Good Integration (GOODINT)

Goals and bottlenecks of successful integration and social cohesion

Meet the Researchers

In this series of informal interviews we are going to introduce the main research group of Goodint.


1. Gina Gustavsson

2. Sune Lægaard

3. Annamari Vitikainen

4. Andrew Mason

5. Nils Holtug

6. Zsolt Kapelner

7. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen

8. Melina Duarte

9. Sara Toffanin

10. Andreas Føllesdal

11. Sarah Fine

MtR XI: Sarah Fine

Today our guest is Dr. Sarah Fine from The Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge. She is a specialist in immigration, nationalism and patriotism, and ‘race’ and ethnicity. Dr. Fine leads the WP2 (Cultural Integration) and is responsible for the coordination of the primarily UK-based collaboration/outreach components of Goodint. In this interview, she shares her thoughts about the project and talks about the unique WS in Cambridge which she organized in December.

Can you introduce yourself and share with us your academic interest that led you to be involved with Goodint?

Sarah Fine: I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Philosophy and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I was in the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London for nine years. I'm originally from London. I work in social and political philosophy and in ethics. Much of my research has focused on migration and on methodology in political philosophy. I started out questioning the common assumption that states have a right to exclude non-citizens from their territory and from acquiring citizenship. It is essential to address this assumption, because the politics of migration is oriented around it, and the human costs of the current system are staggering. I have argued that the historical and ongoing injustices embedded in the practices of migration control should be at the center of the research agenda for the philosophy of migration. Relatedly, the voices of refugees and other migrants have been marginalized or silenced in discussions about migration control, with all sorts of adverse ethical, political, and epistemic effects. So one of the things that I am eager to do in my work is to shift attention towards the perspectives, participation, experiences of refugees and other migrants.

In the GOODINT team, my role is to lead one of the three working packages—the cultural integration part of the project. Within any discussion about ‘integration’, my own concerns lie in amplifying the diverse voices, interests and desires of migrants. I am particularly interested in conceptions of home and attachments to place, which were themes in our recent workshop.

You were the main organizer of the most recent GOODINT workshop, so can you tell us more about it?

In December 2023 GOODINT came to Cambridge for a workshop about ‘Making Home: Migration, Culture, and Integration’. We enjoyed a two-day interdisciplinary and exploratory learning experience. The workshop combined academic talks and conversations along with a variety of arts-based activities. The aim was to try out new ways of collaborating and developing knowledge together. I also hoped to foster an open, relaxed environment in which we all felt ‘at home’ with one another, in a way that might enable us to experiment and share our thoughts. We opened with a special screening of the documentary film Tilka. It follows a small group of women in Lebanon who come together to make and perform a piece of theatre about their lives. Afterwards we had an illuminating Q&A session with Victoria Lupton, co-founder and CEO of Seenaryo, and one of the film’s producers. The workshop ended with a beautiful movement and music session, on the themes of safety, hope, and grief, led by Sivan Rubinstein, Liran Donin, and Lydia Walker.

Making Home workshop at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. December 2023. Photo credit: Fiona Gilsenan. 

We heard from two wonderful keynote speakers. Dr Gabriella Beckles-Raymond discussed what the search for home and the claiming of space might mean in and for the African/Caribbean diaspora. Dr Ammar Azzouz spoke about the sensitivities, complexities accompanying the notion of home in contexts of conflict, destruction, and displacement. We also had a series of sessions focused on current research by GOODINT team members, as well as plenty of time for reflecting on our learning and experiences. A highlight was a group visit to the ‘Black Atlantic: Power, People, Resistance’ exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum. The history and politics of migration and integration here is inextricably linked with the ongoing legacies of war, enslavement, colonialism and empire. It is not possible to discuss migration and integration in this country without foregrounding those injustices.

Do you think that this more kind of interdisciplinary approach, involving art, poetry, cooking, etc., in academia, makes it simply more engaging or do you think there are some other aspects that are valuable academically?

I think there are many benefits to these kinds of collaborative, multimedia, interdisciplinary approaches. For example, arts-based activities bring new participants to the project, who contribute fresh ways of researching. They also encourage us to think about how we communicate our ideas and conduct conversations. We are dealing with difficult topics, and it is worth reflecting on how we might create spaces in which people are more comfortable engaging with issues in an open way. Part of the idea for the structure of the workshop was to highlight that how we feel in each other’s company is an important factor in what we are able to say and do together.

Just as significantly, these kinds of projects are fun and enjoyable. I think our work should be exciting and entertaining, leaving plenty of time for creativity. I like the idea that in a collaborative research project we make things together. We’re all participants and contributors.

Why do you think projects like Goodint are important?

For academics, funded research projects offer an invaluable opportunity to bring people together across disciplines, careers stages, and international boundaries, to engage closely and share ideas, build networks, and produce important work. So, thank you to the Research Council of Norway!

In terms of the project’s specific research themes, for me the central issue is that migration has always happened. It is always going to happen. Every one of us has a migration history. Many of us and our children will have a migration future. It is just a standard feature of human lives, and ought to be a standard feature of our politics. The world as it stands treats everything related to migration as a problem. Projects like this one show that it does not have to be like that. People move, and institutions, practices, and countries can be more or less accommodating of that fact. Part of the value of work like this is that it takes the facts of movement seriously.

The project has been running for about two years now and when it started, you probably had some hope for what you wanted to achieve, what you wanted the team to achieve. What are your hopes now seeing how the project has progressed?

My initial hopes have already been realized. The activities and research emerging from the project are really energizing. I have learned so much and it has been extremely productive.

My own hope is that we continue to emphasize and explore the importance of voice and participation. For example, what are the integration challenges that people encounter, and how would they like to address them? During the Covid-19 lockdowns, when I was working at King’s College London, I was part of a team involved in a collaboration with the charity Migrateful. The charity supports refugees and other migrants who are facing various obstacles to employment and integration. Migrateful trains their clients to lead cookery classes. The chef teaches the class to prepare a dish or a set of dishes from the chef’s own cuisine. In the course of the class, the chef might share stories about the dish, along with something about their migration experiences. The participants learn about the cuisine, as well as some of the challenges that the chef has faced, while everyone socializes and cooks food. The chef leads the class and the conversation and is at the heart of the enterprise. Migrateful offers a really effective model for thinking about integration, and for reflecting on how researchers can take part without taking center stage. That project engaged with a range of questions that I hope to bring to our discussions in GOODINT.

In your opinion right now, what are the most pressing issues regarding integration and immigration?

The most pressing and devastating migration issue is that over 61,000 people have died on migration routes since 2014. The number will have risen by the time this conversation is published. This is an outrage, and shows that current attitudes and approaches to migration and displacement are deadly. It must not go on like this. I think that has to be our focus.

To end on a positive note, do you see any changes or progress in the world that gives you some hope that maybe we can solve some of those issues regarding integration and migration?

My feelings of hope and my optimism always come from the same source: students! I find the students I encounter so inspiring because I see their remarkable grasp of the urgent local and global issues facing us; their attention to problems of historic and ongoing injustice; and their commitment to making positive change happen.

Making Home workshop at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. December 2023. Photo credit: Sarah Fine. 

Interview: Joanna Kreft, 11.01.23

MtR X: Andreas Føllesdal

Today our guest is Prof. Andreas Føllesdal. He is a specialist on human rights, democracy, and federalism. Føllesdal leads the WP1 of Goodint (Equality of opportunity), and is responsible, together with the UiT based scholars, of the Norway-based collaboration/outreach components of the project.

Can you introduce yourself and share with us your academic interest that led you to begin working with this project?

Andreas Føllesdal: I'm a political philosopher by training. I've been working mainly on issues in international political theory, the international aspects of justice and human rights. I cherish the academic community at the department. I try to exploit all the opportunities I'm offered to share in that community! I became interested in Goodint when the proposal was being drafted because of several of the more philosophical aspects, for example, why equality of opportunity is important and why, in particular, it matters for issues of the sort of integration that's worth developing. The comparative element makes it more illuminating to help us think about why this is important, as well as the range of possible institutional arrangements that may count as improvements in the different countries.).

Why do you think projects like Gooding are important?

A.F: I think there are at least three areas that are politically or societally important in addition to these academically interesting questions. One is to get a better sense of the claims that groups have to become integrated in the larger society, both as individuals and as groups.  In particular, consider the focus on equality of opportunity as one central element. Why is this an important objective, perhaps even a minimum standard for a decent just society?  I think is important to explore that component. We see that now: The tragic events in Sweden might partly be reflecting a lack of understanding, more than a lack of goodwill, about what the society and political authorities should be doing to promote the kind of integration that's worth respecting. Goodint may help us get a clearer sense of the objectives that the institution should try to secure.

The second issue is that this comparative element (since we are looking at three different societies) allows us to understand how different institutional structures might work in acceptable ways or in problematic ways. Here is no reason to believe that there's only one set of institutions that would secure the correct form of integration. We have to be very attuned to the role that institutions play in many different ways and by looking at these comparative issues, we can both get a sense of what are the objectives being proclaimed and what are the institutions that are promoting these. And at the same time, of course, we can maintain our critical stance of whether these proclaimed objectives are justifiable, how well the institutions work and so forth. Having this comparative element creates the space for these discussions.

