Immigrant integration: Theories and methods

To be determined
To be determined

Session Code: SOM8D
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Sociology of Migration
Session Categories: Regular Session

Further investigation of immigrant integration requires theoretical and methodological innovations. This session includes papers that investigate immigrant integration from new theoretical perspectives and using new methods. Tags: Migration / Immigration, Social Theory

Organizer: Cary Wu, York University; Chair: Jordan MacDonald, University of Guelph


Shoaib-Hasan Shaikh, McGill University; Jordan Koch, McGill University

The Politics of Moving: A Critical Ethnography of a Refugee Family Adjusting to Life through Leisure in Montreal

This critical ethnography will explore how a new refugee family adjusts to life in the City of Montréal through various sport, recreation, and leisure pursuits. Within the first two years of their arrival in Canada, many new immigrant families have reported significant declines in both their physical health and mental wellbeing (source). While such declines have been largely attributed to difficulties in accessing health care services (Robert and Gilkinson, 2010), little is known about how other available resources linked to health and wellness impact the lives and lifestyle choices of new refugee families. Researchers have further identified a gradual decline in the self-perceived health of refugees and asylum seekers in Canada due, in part, to their adoption of a physically inactive lifestyle upon their arrival (Ng, Wilkins, Gendron &Berthelot, 2005).  The fact that the Canadian Refugee Resettlement Program intends to welcome substantially more families over the next three years makes understanding the broad range of social factors linked to refugee health and wellness particularly significant (Government of Canada, 2019). Our research aims to shed important light upon the potentially complex role(s) that sport, physical activity, and leisure play in the resettlement process, as well as contribute to the broader scholarly literature surrounding refugee health and wellness in Canada.

Jessica Stallone, University of Toronto

The Racial Line of Assimilation

Merging the tension between the subfield of immigration and race and ethnicity in the immigrant integration literature, I argue for a refined theory--which I call the Racial Line of Assimilation (RLA). RLA incorporates the core framework of (neo)classic assimilation theory and uses criticisms of this prior theory to reconceptualise our understanding of immigrant integration. Straight-line assimilationists (or neoclassical assimilationists) argue that immigrants will experience upward mobility across succeeding generations and will culturally integrate into the mainstream and lose ethnic distinctiveness over time. In adjusting for the lack of explanatory power for more recent non-European immigrant groups, segmented assimilationists argue that immigrants can experience more than one path to assimilation—which can also include downward assimilation for ethnic minorities. The theories have been criticized for being racially unconscious (Jung 2009) that reify white supremacy (Treitler 2015). Premised upon using the criticisms to modify the theory, RLA argues that experiences of upward mobility and perceived cultural integration into the dominant group are stratified by a hierarchical racial line of assimilation for American-born and immigrant groups alike—and this process of integration is contingent upon the racial discourse of the time. To elaborate, in contrast to segmented assimilationist that cluster racial groups’ integration patterns on the hourglass economy, RLA theorizes that immigrant integration is stratified on a hierarchal racial line. Moreover, unlike the absence of African Americans in the analysis of assimilation theory (Jung 2009), RLA includes American-born racialized minorities to also understand how they fare in terms of assimilation in relation to the dominant group and in relation to incoming immigrants.  In concluding remarks of the paper, I outline how future work can empirically test this novel theoretical conceptualization.

Alicia Poole, McGill University

Forms of Capital in Migration from Conflict: A Case Study of Migration from Iraq

As receiving states seek to control movement across their borders, migrants adjust their strategies to fit available state entrance categories (Crawley and Skleparis 2018; Massey et al. 1998; Zolberg 1989). Conceptualising migration policies as opportunity structures (Garip 2017), this paper draws from interviews with 21 participants who fled Iraq after the 2003 US-invasion sampled based on country of origin rather than entrance category to Canada. Assuming that economic and refugee migration are related processes (Fitzgerald and Arar 2018; Richmond 1993), it uses a process-tracing methodology to analyse how the ability to mobilize economic, social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986; Kim 2018) influences participants’ migration routes and thus legal status when fleeing conflict and violence. In the case of Canada’s PSR program, those eligible for refugee status are an advantage if they have social network members residing in Canada – i.e., a specific form of social capital that can be converted to a legal pathway to permanent residence in a global context where less than 1% of refugees are resettled (Fitzgerald 2019). Thus, this paper suggests that migrants fleeing conflict who hold the ability to mobilize diverse forms of capital are able to access more options for migration and permanent residence.

Archana Sivakumaran, York University

The Impact of Transnational Immigrant Community Organizations on the Settlement Experience of Immigrants

Community organizations are a building mechanism for the broader community and play a significant political role for newcomers, serving as the primary channel for the political incorporation/integration of immigrant community groups in their new homes (Ramakrishnan and Bloemraad, 2008). The term ‘integration’ while highly contested, has commonly been used to describe a two-way adaption process between the host society and immigrants, whereby immigrants are able to engage with the host society in order to grow socio -economically, politically and/or culturally. It is a transnational mechanism by which immigrants form the initial networks necessary for settlement. Immigrant organizations have not received a lot of attention from migration scholars (Bloemraad, 2006, p.162). In fact, the study of organizations created for and by immigrants is a relatively new field (Nijenhuis and Zoomers, 2016, p. 252). There is very little known about the factors that shape these organizations as well as their role in integration, transnational engagement, and development (Nijenhuis and Zoomers, 2016, p. 252). The dominant discourses on immigrant community organizations stereotype these organizations, depicting them as detrimental to immigrant success and incorporation into the host country. This paper explores the various ways in which transnational community organizations have impacted the diasporic settlement experience. The following are four themes that emerged from the literature: (1) The Political Incorporation of Immigrants, (2) The Integration and Settlement of Immigrants, (3) Economic Integration and (4) the Promotion of Cultural Solidarity and Legitimacy. For many immigrant communities in Canada, community organizations are at the centre of their lives, however there are not many literature reviews on this topic. Through this paper, I argue that transnational immigrant community organizations significantly impact the diasporic settlement experiences amongst immigrants.