erdal and Oeppen (2013, 878)—the fact that transnationalism happens not only “there” but also “here” (e.g., via country of residence-directed transnationalism or transplanted homeland activities). Likewise, integration may happen both “here” and “there”, through transplanted immigrant or homeland-directed activities.

Scholars take different positions in describing the relation between transnationalism and integration. Bivand Erdal and Oeppen (2013, 872–875) distinguish four positions in the current literature: alarmist, less alarmist but pessimistic, positive, and pragmatic. First, the alarmist perspective views transnationalism as challenging or even preventing migrant integration (ibid., 872). Such fear is particularly great with respect to violent forms of transplanted homeland transnationalism, when homeland conflicts are imported to receiving societies and expected to threaten national security. Koopmans et al. (2005, 142) argue that strong transnational orien-

Table 7.2 Typology of transnational activities

General type


Transplanted homeland activities

Homeland political conflicts are transplanted to the host country

Transplanted immigrant activities

Organizations set up in the host country are transplanted to the country of origin

Homeland-directed activities

Host country-based groups support or oppose groups or institutions in the homeland

Diaspora activities

Homeland-directed politics among groups without a homeland or who consider their homeland occupied

Country of residence-directed transnational activities

Homeland-based actors set up institutions for their (former) compatriots in the host country

Source: Adapted from Koopmans et al. (2005, 126–127) and Mügge (2010, 37)

tations may be responses to exclusionary citizenship regimes in host states that limit migrants' access to the political community. Comparative studies of migrants in several European countries have found that at a collective level, migrant homelanddirected activism often takes violent forms. Strong homeland orientations are therefore argued to be detrimental to integration (Koopmans et al. 2005, 142). At a more symbolic level, authors suggest that exclusion by the dominant groups due to transnationalism being perceived as a sign of disloyalty is likely to reinforce migrants' diasporic or transnational ties with their own ethnic group (Wessendorf 2007 cited in Bivand Edal and Oeppen 2013, 872; Nagel 2009). Transnationalism triggered by exclusion from the receiving society is not expected to foster migrants' integration, as they are kept out regardless of their legal status.

Second, the less alarmist but also pessimistic position views migrants as engaging in transnationalism because it is their only option to survive in a new country where their 'cultural and human capital are not immediately applicable' (Bivand Erdal and Oeppen 2013, 872). This perspective foresees transnationalism as weakening over time, as its value diminishes as a survival mechanism.

The third view is termed the positive position. This is 'the idea that processes of integration and transnationalism [can] be mutually supportive' (ibid.). However, empirical findings differ on this issue. Studies in the USA have found migrants involved in transnational activities to be better-educated, longer-term residents of the host society, often active in local politics (Guarnizo et al. 2003, 1239; Portes et al. 2007, 276). In a study of integration and transnationalism among Canadian business migrants, Marger (2006, 898) concludes that adaptation of groups with sufficient human, financial, and cultural capital is more individualistic and approaches assimilation. In contrast, traditional labour migrants lacking such capital follow a more collectivist trajectory, using transnational ethnic networks in the adaption process. Snel, Engbersen, and Leerkes (2006) conclude in their comparative study of individual transnational involvement in the Netherlands that the more highly educated and employed respondents engaged in just as many transnational activities as those who were poorly educated, unemployed, and dependent on welfare (ibid., 304).

The final perspective is the pragmatic approach, which holds that 'the likely reality for the majority of migrants is more nuanced than an either/or choice between transnationalism and assimilation' (Bivand Erdal and Oeppen 2013, 873). The pragmatic approach is dominant in academic work. It states that transnationalism and integration (or in North American scholarship “assimilation”) are not mutually exclusive. Influential in this respect are Levitt and Glick Schiller (2004, 1003), who argue that 'assimilation and enduring transnational ties are neither incompatible nor binary opposites'. Connections with the homeland and the receiving society occur simultaneously. Migrants may thus be integrated and transnational at the same time.

Presenting a less static view on transnationalism and integration, without geographically-bound outcomes (transnationalism = there; integration = here), Bivand Erdal and Oeppen (2013, 878) propose three alternative ways to capture the interaction between transnationalism and integration at the individual level: 'as additive (the result of the interaction is the sum of the two parts), as synergistic (the result is greater than the sum of the two parts) and as antagonistic (the result is less than the sum of the two parts, or one part even cancels out the other)'. For instance, feelings of belonging in both countries is additive. Synergistic interaction then occurs when feelings of belonging in one place render confidence to develop connections—and thus to invest in new feelings of belonging—in the other. Antagonistic interaction occurs when feelings of belonging in one place diminish feelings of belonging in the other (ibid.).

A focus on the interaction of integration and transnationalism offers a finergrained perspective than the alarmist, less alarmist but pessimistic, positive and pragmatic view. It shifts the question “are integration and transnationalism a zerosum game” to “how do integration and transnationalism influence one another”. For instance, integration in one domain (e.g., economic) may change the type and form of transnationalism in that domain. However, Bivand Erdal & Oeppen (ibid.) limit their typology to the individual level. This is constraining because—as the examples in Table 7.1 suggest—both integration and transnationalism involve collective and state actors (on integration see Penninx and Garcés-Mascareñas in this volume; on transnationalism see Mügge 2010). Moreover, organizations and states are often eager and highly motivated to invest in either transnationalism or integration in order to gain support for their own projects. Likewise, states and organizations may try to intervene in migrants' private lives if their integration or transnational route is going in the opposite direction of theirs. As Tables 7.1 and 7.2 indicate, one should differentiate between the forms and types of transnationalism as well as clearly specify how integration is defined in relation to a specific form and type of transnationalism. Integration, like transnationalism, is a multidimensional term (Ley 2013). The next sections review European scholarship from this perspective, drawing on the three main dimensions of transnationalism.

  • [1] The first part of this section draws on Mügge (2010, 36–39), though the text has been reorganized and reinterpreted for the purpose of this contribution.
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