A third component that I only discovered while talking with people in the project is that there seems to be an interesting, almost inverse practice to good integration that focuses on fair equality of opportunity, in the criteria for refugees. The Refugee Convention defines refugees a bit narrowly as those who are persecuted by their own governments. It may intuitively seem that one of the reasons their claims are somehow special and worthy of particular legal protection is that these individuals face a state that directly pursues the reverse of the objectives of equality of opportunity. So the state deliberately tries to prevent members of particular groups from access to education, civil protections, and various components of equality of opportunity. It strikes me that this might be an interesting issue to elaborate further. Perhaps there's something particularly perverse and obnoxious about the horrific use of state power directly contrary to what the purpose of the state should be? Unpacking that third element that I've come to realize in the project will be interesting. This also illustrates why this sort of philosophical work is so fascinating, because we are led to change the objectives, the questions and the answers along the way.

The project has been running for about two years now, right, so. You probably had some hopes at the beginning of what you wanted to achieve. What were your hopes now? Did anything change?

A.F.: Well, my hope is to move us as a collective of scholars further toward answers to these issues I’ve mentioned. It is partly about my own work, but at least as important, the work of other people in the project. This is why our opportunities to meet, after COVID, to facilitate each other's thinking is so valuable. We get better answers due to the specialized expertise of others ‘on tap’ about these different institutional setups. And  our meetings contribute to the academic development of each other and the academic careers of younger scholars, in particular on issues that I think are both intrinsically and academically very worthy and politically very important. To get more people specialized in this area is a good decision career wise for them, but also for society!

The researchers from Goodint can be more or less optimistic if this work can have some sort of influence on society outside of academia. Are you one of the pessimists or are you one of the optimists?

A.F.: Well, I'm an optimist. Partly because I look for positive signs more generally, partly because we are in a position, particularly in a country like Norway, where the distance between this fairly abstract academic work and policy proposals is much smaller than in many other countries. We've already had participation in our project from professor Grete Brochmann who is exemplary in terms of being both an academic and a public intellectual, and who also provides policy advice by leading very important government commissions. Her and others’ contributions are extremely important, and to be able to feed into those processes not as farfetched in the Norwegian setting as in some other countries.

The way I think of the role of philosophy is partly to be critical in the sense that we might identify flaws in the current systems, and that’s one way that the comparative component helps. But philosophical reflection  can and should also be constructive and help us see what might count as better institutional systems -  as well as sometimes conclude that these institutions are actually as good as we could reasonably expect. So sometimes philosophical arguments may simply justify that we should cherish and try to protect some of the institutions even when they're under pressure for economic or political reasons. Therefore, one contribution might be to strengthen the reasons we have for sticking with some institutional arrangements.

A lot has happened since the project started. We began with pandemic, then the war in the in Ukraine and then now we have the escalation of Israel and Palestinian conflict. Do you think those events changed or influenced your thoughts about integration and migration? What are some other pressing issues in terms of migration and integration?

A.F.: Yes, I think you're very right that the horrific changes in the world have made a difference. One of the differences in my work is that I've become more interested and concerned about issues of migration and refugee asylum policies. A good colleague at the University of Oslo, Professor Maja Janmyr, and I have looked at the refugee crisis and the Ukrainian situation in particular. It seems that one of the most pressing issue regarding migration and integration is to see if there is more that can be done to reduce the need for persecuted people to escape. What levers, if any, are underused to reduce the prevalence of governments that are persecuting their citizens or other people on their territories, to reduce the demand for asylum and to reduce that source of migration? I think that's the most urgent issue. We see that there are limits to what can be done in the case of Russia. Perhaps the fear of a future case brought to the International Criminal Court has some deterrent effect on some of the officials in the Russian military system.

Another issue concerning migration in the European setting is to come up with theoretically and e importantly politically, acceptable modes of burden sharing for how to house and accommodate those in need of protection and refuge. There it seems the Ukrainian tragedy has, on the one hand, made it a little bit easier for some of the European states to see that something needs to be done, more agreements had come up. But at the same time, the need to offer refuge has increased tremendously. And this more local catastrophe has perhaps displaced the political and philosophical attention on other major migration waves and crises.

A third issue about migration and integration may again be topics that are the main concern of Goodint: what should be the appropriate objectives of good integration of the people we should be opening our doors for, be it in short term or long term?

To end on a positive note, are there some changes and progress in the world for good, changes that give you some optimism regarding those issues of migration and integration?

A.F: Well, I do think that the silver lining of the tragedy in Ukraine is that we've seen some signs of more consolidated solidarity among European states and individuals, and civil society, to cater for those in desperate need. There's been some political movements at the EU level to find and work for solutions that share the obligations more fairly among those states. But the tricky issue is, of course, that we see that the streams of people who legitimately are desperate in need, is outstripping the political acceptability within many states. Can we jointly figure out ways of accommodating this need in a realistic, realistically utopian way? How might responsible politicians convince enough of the population to do is? I think this is very important to ask, and academics might contribute to some answers and thus play one role, but only a minor role.

Text and interview: Joanna Kreft


MtR IX: Sara Toffanin

We are back with our series of interviews Meet the Researchers of the research project GOODINT. This time we welcome Sara Toffanin, Goodint PhD Student. In this interview, she talks about her academic interest in integration and asylum seekers.

Can you speak about your academic interests and background? How did you get involved with GOODINT?

I am originally from Italy. I started my undergraduate in ‘International Relations and Diplomatic Affairs’ at the campus of Forlì of the University of Bologna. During this period, I won the European Union-funded study scholarship, known as Erasmus+, to study abroad for a semester. From August to December 2019, I moved to Norway to study at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT). At the UiT, I spent most of my time at the Centre for Peace Studies. As my experience and atmosphere at the Centre were great, I decided to apply for the full Master’s. Thus, after finishing my Bachelor’s, I returned to study at the Centre for Peace Studies at UiT. In 2021, I obtained my Master’s degree and applied for the PhD position offered by the GOODINT research project at the Department of Philosophy. I started with my PhD in January 2022.

My interest in migration developed over the last seven years of my studies. I believe that my passion for the subject has strongly developed as I started working on my Master’s thesis project that investigated the impact of space in asylum reception centres on people seeking asylum’s agency and lived experiences. I realized that, above all, what makes migration and integration interesting to me are people and their experiences of these processes. Getting involved in the GOODINT research project was important for continuing with my studies.

Can you talk a bit more about the concept of integration and the importance of GOODINT research focus?

Integration means simply merging things. However, when we apply this idea in the context of immigrant integration, ‘integration’ becomes quickly very complex. Integration is a political concept, and it is also a contextually and historically specific idea. This means that the idea of integration comes with baggage. To be more explicit, integration, as a political and historically specific concept, comes with a set of assumptions and narratives that are specifically embedded in the states’ nation-building project. One of the main focuses of the GOODINT research project is to open this baggage and critically scrutinize the assumptions and the narratives underlying our current understanding of and uses of the concept of integration. This critical scrutiny is necessary for challenging and refining the current understanding of integration and reformulating the kinds of questions we ask when we discuss integration. The GOODINT is a vital platform for such critical scrutiny, and it GOODINT has the potential to provide a better conceptual tool for understanding integration.

I think of integration as a relational concept. This idea of relationality being a central characteristic of integration has been advanced by several other scholars and by many policymakers too. Often, it has been associated with the phrase “two-way integration”, meaning that integration is a process in which both citizens and migrants participate, and it is an end achieved by the collaboration of both citizens and migrants. This idea of two-way integration shows that the receiving society is part of the integration process. This does not mean that the receiving society only plays a facilitating role, but it means that the receiving society does change and adapt. While this idea of two-way integration seems to bring citizens and migrants on a more “symmetrical” or “parallel” relationship, where both will change and adapt, I believe it is still important to scrutinize the power imbalances within this relationship as if we do not we risk reinforcing those very dynamics that prevent us from achieving integration – this is part of my research project.  

What are your hopes for this project?

The GOODINT project is the first research project I have been involved in that unites a team of experienced and brilliant researchers. So, as for me personally, the GOODINT means first and foremost to have a great opportunity for learning. GOODINT as a project has the opportunity for both theoretical and practical impact – this is my hope for the project. More concretely, I hope that GOODINT will provide a better conceptual tool for understanding integration and that it will be a tool of societal impact that transforms our practices of integration.

How do you think GOODINT can also be useful for the broader, non-academic audience?

I think that the GOODINT project has the potential for societal impact. Engaging with and creating connections with the broader non-academic audience is paramount to realizing this potential. Since its start, the GOODINT project has invited local stakeholders to participate in various workshops. This has created a room where people with experience with migration and integration issues could share their own understanding of what integration should be. Listening to the experiences of those who have themselves gone through an integration process or those who work in fields where how to bring about integration is a central question helps us to reflect together on which direction we should move when discussing integration. This collaboration also creates valuable connections. Indeed, the involvement of local stakeholders is an opportunity for creating more collaborations between academia and local stakeholders in the future. Moreover, although the main output of the GOODINT project will mainly be in the form of an academic publication, which may not always find its way to reach a non-academic audience, many of the connections that GOODINT has already established with local stakeholders are a valuable starting point for sharing GOODINT theoretical findings, making this project more reachable and useful to the community.

What are, in your opinion, the most pressing issues regarding migration and integration?

There are many pressing issues when it comes to migration and integration. For me, the most pressing issue is the dehumanization of certain groups of border crossers in today’s migration and integration policies.

Interview: Joanna Kreft

 MtR VIII: Melina Duarte

In the first episode of Meet the Researchers in 2023, we have the pleasure to welcome associate prof. Melina Duarte, from the Department of Philosophy at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. She is a specialist in migration, solidarity, and refugees.

Could you talk about your academic background and how it relates to GoodInt Project, which focuses on good integration, migration, and social cohesion?

