Qualitative and quantitative ways of seeing (social) integration

Suddenly, at least to me, the ESF, European Science Foundation, pops up everywhere with interesting conferences and seminars. I’ve already applied for Home, Migration and the City: New Narratives, New Methodologies, a combination of themes which matches perfectly with my research. Now, I aim for an extremely interesting seminar in Paris, which appears equally made for my research perspective, but at the same time is very challenging. The perfect match is that they want to look at two differing approaches to incorporation of immigrants in Europe (one focused on social/cultural integration the other on (anti-)discrimination measures), a comparison which is very similar to my aim of comparing the two different philosophies of social integration in (“multicultural”) Britain and (republican) France. The challenge is that their research is quantitative! Quantitative methods in the Social Sciences: Immigration and Population dynamics: Measuring Integration and Discrimination. Do they want my qualitative approach? I doubt it, but I’m going to try anyway. Besides, the precision they demand from the use of concepts is a very gratifying challenge:

It is certainly not the aim of this seminar to find a definition that satisfies many, but rather to start from the empirical end, and see how integration is being operationalised in research (ESF).

- Not so difficult. I have my three levels of analysis which, when I come to think of it, actually is an operationalisation of my conception of social integration:

1) A microstudy of the creation of an open, cosmopolitan and democratic space: the slam/performance poetry scene, where people of all ages and of very varied social and ethnic backgrounds come together and perform their own short texts. I attempt to analyse the sessions as a prism of French society, in many ways more true to the republican ideals than the republic itself.

2) An analysis of the process of inhabitation (Ingold 2000; 2007) – how people shape the environment they live in as well as being shaped by it – in Belleville, in Northeast Paris, the cradle of Parisian slam poetry.

3) An analysis of France as inherently postcolonial (i.e. shaped by her colonial past), seen form the perspective delineated by Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People without History (1982). (from my abstract)

The fundamental aim of the research is in fact to come a little closer to what social integration can mean in Europe today:

The overarching aim of the research project is to describe and make sense of the making of society – the social integration – in a former colonial metropolis, postcolonial Paris (and London). I understand the incorporation of newcomers – as well as of older residents – as a continuous process, where society – itself a process – is reproduced daily through everyday activities and encounters. Integration, understood as social cohesion or vivre ensemble, is thus a core concept in the project.(from my abstract)

What indicators are used and how are these believed to reflect integration as a process, but also as a state of affairs? (ESF).

Here the qualitative approach runs into serious trouble. Integration as a process, we’re good at of course, particularly since anthropology easily turns everything, including society itself into a an ongoing process. But indicators… Let’s try. What people say might be an indicator, no? I look at notions of belonging and perceptions of society among its members. I also look at who gets to voice their opinion and be heard. If, as my main hypothesis(!) says:

France is inherently postcolonial, i.e. fundamentally marked by her past and present global connection, but this fact has to a very limited degree been officially recognised. I claim that various forms of reappropriation – of space, time/history and notion of society – take place, on a conscious as well as unconscious level. Reappropriation becomes thus an important factor in postcolonial social integration.(from my abstract)

Why have these indicators been chosen, and to what extent do differences in theoretical viewpoints play a role in such choices? (ESF)

And, very good food for thought:

What are the major indicators of immigrant incorporation and how should these be operationalised in research that may be carried out at the interface of the two approaches [integration and (anti-) discrimination]? (ESF)

The last are not questions I could answer within the limit of 500 words, but definitely something to think about for my methodology chapter. The call for papers asked explicitly for main hypotheses, data, methodology and expected conclusions. Even though I love these kinds of puzzles where I have to match the answers to the questions perfectly, it’s not a way I as an anthropologist work very often. What exactly do I look for in the comparison between London and Paris?

In order to more clearly see the dynamic between the making of society and notions of belonging, I intend, in the final chapter of my PhD, to compare two different constructions of society with divergent categorisations of its inhabitants (e.g. hyphenated identity categories are common in the UK). Parallel postcolonial reappropriations take place in France and Britain, but since the two countries have distinctly different traditions of social philosophy accompanied by different histories as nation states, colonial powers and societies of immigration, the resulting perceptions of society and notions of belonging will be different. (from my abstract)

What questions do I want to answer when I look at this and that? Or, the other way around; what questions am I able to answer if my is gathered mainly through participant observation and informal conversations. In my opinion, there is no better way to investigate into the condition of society and its members that to actually look at what people do and listen to what they have to say about it. However, when I compare my approach to the specific language of quantitative approach can I understand why it’s more difficult to translate my own wordy descriptions into simple answers to direct questions… I’m not sure if this make sense yet, but it interests me and it seems relevant in order to investigate into the contributions of artful elements in anthropology that I’ve been writing about lately. And it will of course be relevant when I write my methods chapter in the autumn.

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