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Sociocultural Transnational Activities

Research on sociocultural transnationalism and integration can be divided roughly into studies that quantitatively measure contacts with the country of origin and studies that focus on feelings of belonging. Engbersen et al. (2013) focus on attachment to the country of origin and attachment to, or integration in, the destination country of a relatively new group: post-accession migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Based on a survey (N = 654) among labour migrants in the Netherlands from Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania, these authors conclude that the strength of transnational ties and integration are influenced by patterns of labour migration. They propose four types (ibid., 976–978):

Circular migrants strongly attached to the country of origin and weakly attached to the country of destination. Most migrants in this category were Polish and Romanian seasonal workers who had migrated at an older age, had a partner in the home country, and had no intention to stay for the long term. These migrants hardly spoke Dutch, had few contacts with native Dutch, did not regularly follow Dutch news, had a weak labour market position, and were unlikely to have a Dutch bank account.

Bi-national migrants strongly attached to both countries. This category was made up mainly of highly skilled Polish migrants, who earned a relatively higher income and had no intention to stay for the long term. Though socially and economically integrated, they nonetheless maintained contacts with friends and relatives in the homeland, sent remittances, and had property there. Their transnational connections were fostered by their higher income.

Footloose migrants with weak attachment to both countries. These tended to be relatively young, less-skilled migrants without a working permit and intending to stay less than a year. They did not speak Dutch, had little contact with the Dutch, and were unemployed or worked informally.

Settlement migrants with weak attachment to the country of origin and strong attachment to the country of destination. This category consisted mainly of highly educated Romanians and Bulgarians who intended to stay at least five years and worked in skilled professions. They spoke fluent Dutch and engaged in Dutch social life.

These findings, Engbersen et al. (2013, 978) argue, demonstrate that there is no strong connection between homeland attachment and integration. However, the analysis shows that integration can go hand in hand with either strong or weak forms of transnationalism.

A quantitative study of 1,270 immigrant respondents belonging to “old” immigrant groups in the Netherlands (Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese, and Antilleans) showed that 90% of them maintained contact with relatives in the country of origin (Schans 2009). The type of family ties, however, differed. Moroccans and Turks were more inclined to have face-to-face contact with relatives than Surinamese and Antilleans. Since Suriname and the Antillean islands can be reached only by plane from the Netherlands 'this might indicate that the costs of travelling are too high for many respondents' (ibid., 1178). Another explanation mentioned is that transnational practices result from migrants'dissatisfaction with their life in the Netherlands. In the past decade, Turks and Moroccans as Muslim groups have 'faced increasingly negative perceptions regarding their culture and religion. Under such circumstances, family ties and identification with their country of origin remain or may even become more important' (ibid., 1179). Similar patterns are found among other groups, such as Albanian youngsters in Tuscany (Vathi 2013).

Bivand Erdal (2013) qualitatively studied the relation between social integration and engagement in sociocultural transnational activities from migrants' own perspective. This author asked Pakistanis in Norway their thoughts about possible links between transnationalism and integration. Most respondents indicated seeing 'integration primarily as a structural and functional issue' and considered transnational activities a cultural issue with no direct relation to 'integration' (ibid., 994). The Pakistani respondents in this study considered sentiments of dual loyalty—feeling Pakistani and helping the homeland while at the same time working and raising children in Norway—to be perfectly compatible. However, they felt that this perspective was not shared by the Norwegian majority. For respondents, cultural issues were largely outside the realm of integration (ibid., 995).

Nagel and Staeheli (2008) studied 45 Arab activists in the UK. Though they had different backgrounds, they had a shared political and cultural commitment to the Arab world—enacted through their engagement with Arab organizations and politics. They expressed their feelings of responsibility towards their countries of origin and to Arab people as a whole (ibid., 422). Yet, despite strong emotional attachments to the Arab world, there was also 'a strong sense of realism among them that “here”—their local neighbourhoods, their city, and Britain as a whole—is where they send their children to school, where they work, and where they should have a voice in policies that affect them and their families' (ibid., 424). Respondents suggested that integration is a “two-way affair” involving different but equal groups. Their position was pragmatic: they had transnational feelings of belonging but spoke of the need to combat minority self-segregation and isolation from mainstream life.

Dahinden (2009) conducted a network analysis of 250 persons in Neuchâtel, a small city in Switzerland, to understand how transnationalism is practised through social relations. Overall 30 % of the subjects' networks consisted of personal relations. The findings first show that 'being born outside Switzerland and not having Swiss nationality enhances network transnationalism' (Dahinden 2009, 1375). Second, the author found that transnationalism diminishes with length of stay. This study furthermore emphasizes that mobility—having lived in different countries— as well as high cultural capital—a good education—was associated with strong transnationalism. Others who engaged in what Dahinden labels as pronounced transnationalism were the 'transnational outsiders': third-country nationals with low education who find themselves in 'unprivileged and disadvantaged socioeconomic situations' (ibid., 1377–1388). They had applied for asylum but been granted only annual residence permits. Strong transnational networks may signify a favourable social position for the highly skilled, even though they may not be locally integrated. But for the less skilled—the outsiders—it may reflect social exclusion and a lack of integration. Medium transnational networks were maintained by so-called guest workers. Their networks were both localized and transnational. The respondents with the weakest transnationalism were those born in Neuchâtel who had not been internationally mobile. Their networks were therefore locally focused (ibid., 1376).

Does transnationalism wane over time? Put differently, does the second generation feel less connected to the parental country of origin than the first generation? In her ethnographic work among Italians in Switzerland, Wessendorf (2007) concludes that transnational feelings of belonging among the second generation sometimes lead to a “return” to their “roots”. Such return migration paradoxically was characterized as the 'loss of roots': While still in Switzerland, an important part of their identity was based on the longing for, and belonging to, their parents' homeland. Once in Italy, they lose this feeling and feel trapped in a place which they once hoped would be their homes, but in which they feel like strangers (ibid., 1097).

The Kurdish experience in Sweden is different. As “Kurdistan” is not an official country, the diasporic community and movement established over various locations have become the 'diasporic home where [Kurds] can find a sense of continuity and belonging' (Alinea and Eliassi 2014, 79). For the older generation identity is not constructed in opposition to the Swedish identity, but in opposition to identities in their cultures of origin (Turkish, Arabic, and Persian). For the younger generation, the Swedish context is more influential. For them, feelings of exclusion from Swedish society strengthen essentialist notions of Kurdish identity (ibid.). Thus, for the older generation feelings of exclusion in the country of origin determine feelings of belonging, while for the younger generation the context of the host country is more significant. Despite differences in identification, the Italian and Kurdish cases underline that feeling excluded in the (parental) country of origin is as influential for transnationalism and integration as feeling excluded in the host country.

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