Melina Duarte: My academic background? Yes. First, I have to say that I am a Brazilian in the Arctic! I'm originally from Brazil, from the southernmost state, near Argentina and Uruguay, but I have been studying philosophy in many different universities in Europe before I ended up here. In different stages of my career, I have enjoyed the exposure to different cultures, languages, philosophical traditions and all these intense experiences with mobility have shaped my way of thinking about migration and integration. This has made me more open-minded, more attentive to the benefits and challenges of intercultural exchanges and interested in exploring cross-border mobility from an academic perspective.

Can you discuss your understanding of integration and the importance of researching it, particularly in projects like GoodInt?

M.D.: GoodInt aims at understanding integration and finding out what good integration would look like and how can this be achieved. For me, it is easier, in a sense, to start by spelling out of what bad integration looks like and then thinking of good integration in opposition to that. We can, for example, say that bad integration is highly assimilatory and aims at erasing diversity, so a good integration must be the one able to connect citizens and newcomers from different backgrounds and allow them to pursue their own conceptions of a good life in a society. In that sense, while bad integration would be leveraging on homogeneity to achieve social cohesion, good integration would be finding ways to achieve social cohesion by embracing diversity. When it comes to the importance of research on integration, what I can say is that integration has been one of the most neglected aspects of migration processes in migration scholarship that have rather concentrated on questions related to admission and to the (im)permissibility of exclusion. Projects like GoodInt are very important because they aim at filling a knowledge gap on integration that is highly relevant for policy development. Integration has never been so pressing as it is now when we reach a record number of forced displacements around the globe. Just according to the UN, the global refugee crisis, if we can call it like that, has more than doubled in the past decade. We hear a lot about Ukraine, used to hear more about Syria, Afghanistan, but there are also many other countries and regions that are in conflict right now like Eritrea, Somalia, Congo, Venezuela, Palestine, and I do not think that forcedly displaced Venezuelans or Palestinians appear in the UN statistics. But well, just in the UN statistics, we have more than 100 million forcefully displaced persons. Take, I do not know, Tokyo, Jakarta and Shanghai – the world’s most populated cities – together to get closer to this number. It is not like people can move back quicker to their lands after a conflict. Societies need quite a long time to rebuild and sometimes the rebuilding does not make the society any less threatening to life than before like in Afghanistan with Taliban. This means that these forcedly displaced people do not only need a place to live, but also a place to continue their lives, that is they need to become part of a new society, which adds pressure on the need of understanding integration. That is why, I think, the knowledge about integration is so important.

At the same time, well, there is nothing new about this. The need to understand how to better integrate immigrants is already largely acknowledged. Several countries, including Norway, have established early integration programs in response to this pressure, but the issue that remains is what “integration” in these programs stands and should stand for. It seems quite clear to me that for being able to implement appropriate measures for integration and design appropriate integration plans, it is an imperative that we address the question of what good integration is, what does it entails and how can this integration cater to the needs of both citizens and migrants. This is the main focus of GoodInt and that is why this project is particularly important.

You have already mentioned that good integration must be able to connect citizens and newcomers while preserving their diversity. Can you say something more about your understanding of good integration?

M.D.: I think we have some ideas that have become consensual in the literature – the main idea is that integration should be conceived relationally. Based on this, we can already see that it is a misconception – often emerging in political discourses – to understand integration as the formal inclusion of these “others coming from abroad” as the “diverse elements” that needs to be merged into an imagined homogenous group. Understanding integration as relational from the start already clarifies the settings that a good integration requires: mutual accommodation and respect. And this has a series of implications like, as a two-way process, integration and its terms would not unilaterally be framed by the hosts. So, apart from what I already mentioned, good integration seems to require a negotiation between citizens and newcomers where both groups are expected to participate in defining it as well as concede and adapt in order to achieve it. The Other is not the diversity here. Diversity is the aggregation of us all.

Do you think Goodint will have an impact on those issues?

M.D.: I believe philosophy can have great societal impact in general and have great hopes about GoodInt. Goodint is the kind of project that can have a positive societal impact in contributing to a better understanding of integration. This is because Goodint has something beautiful in its design – it is designed not only for disseminating research results more broadly, but also for facilitating input from migrants in shaping the ways we think about integration in both academia and in politics. So, it is first by design that this project has the potential to bridge academics and policy makers, which can increase the impact of research in governance, but also the potential to bridge stakeholders, more broadly, and researchers when addressing the lack of participation of migrants in shaping the frameworks for thinking of integration. How does this play out? I mean, how contributing to a better understanding of integration can have any impact?   Well, I have already said that while it is pretty consensual in migration integration scholarship that integration should be understood as a two-way process for both citizens and newcomers, influential politicians still frame integration as an issue of merging the diverse elements in.

Recently, the previous Prime Minister here in Norway and current leader of the right-wing party, Erna Solberg, proposed an integration plan that includes quotas for migrants for making sure that they will remain numerically a minority and then spread out into the Norwegian society. The idea was that immigrants would integrate better if they could merge into or be dispersed across the Norwegian society. Even further to the right-wing, Sylvi Listhaug, the head of the Progress Party in Norway, has openly recognized the importance of prioritizing integration of immigrants in Norway, but for achieving integration as this “merge in or dispersion of diversity”, it is required to admit less immigrants.

So, here we see that it is an idea of integration (a way of understanding integration) that has profound consequences in practice. So, philosophy can have a great social impact because ideas and concepts do have a great societal impact. Philosophy, or the systematic and critical scrutiny of these ideas and concepts, can actually help politicians to achieve a desirable/beneficial societal impact. Philosophy can, for example, show that the consequences of conceiving integration in this way can be quite damaging for a society that is not only diverse because of immigration. Societies are diverse because they are composed by people from different social groups, with different experiences, different cognitive frameworks and so on. Now, if integration is understood as merging or dispersion of diversity, does that mean that we should start creating numerical limits for other sources of domestic diversity in order to ensure that they would be able to merge in and disperse, for example?  Ideas as serious matters!

So, you seem to be more optimistic than other people I've interviewed about the potential use of academic research for a broader non-academic audience. Do you have any thoughts on how academic research can influence politics and create even a small change in broader contexts?

M.D.: I first need to make you aware that I am, yes, an optimist and a chronic one. But I want to believe that my optimism is not blinding me in this case specially because this optimism about the transformative power of academic research is also permeated by a caution. There are many things that I can mention to support my optimism on that front. First, as I mentioned before, ideas and concepts already affect politics and already create not only small, but large changes in broad contexts. These changes can be beneficial or not to the society. Wars starts with ideas and concepts. Philosophy deals with ideas and concepts. Why would then philosophy not to be able to promote societal changes by providing us with better tools to understand the concepts and ideas that are used in politics? If the task of philosophy is to critically scrutinize ideas and concepts and by doing that philosophy can increase our chances of promoting beneficial changes to the society, why would politicians not be interested in that? As long as philosophical projects are designed in the way GoodInt is, that is designed to communicate more broadly with stakeholders being them immigrants and policymakers and to get them to participate in the negotiation of conceptual boundaries for good integration, there is a good reason for being optimist. Has this happened before? I mean, has philosophy affected policy before? Yes, and many times. See what a book by Pettit has done in Spain (freedom as non-domination being implemented by the Zapateros), what Fricker’s boosting of the concept of epistemic injustice (particularly of hermeneutical type) has done to health care in doctor-patient relations, how MacKinnon’s popularization of the term of sexual harassment has transformed interpersonal relations in the workplace. Philosophy is no longer the owl of Minerva that spreads its wings only at the falling of the dusk.

In relation to migration, I also think that there are some important shifts that can be observed in the ways of thinking cross-border mobility. If I think of the time when I started doing research on migration, a bit more than a decade ago, well there seemed to be a quite strong perception of migration as something that could be controlled, that could be stopped – if we just militarize the borders enough, the borders could be sealed. Now, I see more and more a perception of migration as a fact of life. That is an expression used by UN secretary Antonio Guterres “migration is a fact of life” and quite vividly reaffirmed in the Global Compact for Migration Compact out in 2018. We cannot agree or disagree with a fact, so the discussion starts already in a second step where the focus is more on how this migration, how this mobility can actually be beneficial for both citizens and migrants and create less challenges for both parties.

There are also some lessons that we seemed to have learned in the hard way, like for example with Brexit. Before, I think there was a greater focus on the costs of migration. Brexit and also the new illegal migration bill in the UK reminds us vividly that there are costs of lack of migration as well: financial costs of course, but also costs for humanity when border control requires the violation of human rights.

But how do we ensure that GoodInt will have a social impact? I think that the main secret is involvement of all the parties affected inside but especially outside academia. When stakeholders are involved in the early stages of research and contribute to shaping the knowledge produced, it tends to increase their ownership of this knowledge, make this knowledge more trustworthy to them and others and this also facilitates its implementation.

You mentioned seeing some positive changes regarding migration and integration in Norway. Can you talk about other positive changes in the world on this topic?

M.D.: I think another positive change that I have seen is the wave of solidarity with migrants. In the case of Ukraine, this became quite clear. We can discuss several issues regarding types of solidarity in play in this case and why people are being so supportive of refugees from Ukraine. But even before that, we had a refugee crisis that sparked a strong wave of solidarity, mobilizing not only existing NGOs but also a series of individuals who wanted to help and contribute. Therefore, I think an increase in solidarity is another positive change.

There were some backlashes too, of course. Expressions of solidarity in terms of acts of aid have been criminalized in EU. Helping migrants with transport, with food, has been subjected to sanctioning in an attempt to prevent human smuggling and human trafficking. Many migrants have died on the hands of smugglers and human traffickers and this is terrible. But if we have a critical view of this, we can perhaps see that what is actually killing most migrants who are making use of smugglers is not the journey itself, and not the fact that they paid someone to get help to come to a safe land (we pay flight companies to travel, tourist guides to take us around…), but it is border control and a lack of a safe path to migrate.

Smuggling and trafficking are two very different legal concepts. The main difference between them is that trafficking tends to be non-consensual, while smuggling is consensual. While both trafficking and smuggling are illegal, contrary to trafficking, there are many situations in which smuggling cannot be seen as something that is clearly morally wrong.

Can you elaborate on the issue of refugees from Ukraine?

M.D.: I think there's something very interesting about the current situation. On the one hand, it's good that some NATO countries are standing up to support Ukrainian refugees. But at the same time, questions have emerged about whether this differential treatment and attention to refugees from Ukraine compared to, say, Syrians, is justified. Some theories have emerged to explain why Syrians did not get the same levels of solidarity. One of them became quite controversial. It was early expressed by Serena Parekh, a member of GoodInt, that this differential treatment was due to racism. That because Ukrainian refugees are white, because they are and look like European, ethnicity plays a role in fostering a fast-track link to solidarity. Parekh has been quite vocal about this view, and although she has faced harsh criticism for it, I believe there is something very sensible in what she was saying.

First, because, well, we can say that the alternative explanations are not actually stronger. If you think of the situation in terms of geographical position, you could say that the solidarity has to do with Ukraine being in Europe. Ukraine is so close that people feel threatened, so they think that in helping Ukraine they are preventing threats to come closer to themselves. But really, with the weapons that we have today, they are so developed that they reach across hemispheres. The globe is really small and we are all interconnected. Something that happens in one place affects other places. So, I think that the geographical explanation is weak. This does not mean that geopolitics is not part of the explanation. I do not think that Serena has argue for that either. The point is just that there seem to be something else also playing a role here. Russia was also in Syria, also in Afghanistan. If the issue is against Russia only, we should be showing the same solidarity with Syrian refugees and also still consider people fleeing Afghanistan as refugees.

At the same time, it's quite easy to reject the explanation relying on racism because no one wants to be called racist. This behavior has been banned, but systemic racism is not so easily detectable. Systemic racism is built into the structures of society and also affects geopolitics. So, it is precisely because this type of racism is not easily spotted, that is easy to criticize Serena and others saying that there is a racist element explaining the differential treatment of refugees there that shouldn't be there. Remember when the picture of the Kurdish boy who drowned and appeared on the beach shocked everyone in Europe? It seems that the picture had a huge impact on Western Europe precisely because Alan Kurdi was white and, for Western Europeans, he looked like their own kids. I think that the reception of this tragic event can be one of the things that would support the thesis that there is an element of systemic racism in explaining the fast-track granted to refugees from Ukraine. It is important to say, that this is not an argument for reducing solidarity with refugees from Ukraine, but to increase solidarity with other refugees.

I have one last question, and it's a bit sad to ask someone who considers themselves a chronic optimist, but what do you think are the most pressing issues regarding migration and integration right now? What should we focus our attention on?

M. D.: The most pressing issue in migration and integration is to distinguish admission processes and integration processes more clearly in both research and politics. That is because integration politics are often misused as a tool for migration control. We can't move forward if we don't focus more centrally on the needs of migrants and forcibly displaced persons. Integration policies are often used as different, politically correct, rhetoric to justify exclusion. Another issue is to extend solidarity to other groups of asylum seekers and refugees beyond those from Ukraine. But we can do that. We can sort it out these issues. So, I am not sad, just incited. Thanks, Joanna, for the nice chat!

Interview and text: Joanna Kreft


MtR VII: Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen

In the last installment of Meet the Researchers in 2022 we are happy to welcome Prof. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen. He is a vice-leader of Goodint, and an expert on egalitarianism, equality of opportunity, discrimination, and methodology of political philosophy.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your academic interests? 

Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen:  I am a professor of political theory at the University of Aarhus and a professor of philosophy at UiT in Norway. I've been the latter since 2013, so I’ve been part of the Pluralism Democracy and Justice Group for several years now. I have relatively broad philosophical interests in ethics and political philosophy. What's probably most relevant for Goodint Project are my interests in equality, both distributive as well as relational.  Also, I've been working on discrimination for quite some time now, and I'm running a Centre for the Experimental-Philosophical Study of Discrimination at the University of Aarhus. 

You are the vice-leader of the project. What was your motivation behind starting the project and why do you think it is important? 

One could answer that question with an emphasis on two different kinds of issues: practical and theoretical. When it comes to practical issues, I think immigration is politically important in many different countries around the world, and certainly in many European countries. We live in a world where people are becoming increasingly mobile. It's easier to cross borders than it was some decades ago, and there are also drivers of migration like climate change, poverty, or the prospects of improving one's situation by moving to another country and escaping persecution and illiberal regimes across the world. There is a lot of migration going on in the world, and there's every reason to believe that it will, if anything, increase in the coming years. Therefore, it's hugely practically important how to integrate societies that have a large proportion of citizens who come from very different backgrounds. However, unless we are extremely lucky or extremely successful, Goodint won’t make a big difference to what will happen in practical politics.

On the other hand, the project is very important from a theoretical point of view in relation to migration. The articles we publish as the result of the project can be interesting from a philosophical perspective. I'm particularly concerned about how to think about the equality of opportunity in relation to migration. Typically, when people discuss whether there's inequality of opportunity, they have in mind a comparison of the set of opportunities available to people within a particular nation-state, but migration shows that it might be a too narrow framework because people can migrate. There are very important differences in terms of the opportunities that the possibility of migration gives, say, to an Indian software engineer who can move to Silicon Valley and the sort of options you have as a migrant from sub-Saharan South Africa, where you don't have any education or financial resources worth mentioning in terms of migration and your route to Europe involves a risky boat trip across the Mediterranean.

Another theoretically interesting issue that immigration brings up is discrimination. Most accounts of discrimination focus on the idea that there are certain groups of people who are subjected to discrimination – there are certain protected traits as it's often put. One issue in that context is whether nationality or citizenship should belong to that list. Typically, people wouldn't think of it as discrimination when you're rejected at the Spanish border because you have a non-EU citizenship and don't have a visa to enter Spain, whereas if you have a Spanish citizenship, you will pass the border no problems, no questions asked, but that's clearly a form of differential treatment. You might ask, so is it discrimination? And if it is discrimination what makes it different (if anything) from other forms of discrimination?

It has been almost exactly a year since the first Goodint conference in Tromsø, that kickstarted the project. You certainly had many hopes when you started the project. How do those expectations measure with reality? 

We are still relatively early in the project. We have done well so far in terms of our publications, workshops, and the level of engagement by project members. These are the reasons that give me a lot of hope to the project. We have been very successful in setting up a team, which consists of many excellent scholars working on issues of good integration and bringing together the different experiences and countries that form the research project's focus. This, I think, raises the expectations that novel insights will emerge from the project. From my perspective, I hope that the project will lead to several publications explaining a more nuanced view on integration than the current one that is typically at play in broader public debates, but also in academia.  

Specifically, I think the idea that integration is a two-way process that involves not only migrants but also citizens in receiving countries to accommodate a change in ways that accommodate society becoming more diverse. Thinking through what exactly that amounts to is an important task. Another critical issue is to get a clearer understanding of how good integration relates to equality of opportunity. Often the equality of opportunity is ignored as an aspect of good integration, so I hope Goodint will result in a better understanding of why it is a core component in good integration. 

Do you think that Goodint can have an influence outside of academia? For example, we have planned panel discussions with local actors that work on immigration issues.  

I think it's possible we can have some impact. However, one should also be realistic about the societal impact of academic projects like Goodint. Much of what goes on in Goodint aims at publishing in academic journals. Realistically those won't be read by people outside academia. I mean, it might be that some of them will help shape the views of academics and the views of academics will then shape or interact with the views of people outside academia, so in that rather indirect way it might have some impact. 

In terms of interacting with laypeople, I believe that such interaction should not just be deemed on the basis of whether they actually have an impact in the sense that we succeed in changing lay people's views about various issues. Rather, it has value in itself that we try to communicate the results that we think we have achieved in the project and also to interact with people who in one respect or another are affected by migration and integration, e.g., migrants in particular, and to try to see if our understanding of the situation fits the understanding among laypeople. Importantly, sometimes speaking to laypeople benefits us. As academics, we can discover that what we think are the central concerns are not really what are the central concerns for laypeople or whatever. 

What are, in your opinion, the most pressing issues when it comes to immigration and integration? 

Probably the most important issues in relation to migration are the issues surrounding the fact that people are forced to migrate. Or at least that holds for most migrants. There are therefore issues of global poverty and climate change. How we resolve those issues or don't resolve those issues will have a big and very important impact on the lives of, not only migrants, but also people living in the countries where migrants typically come from. So, that's a hugely important issue in relation to integration of people who have migrated. I think that the general trend in most countries in the world will be that the countries will become increasingly diverse – people will come from very different backgrounds. How to handle that in societies that don't have a long history of addressing issues of diversity is probably the greatest challenge. 

Can you see any progress in the world that give you hope or optimism for resolving the problems related to migration and integration? 

The main reason to be optimistic is that cultures are innovative when addressing problems. Many of the challenges that countries may face in a transitional period where they move from countries that are quite homogeneous to heterogeneous are temporary. These issues can arise because of a particular group in society forming the vast majority of citizens, but when with time society becomes more diverse and then people get accustomed to diversity many of the issues that have existed initially will be mitigated or reduced. I think sometimes European countries see the US as an exemplar. I mean, in many ways the US is not ideal, but I think in terms of accommodating diversity certain groups of Americans have taken on board what kind of requirements and challenges living in a diverse society amount to much more than you see in many European countries. 

What do you think about the response of Europe when it comes to Ukraine migration in contrast to the Syrian refugee’s crisis. Should that give us hope, or rather you see it as an example of racism? 

That's an issue that comes up often. Of course, there is something absurd about Europe not being willing to accept migrants from Syria, who might flee bombardments conducted by the very same bomber Russian pilots etc. that some years later are now bombing Ukrainian cities. A lot of people say that the difference in response from European countries to Syrian and Ukrainian refugees is simply a matter of racism.  I am not saying that race is not a part of it, but I think there is another aspect to it that is at least as important. In the case of Syria, I don't think Europeans in general have seen what was happening in Syria as a threat to them. The situation is vastly different in Ukraine. Setting aside issues about racism, it's just a fact - perhaps a very regrettable one - about human beings that you find it much easier to sympathize or to show solidarity with people who are the victims of the same threat that you see yourself as being under. I’m not saying that Europe should be proud of how it responded to the Syrian refugee crisis, but I don’t think it should be as ashamed of itself as people who say that this is just a matter of racism often suggest. I think it’s better to let in 5,000,000 Ukrainian refugees and not let that many Syrian refugees in as opposed to not letting any refugees in at all. If those are the non-ideal choice options that we face, the choice is clear. 

Interview and text: Joanna Kreft


MtR VI: Zsolt Kapelner

Today we welcome Zsolt Kapelner, PhD from UiT, The Arctic University of Norway. He is a specialist on democratic theory and the political philosophy of immigration. 

Can you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your academic background? 

Zsolt Kapelner: I received my PhD earlier this year from Central European University, where I worked on democratic theory. However, I have always had an interest in immigration, so I have published both on immigration and democracy issues before. Therefore, Goodint seemed like a good fit when I was looking for a job. 

I applied with a project on the role of democratic inclusion in immigrant integration, and that is what I am pursuing now in the project. 

How did you learn about the project? 

Z.K.: I learned about the project through my supervisor Zoltan Miklosi. He himself is a member of the project. 

What are your hopes for this project? 

 Z.K.: I hope that we will be able to develop some theoretical foundations for understanding issues about integration, which I think is a fairly under-theorized area in political theory, even though there exists some important literature already. 

As for me personally, I am hoping that I will be able to take steps towards developing a good theoretical understanding of the way in which democracy functions in non-ideal situations and borderline scenarios. That is important, because democracy is very often considered only in the rather narrow case of citizens participating in their home country. However, of course, today democracy exists in a variety of contexts, and one of the contexts is that many people, immigrants and refugees live in countries that are supposed to be democratic, but they often do not have access to democratic participation rights, or they have a limited access to them. I think it is really important both for the political theory of immigration and democratic theory to tackle those kinds of issues as well. 

Do you think then that the research in those areas can have some direct implications to contexts outside of academia? 

Z.K.: I do. I think this project is especially well suited to have some real-word implications, not only because immigration is a really pertinent issue – it is a very prevalent phenomenon today in the world – but also because these are going to be pressing issues in the future too. 

For example, in terms of my project about democratic inclusion, as immigrant populations increase in many countries, the question of what is owed to them in terms of distributive justice, rights, or political liberties is going to be pressing right there. 

There already exist large immigrant populations that take part in the public life of the polity where they live on different terms than local citizens, and they might not be entirely satisfied by this. These are really important questions about how we are going to be able to ensure that these policies of the political integration of immigrants are carried out in a non-arbitrary and just framework. 

What, in your opinion, are other pressing issues regarding migrant integration? 

Z.K.: There are several pressing issues. The one I work on is only one of many. Integration is often thought of as a multidimensional issue. We can talk about integration in economic, cultural and political terms, for example. That is a standard way of thinking about this, and I think all those dimensions or areas present really urgent issues. 

In the economic area the differential status of immigrants often makes them more vulnerable to, for example, exploitation. When it comes to participation there is an issue of fairness involved here - many immigrants pay taxes and work in their receiving states, so then there is a question of what they are owed back. I think there're also really pressing issues in terms of culture. In many countries there is backlash against immigrants based on real or perceived cultural difference, so I think issues of multiculturalism and the question of how we are able to live together given a background of social and cultural difference, will become increasingly important. 

There used to be a much larger literature on multiculturalism in the 90s and early 2000s, but now I think these issues are really coming back with extreme force, especially in the political area, where the questions of representation and participation are critical. 

Are there any trends in politics or culture that give you a bit of hope and optimism when it comes to resolving some of those issues? 

Z.K.: Well, the picture can be very bleak when we look at widespread backlash against immigration and the rise of populism. What gives me hope, on the one hand, is that these are not ubiquitous. We have plenty of signs for people actually wanting to build a more inclusive society and we see this, for example, in citizen activism or activism by immigrants themselves and even refugees, which I think is very important to take into consideration. 

Generally, the way in which positive social change happens is that people come together, initiate these changes, and put pressure on public decision making so that everyone’s voice is heard. 

Goodint chose Hungary as one of its research focuses. Can you tell us about the situation in Hungary when it comes to issues of migration and integration? 

Z.K.: Hungary provides a very interesting case study for several reasons. It's a somewhat homogeneous society. There is a low immigrant population in Hungary, so most people are ethnically Hungarian and have very little experience with multiculturalism and suchlike. 

Since the 2015 refugee crisis in the EU there has been a sustained effort, especially from the governing party that has been in power since 2010, to paint immigration in a very unfavorable light and to create a kind of general anti-immigrant sentiment. This is connected with policies that are directly harmful to immigrants, especially refugees. The way in which refugees were treated in the southern border of Hungary and at the so-called transit zones were notoriously problematic from a human rights standpoint.  

What is interesting about Hungary is the way in which immigration as an issue is weaponized politically. What this tells us about the prospects of integration is that there is a political side to it. Integration isn't only a matter of individual person’s perceptions of immigrants or people other than us. There is also a political background structure that really impacts what avenues are open for policy change or changes in public attitudes because public attitudes are shaped by politics. 

Do you want to share anything you have been working on recently when it comes to Goodint project? 

Z.K.: Most recently, I was approached by an initiative at EUI, European University Institution, to contribute with an online discussion piece on sea rescue in the Mediterranean, which is now available online (LINK). 

Interview and text: Joanna Kreft


MtR V: Nils Holtug

Today, in our summer edition of Meet the Researchers, we welcome Prof. Nils Holtug from the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen. He is a specialist on social cohesion and global justice.

Can you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your academic interests? 

Nils Holtug: I am a professor of philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. My main research interests are theories of justice, and in particular distributive theories such as egalitarianism and prioritarianism, and various questions related to migration - both immigration and integration policies, and both regarding refugees and other kinds of migrants. 

My interests match what's going on in the Goodint project in several ways. I have been working on equality of opportunity for a long time, including on the implications of such equality for immigration issues. I also have a longstanding interest in multiculturalism. And finally, I have been working quite extensively on social cohesion in relation to migration, which is also the theme of one of Goodint’s working packages that I am involved with. I recently published a book about these issues called The Politics of Social Cohesion. Immigration, Community, and Justice (Oxford University Press 2021), where I engage with many of the questions that arise in public debates about immigration.

My starting point is that the last twenty years or so, many discussions of immigration and integration have been framed as issues of social cohesion. Thus, it is a widely held view that immigration is driving down social cohesion and that it is therefore harming democratic institutions, societal cooperation, and the welfare state. Likewise, it is widely held that, to promote social cohesion in a context of immigration, we need integration policies that foster a sense of a shared identity amongst citizens. The idea is that if we share an identity at the societal level, such as a national identity, that's going to make it easier for people to trust and exhibit solidarity towards each other.

Can you give us some main takeaways from your book? 

N. H.: A common argument that has been influential for why liberal democracies should have quite restrictive immigration policies is that immigration undermines the sense of having a shared national identity, and therefore drives down social cohesion, which is detrimental to various social goods, including democratic institutions and the welfare state.  

I argue in the book is that the argument is not entirely convincing, and this is so for both empirical and normative reasons. When you look at the empirical evidence for the claim that diversity drives down trust and solidarity, that evidence is not particularly clearcut. In fact, it kind of points all over the place. Furthermore, there is empirical evidence there are certain things we can do to reduce any negative impact immigration may (otherwise) have on trust and solidarity. Thus, trust and solidarity seem to depend on factors such as out-group contact (in this context, contact between natives and immigrants), socio-economic inequality, and the nature of welfare institutions. In particular, social democratic welfare states seem to have a positive impact, where universal social benefits decrease the incentive to look at immigrants and ask: “Do they really deserve them?”, “Do they really need them?”, etc. Those questions are less likely to arise when everyone gets the benefits in question and so they are not based on, for example, need or desert. 

As regards my specifically normative reservations regarding the ‘social cohesion argument for restrictive immigration policies’, they pertain to the way in which justice is assumed to have a restricted, national scope. Thus, the argument assumes that we're only interested in the welfare state of the receiving country, for example, the degree to which advantages are distributed equally in it. Those who make this argument argue thar immigration causes domestic inequality, but it is an open question whether equality has domestic scope only or has global scope. In the book I argue for the latter. And I suggest that as regards global equality, immigration may well have a positive role to play.

In the final part of the book, I consider the suggestion that sharing an identity at the societal level tends to promote social cohesion, including trust and solidarity, and therefore also promotes egalitarian redistribution. Very briefly, I argue that national identities do not seem to have a positive impact, but that there is some evidence that societal identities based on liberal egalitarian and multicultural values may indeed have such an impact.

Hearing about your academic interests it seems natural that you would be interested to be involved with Goodint project, but how did you hear about it? 

N. H.: I've known Kasper [Lippert-Rasmussen] for many years and we've cooperated on projects before. We've also co-published and, indeed, we have a long-standing friendship as well as collegial collaboration. I've also known Annamari [Vitikainen] for some years now and so, I guess, they knew that some of the things I do are relevant to the project and decided to invite me in.

What are your hopes for the project, both personal as well as collective - what do you want the group to achieve? 

N. H.:  Because the project is aligned so nicely with my research interests and what I've been doing so far and what I'm continuing to work on, it's clear that it will be fruitful and helpful for me to engage in discussions on these issues and collaborate with other people in the project. For example, during the workshop in Budapest we had the symposium on my recent book. It was really interesting, helpful and enjoyable for me to engage with the other members of the project. 

Collectively I'm hoping that everyone within the project is going to benefit from the discussions, workshops etc. The ways that we engage in each other's work suggests some more extensive collaboration, perhaps some joint articles, special issues in journals, etc. 

Of course, it's difficult to say exactly what the results of the project are going to be. Maybe there will be unified results that many of us will stand behind, perhaps there is going to be more disagreement. But I don't really think that's important. I think the main contribution is going to be increasing the quality and the scope of the discussions that we engage in and the research we produce. 

Do you think that Goodint can have some benefits for people outside of academia? 

N. H.:  Given the topic, I think Goodint is highly significant for what goes on outside of academia. It's focused on questions that are both very important and very much debated, and there are many public concerns about them (and in some cases these are questions that generate quite a lot of heated debate). I think there are certainly things to be learnt that are relevant for people who are interested in these issues outside of academia, and for policy makers. The extent to which the research will have an impact here is of course difficult to assess in advance. 

What, in your opinion, are the most pressing issues regarding migration, integration and social cohesion? 

N. H.: That's a really difficult question, because there are so many issues, and so many of them are highly important. 

One kind of very general concern I have here is about global inequality, both as a driver of migration and as an outcome of migration policies. As regards refugees in particular, we have an international system that is really not working very well. In Europe, for example, the refugee crisis led to a re-nationalization of policies, with each country trying to limit its own influx, including by making it increasingly unattractive for refugees to seek asylum there – a policy that has been aptly described both as a race to the bottom and as beggar-thy-neighbour. Furthermore, the externalization of border control has led to some very harsh outcomes for migrants, not least in third countries that are not exactly known for their concern for human rights. Such outcomes include imprisonment, beatings and torture.

On the flipside of that, what are some positive changes in the world that you see regarding issues of immigration and integration? 

N. H.: A positive thing at the moment is that there seems to be quite a lot of willingness to admit Ukrainian refugees. The policies that are being implemented to accommodate Ukrainian refugees are so very different from the ones that were in place following the refugee crisis of 2015 and that is a positive change. But of course, the flipside of that is that governments aren’t equally committed to helping other refugees who are in just as much need, but for whatever reason are considered less eligible for help.

Interview and text: Joanna Kreft


MtR IV: Andrew Mason

Today we welcome our next guest: prof. Andrew Mason from the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick. He is a specialist on social cohesion, equality of opportunity, and cultural integration.

What are your academic interests, and why did you get involved with the project?

Andrew Mason: I have broad interests in moral and political philosophy. I’m currently working on a book on appearance discrimination that examines the different ways in which people are disadvantaged by their appearance, and that aims to distinguish morally wrongful from morally permissible appearance discrimination. ‘Lookism’ is a neglected form of discrimination, but it operates in a number of different domains, constraining people’s employment opportunities, and their opportunities to form personal relationships, with the result that it can have a profound effect on the well-being of those perceived as unattractive or who have an unconventional appearance. When it is shaped by appearance norms that are biased against marginalized groups, such as a norm that favours lighter skin tones, it may also exacerbate the disadvantages experienced by members of these groups.

I also have longstanding interests in a range of questions that are directly connected with GOODINT themes.

First, I have sought to defend multiculturalism against a number of criticisms that it has attracted, for example, that it is committed to an objectionable essentialist view of culture, and more recently, that it discourages cultural groups from integrating and thereby fosters separate parallel societies. This latter criticism has been voiced not only in the academic literature but has in the speeches and writings of politicians. I don’t think that it is ultimately successful because it relies on an implausible understanding of what multiculturalism is. It nevertheless raises an important challenge that has gained traction politically. Indeed, the ideal of multiculturalism needs reclaiming; for many political commentators ‘multiculturalism’ has become a derogatory term.

Second, I’ve addressed the issue of what can feasibly bind together a diverse society containing different cultural groups. Does a stable and enduring diverse society require a shared national identity, or, at least, is a shared national identity conducive to sustaining such a society? These are ultimately empirical issues, but philosophical work can be done in clarifying the different empirical theses that are possible concerning national identity and social cohesion. At the very least, we need to acknowledge the conceptual possibility that citizens might be bound together by a shared sense of belonging to a polity, that is, a shared identification with its institutions and practices that consists in knowing their way around those institutions and practices, feeling at home in them, and having their own reasons for valuing them, without necessarily sharing a shared national identity.

Third, I’ve worked on the concept of integration, trying to understand how integration differs from assimilation, and the role that the educational system may justifiably play in promoting an integrated society. In this context, I’ve been particularly interested in whether faith schools have a place in a defensible multicultural society. Do they, as some would argue, concentrate together those of the same faith in a way that erects a barrier to mutual understanding and fosters prejudice, or suitably regulated might they provide children from families that practice a minority religion with a safe space in which they can acquire a secure sense of their own identity, making it easier rather than harder for them to integrate?

Fourth, I’ve tried to clarify the idea of equality of opportunity and its place within an overall theory of justice. This has involved reflecting on a number of issues. First, the issue of what role, if any, a traditional meritocratic notion of equality of opportunity should play within such a theory. Second, whether the notion of ‘fair equality of opportunity’, which requires us to counteract the effects of differences in people’s social circumstances on their chances of success, is an unstable position the grounds for which lead us inevitably to a more radical conception of equality of opportunity, such as a luck egalitarian conception that requires us to counteract the effects of any differences in our circumstances that are beyond our control – not only differences in social circumstances but also differences in natural talents.

Why, in your opinion, is GOODINT important?

A. M.: In my view, the really distinctive and important aspect of GOODINT is its attempt to combine normative and empirical research. Not very much of this kind of work has been done in relation to migration, social cohesion, and equality of opportunity. There are notable exceptions of course. Two GOODINT researchers – Nils Holtug and Gina Gustavsson – have done excellent work of this kind, but it is unfortunately relatively rare.

There are a range of methodological views concerning how to combine the normative and the empirical. The way I see it, doing so in a systematic way involves a number of stages. First, we need to identify the relevant ideals and provide a clear analysis of them. Second, we need to make some empirically informed judgements concerning what is feasible in terms of realizing these ideals, or bringing us closer to realizing them, in the particular society or societies with which we are concerned. Third, we need to identify the costs, in terms of other values, that would be incurred in realizing these ideals, or bringing us closer to realizing them, again in the societies with which we are concerned. Finally, in the light of our answers to these questions, we need to reach some conclusions about the optimal way of proceeding in these societies.

GOODINT’s Working Packages aim to advance our understanding in relation to the first two stages of the process I’ve described, focusing on three countries, i.e., Hungary, Norway and the UK. Taken together, these packages aim to clarify the value of equality of opportunity, social cohesion, and integration, to identify the barriers that exist to realizing them in these three rather different societies, and then to make some judgements about what reforms in them might be feasible.

What are your hopes for this project?

A. M.: On a personal level, I am hoping to have some interesting conversations about equality of opportunity, integration, and social cohesion, and to learn from the other researchers involved in the project.

More ambitiously, I am hoping that we will together improve our understanding of a range of issues concerning the nature and value of equality of opportunity, the importance of social cohesion and integration, and the best ways of realizing these ideals in the three societies on which we are focusing. I don’t expect us to reach agreement on very many of the fundamental issues, but I’d like to think that we will at least emerge with a better understanding of the sources of our disagreements!

What, in your opinion, are the most pressing issues regarding migration/integration?

A. M.: In terms of their urgency, I think the most pressing issues are the immediate practical ones. How should the massive influx of refugees from countries such as Afghanistan and Ukraine be dealt with? How are their needs to be met, and how should the countries to which they have initially fled be supported? I’m not sure that GOODINT, or political philosophers in general, are particularly well-equipped to answer these questions, or at least, not at the level of detailed practical solutions.

Of course, there are complex normative issues at the back of them that we do have the expertise to address, for example, the issue of how we are to determine what constitutes each country’s fair share of refugees, whether a country is morally required to take more than their fair share if other states don’t fulfill their responsibilities, and whether one country is morally permitted to pay others to take its fair share. And GOODINT’s research agenda has a direct bearing on issues concerning how refugees, once they have been resettled, should be integrated in their new countries, including when and how they should be granted access to citizenship.

What, if any, progress regarding those issues, gives you hope/optimism?

A. M.: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given us many reasons to be pessimistic about the future, and it would be naïve in any case to think that normative philosophical inquiry will make very much difference to how states behave. But the crisis has at least illustrated that when ordinary citizens identify with the plight of refugees they are willing to make considerable sacrifices to help them.

Even if there are some reasons for being pessimistic about the influence of normative work in political philosophy on state practice, there is no doubt that a large amount of high quality research has been done over the past two decades on the ethics of migration and the just treatment of refugees, some of it by GOODINT researchers. I think we now have a much better understanding of the strengths and limitations of different kinds of defence of the state’s right to exclude, the moral basis for the special treatment of refugees, and the case for reforming the international regime that governs our response to refugee crises. We have also improved our understanding of issues surrounding access to citizenship, including what conditions we can reasonably require residents to meet in order to be granted citizenship. But this normative work does need to be combined with the best empirical work on the causes of hostile attitudes towards migrants/refugees, and what other barriers there are to ‘good integration’, in order for it to be an adequate practical guide to how we should go about realizing the underlying ideals that has some chance of success.

Interview: Sara Toffanin


MtR III: Annamari Vitikainen

We are back from spring break with an interview with a Goodint leader - prof. Annamari Vitikainen. She is a specialist on migration, multiculturalism and minority rights, liberalism, integration, and sexuality and gender.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and talk a little bit about your academic background and interests?

Annamari Vitikainen: I'm a political philosopher by training and I currently work as a professor of philosophy at UiT, The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. I’m presently running this project on Good Integration (GOODINT), as well as the political philosophy research group Pluralism, Democracy, and Justice (PDJ) at the department. I haven’t always been in Tromsø - I have my doctorate from Helsinki University in practical philosophy, and my master's and bachelor's from Cardiff University in Wales.

I'm mainly interested in contemporary issues in political philosophy. I did my doctoral thesis on questions of multiculturalism: liberal multicultural theories, minority rights, questions of group membership, and how to accommodate different kinds of minorities and minority practices. I later turned my thesis into a book that addresses some of the limitations of the traditional liberal multicultural theories and develops a more individuated account of cultural diversity that aims to escape some of these limitations.

When I came to Tromsø in 2013, first as a postdoc and later in a permanent position, I started turning my focus more towards global issues - questions relating to global justice and migration. Our previous project that finished prior to GOODINT was called Globalizing Minority Rights (GMR). In that project we were looking at questions relating to minority rights and minority protections in global and transnational, international, and regional contexts.

I suppose that after that excursion to global issues of minority protections, this new project is making some sort of a circle back to my initial interests in liberal multiculturalism. I am returning to some of the same questions that I was tracing already during my PhD. However, now it is from a slightly different angle, and I am also taking more into account the global migration regime and looking at questions of integration specifically in migration context.


What is your motivation behind starting this new project on the meaning of good integration?

A.V. : I think it’s important to mention that GOODINT is not just my project connected to my personal research interests. There are a lot of people involved and there's been several factors that have contributed to the development of this project. This is now a second project that I'm running together with Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, and we already started planning the project when the Globalizing Minority Rights project was still going on.

Of course, like with any project, it's not the case that you have a plan and then you execute it exactly how you first envisioned it. It's always a living process. That was also the case with GMR. There were a lot of things happening during that project that affected some of the interests and some of the courses that we took, such as, for example, the European refugee crisis, and the different kinds of responses and attitudes to the crisis. Brexit happened at some point, Donald Trump was the President of the United States, there were certain populist political tendencies, and eventually, the pandemic happened as well. There were a lot of changes happening around us, and that also affected some of the avenues of our research.

Some of these developments made it quite clear that even though the GMR project was primarily looking at the global and transnational contexts and transnational institutions, there was also a lot to be said about different national responses to these issues. So it made perfect sense to turn our focus again to more local contexts and to questions, not so much on what happens at different borders, but also to questions on what happens after people have crossed these borders and entered a particular society, how to understand ‘good integration’.

At the outset, it’s obvious that migration happens. And it's also obvious that societies have become more and more diverse. One of the key questions is then how society should be organized in circumstances of such diversity. How do we understand the kind of good integration that we are interested in? Are there also some ‘bad’ forms of integration, or perhaps limitations to the kinds of policies that can be used to promote integration?

If I think about my own background, as a theorist of multiculturalism and cultural diversity, and then on the other hand Kasper’s background on questions of equality, equality of opportunity, and discrimination, GOODINT seemed like an obvious way for us to look at these questions of integration from slightly different perspectives, but yet with the same overarching interest.

Goodint is quite a multi-international project. How did you manage to find all those interesting people and how was it to collaborate and start collaboration during the global pandemic?

A.V: Recruiting people to the project wasn't particularly difficult as we had already worked with many of the group members before. Some were already in the Globalizing Minority Rights project and their interest were developing in a similar way to ours into this direction. In addition, we were approaching scholars who were already working on related themes, such as integration and equality of opportunity, multiculturalism, and social cohesion, and who we thought would thus be more inclined to join a bigger project. When you are a part of a bigger project with people who are doing something very similar, then you and your research also benefits from that.

With respect to global pandemic, when we applied for this project, the pandemic was already happening. It didn't come as a surprise to us like it did with the previous project. We were affected by the pandemic during the later stages of GMR quite heavily. We had to do a lot of canceling and postponing and transferring things online, and so on and so forth. This time we already knew what might need to be done, so we had some plan B’s. Of course, unfortunately, the pandemic works in a way that even if you have a plan, you don't necessarily know when exactly you need to execute it and in which way and how quickly. New regulations can come just a day before you are supposed to have a big project launch. So there have been hiccups. Even if we have been trying to plan in a way that we take the pandemic into account sometimes we have to cancel or postpone and improvise. And that's just how life goes.

What are your hopes for Goodint?

With any project you have hopes and aspirations on different levels. You have perhaps more ambitious aspirations and then you have aspirations that perhaps are not less ambitious, but maybe a bit more realistic. If I'm thinking about the more ambitious aspirations, it would of course be wonderful if at the end of this project, we would have some sort of overarching theory of good integration that would show us how different underlining principles and different underlining theories of integration work, how equality of opportunity or cultural diversity or social cohesion affect integration, what might be the limits of integration and also the kind of theory that takes into account the different contexts and spheres of integration, for example, different societal backgrounds in different countries or sizes. But that’s a very ambitions aspiration, and in all likelihood, such overarching theory is not something that will come out at the end of this project.

I think that some of the things that will come out of this project are more of snapshots into different aspects of good integration, for example how ideals of equality of opportunity are operating at the background of good integration, or whether there may be some justifiable deviations from equality of opportunity in migration or integration contexts; also snapshots into how different societal contexts are affecting not only our understanding of good integration or policies of integration, but also theoretically how different contextual factors might be affecting the underlying principles or theories of integration. I think these kinds of snapshots and work on the theories and underlying concepts and principles of integration are both interesting in themselves, and also something that can later on be used, for example, by different social scientists, as well as in public debate, and in political debates. I think that the project can also provide conceptual tools and clarifications for these debates, and that's something that I very much hope that we are able to do.

On more concrete terms, one of the things that I already see happening in this project is the way in which the members of the research group are able to support and contribute to each others’ work, and also, how we are able to provide opportunities to younger scholars, PhD students and postdocs, to develop their careers. Those are, I think, very important, potent results of the project.


What in your opinion are the most pressing issues regarding integration and migration, something that you feel perhaps a bit pessimistic about?

A.V: I don't think that there is any one particularly pressing issue of integration that one should be especially concerned about. But I think there are two strands of debate that I would like to mention. One having to do with certain structural issues relating to integration. The idea being that, in many cases, the challenges of integration, or the possible problems of integration may not have to do with, for example, outright discrimination, or lack of willingness to integrate, so to speak. In some cases, of course, outright discrimination might also be playing a part, but many of the challenges of integration may have to do with far more subtle structural problems or difficulties in society. When we are talking about structural issues and structural injustices, the challenge is that these are very difficult to identify. They are often the kinds of issues where it's very difficult to see what exactly is going wrong in any particular situation, or if there are any agents that can be held accountable for creating such structural injustices. What is more, there are many ways of going wrong in trying to fix structural issues, not least because of the very subtle mechanisms operating behind such injustices.

As a second issue, I do find that there's also a challenge that comes from recent developments of certain kinds of nationalism, as well as certain kinds of political tendencies, perhaps populist tendencies, that normalize certain kinds of speech. For example, if you look at discussions on migration and integration in the Nordic countries, and compare what can be said, or what politicians are saying now, to what they might have said, say, 10 years ago, I think there's been a certain naturalization of certain kinds of speech that might even in some cases constitute hate speech. Those kinds of tendencies, of course, will also have effects on public attitudes. They will also have effects to policies and how issues of migration and integration are dealt with, and how easy, or difficult, it may be for newcomers to feel at home in their new place of residence.

To end on a positive note, what progress regarding those issues of integration, integration and structural problems gives you hope and optimism for the future?

A.V: I do think that there is some hope and optimism, also when it comes to the structural issues of integration. For example, one of the good things that I can see happening in various places is the actual recognizing that structures make a difference, and that a seemingly neutral and evenhanded system may also create disadvantages, to certain groups of people. I think nowadays it's at least relatively commonly accepted that there are certain structural issues when it comes to, for example, women's advancement in the academia and that these issues need to be attended to. I think that there's a similar kind of recognition that some of the challenges of migration and integration are structural. I think that the first step of aiming to somehow solve a problem or make the situation better is to actually recognize that structures do make a difference, and we need to attend to them. I think that's a cause for optimism.

I'm not an empirical scientist and I haven't done much work on how people's attitudes have changed, or how, for example, representation of different groups of people have changed during the years. However, I could say that from my own viewpoint, if I look at how media representation in Norway now looks with respect to different socially salient groups of people, and compare it to, for example, 10 years ago, when I moved here, there are some positive changes. It’s perfectly normal to see people from different backgrounds in the media, and not only as representatives or commentators from these backgrounds, but because of the diversity of Norwegian society and the fact that people from different backgrounds end up doing all sorts of interesting things in their lives. And it's perfectly normal these days to realize that not everyone looks the same, nor has the same kind of life history in the Norwegian context. I don’t mean to say that there would no longer be any problems when it comes to the representation of different groups in the media or other areas of society, but I do think that there has been a lot of good things happening for example with this kind of representation.


Interview and text: Joanna Kreft


MtR II: Sune Lægaard

Today we welcome our second guest: prof. Sune Lægaard from the Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University. He is a specialist on multiculturalism.


Can you speak about your academic interests and background? And why did you get involved with Goodint?

Sune Lægaard: My academic interests are in political philosophy, mainly in issues related to multiculturalism. I've been working on that in a number of different constellations since my PhD thesis, which was on multiculturalism and nationalism. I've often been writing about specific theories or specific cases like the Danish Mohammed cartoons, or specific citizenship legislation.

Since about 10 years ago my interests have turned more towards issues of politics and religion, because many of the minority groups that people talk about when they discuss multiculturalism are religious minorities, for example Muslims.

I am getting progressively more interested in more methodological debates about political philosophy, which came out of some of my discussions about multiculturalism. I've written some things on contextualism in political philosophy, which is concerned with how facts about specific cases or the circumstances surrounding specific cases are relevant to how we should discuss cases in political philosophy.

I got involved with the Goodint project, first, because I knew the people, but also because it's a relevant topic relative to what I've been working on for all of these years.

What is your interest in migrant integration? Have you been researching this concept even before the project started?

S.L: Yes, I’ve written about integration from the beginning of my academic career, when I wrote my PhD thesis, almost 20 years ago. The reason I wrote about multiculturalism was that I thought this was a topical issue - something everybody was discussing, and it would be nice to be able to use political philosophy to contribute to the ongoing discourse in some way. Especially at the time one of the main ways of framing these debates was in terms of integration.

However, from time to time I did not explicitly focus on the issues of integration. The reason for this is that I think integration is a good example of a kind of concept that it's not merely theoretical. It's also a concept from political practice. Therefore, sometimes we should be careful not just to take it over and adopt it when we do political philosophy, and when we do, we should at least give ourselves time to reflect on its meaning.

I think a project like this is a good opportunity to reflect more on what we actually mean by integration. Is it the right way to frame issues of multiculturalism?

Can you talk a bit more about the concept of integration and the importance of Goodint research focus?

S.L.: I think that at a very fundamental level integration is a good example of something that people have been talking about for decades. There have been many debates and policies where this concept has often been used.

On the other hand, there is relatively little reflection on what we actually mean by integration. And is it the right way to look at the issues related to multiculturalism? Could we look at it in other ways? What would the difference be?

Therefore, I do think the further, more specific feature of the Goodint project that is interesting is that when you look at many of the classical statements that people have been making about integration, equality of opportunity is usually implied there somewhere. Within a certain school of thought about integration it is just taken for granted that it is about equality of opportunity. However, it's often just an assumption. It's not something that has been very explicitly argued. Therefore, it's not always clear what it implies. I think that a project like this is a good occasion to clarify that.

What are your hopes for this project?

S.L.: Well, I hope we will succeed in doing some of these things I talked about, meaning that we will not just take integration as a given, but reflect on it, and not just take equality of opportunity as a slogan, which often happens, but rather we will ask: “Okay, what does it mean?”. And it can mean a variety of things. If you start specifying particular senses of integration and specific senses of equality of opportunity, it might turn out that what is then required is something else than what people usually think. I think this is something the project should examine in an open-minded way, rather than simply establishing what the right answer is beforehand.

How do you think Goodint can also be useful for the broader, non-academic audience?

S.L.: I think that one of the main reasons why most people do political philosophy is that we have an idea that it is relevant. However, we often then do it in a way that's very academic, and not just in a good sense of the word - where we are systematic and think a lot about it and make careful arguments, but it's also often academic in a way that makes it not very accessible to people outside of a very narrow group of specialists.

The challenge is to do academic reflections on these issues in a way that advances our way of understanding them, but at the same time not doing that in a way that makes it something only specialist philosophers can understand or engage with.

That's difficult, because we, academics, tend to complicate things. We say: “Oh, this is not as simple as it looks.” Then we start introducing distinctions and very technical terms and we have very complicated arguments. It is a big challenge to have those kinds of academic debates, and afterwards be able to say what they mean for the real world outside our academic circles. I think that's possible, but it's an additional task that doesn't just stop with having a paper in an academic journal.

How can we make these academic discussions more inclusive towards non-specialists?

S.L.: First, the Goodint project plans events with practitioners and people working in the integration sector. I think that's a very good idea. I also think it's important to include people from the practical sector early on, in order to hear how things are, what are the important issues from their point of view, because otherwise, we can easily get preoccupied with something that seems very interesting from our point of view, but which perhaps, doesn't resonate, or really has any relevance to people out in the field.

However, it is still a challenge, because exactly what we do as academics is to complicate things and question ways of framing issues. Whereas other people, they have more immediate practical concerns. I think that this project at least tries to address this discrepancy.

What are, in your opinion, the most pressing issues regarding migration and integration?

One of the really pressing issues is at a meta level, you might say, because, for 20 years, this has been such a heavily politicized area. People have been disagreeing and fighting over issues about integration and migration to the extent where it has become difficult to have real, serious discussions where people are actually interested in learning something new or in understanding what other people really mean and trying to see if we can agree on something. I think that in most Western countries, it has been an area over which people have polarized.

It has become an area where for many years, the whole point has been to disagree on issues of migration and integration, and not how to achieve compromises or development. This has been reflected in at least some academic debates. I think that many of the debates have started out in almost sectarian positions where it's taken for granted that either this is a problem or that those people who say it's a problem are racist, for instance.

So, I think one challenge is to actually talk about this in a way that's not so heavily politicized. I think there's some hope that this might happen because now we've been doing this for 20 years. Now other issues, such as the pandemic, climate change and so on are starting to take over. This means that the integration and migration issue no longer dominate politics. That might actually be a good thing, because it might allow for more serious discussions, where people are not in as inflexible positions from the beginning.

Another thing, which I've thought about and written about, is this tendency to always discuss issues of integration and issues of migration together. And that's sometimes unfortunate, because even though they are, of course, causally connected; many of the issues of integration are here, because we have had migration. The people who are within the scope of discussions of integration, they are here, they are part of society, and they are probably going to stay. And it's a significant group, where it matters what society does, and how we discuss this. It's often not really a good idea at the same time to discuss migration, and what we should think about that, because this will actually have a tendency to keep the people who are supposed to be integrated in a position as foreigners who should actually not be here. Similarly, some questions regarding migration should be discussed independently of issues of integration, for example the question of providing asylum to refugees, which we should generally not discuss in terms of their ability to integrate since their claim to asylum has a completely different basis.

Sometimes people have had this argument that you can't say this or that about migration, because this reflects badly on the people who are already here. This might sometimes be true, but it is also not very sensible, because it should be possible to discuss migration policies. It would be good if we could, to some extent, separate integration and migration debates. I think that the Goodint project is a potential way of doing that, because it has a very specific focus on saying “let's talk about integration, and just integration from a specific perspective of equality of opportunity. And then we will see if we can avoid talking about migration while doing that.”

Another pressing issue that has to do with the discrepancy between widespread perceptions of where the problems are, and how big they are in integration, and then the actual figures. There was very nice work done on that recently in Denmark, where we have these value surveys that were supposed to measure how integrated migrant groups are on a number of parameters. You have surveys, where you ask them about their opinion towards gender and whether there should be equal opportunities for different people and all kinds of different value questions.

After that there was a further survey where indigenous Danish people were asked about how big they thought the difference was between indigenous Danish people and migrants on these questions. And the result was very interesting, because people generally thought that the differences were much bigger than they were. You have the same results with crime statistics, for instance, people think that young immigrant men are much more criminal than they really are. Even though there's a higher proportion of minority men who have been in contact with the criminal justice system, it's still a quite small faction.

So many people believe that the problems and the differences are much bigger than they actually are. Even though there are still problems, and there are still differences, they are fairly small. I think that it is a pressing issue to somehow get that message across. It's potentially one of the areas where you can be a bit optimistic, because if we succeed in showing that even though there are differences, then they are not as big as many people think, that would be a very good thing.

Do you think then that successful integration would mean that the native society does not perceive the immigrant group as so distant from itself?

S.L.: It's at least a factor. There is a big discussion whether integration should include thinking of minority groups as just parts of society or whether it's also a matter of recognizing in which ways people are different, for instance, that they have different religious beliefs and what this requires of society in terms of accommodation. There are two schools about what it is we should aim for: a French approach, that is extremely universalistic to the extent where you don’t even count minority groups, and you won't talk about the ways in which they differ, and then the complete opposite, which is just about differences.

There are good and bad arguments on both sides. We need to acknowledge the differences that are there, both the positive and negative ones, but we shouldn't overdo it. I think this is something that it's better to discuss with a more specific focus. One possible way of doing that would be to say: “Okay, let's have the focus of equality of opportunity, and which differences do actually matter, and which don't.”

Yes, but then, does it mean that you go back to the assumption that equality of opportunity is a part of integration?

S.L.: Well, yes. I think that there's not a right answer here, that there are different conceptions of integration and equality of opportunity, and that the latter are a part of many conceptions of integration, but probably not all. One thing we can discuss is what is the right ideal of integration you might have, but you can also just have integration and equality of opportunity, as a kind of analytical perspective. Even when you discuss issues and you look at things in these terms, then it's interesting to see which of these differences matter and which might not matter. You could do that without then assuming that this is the right ideal of integration.

Many of the arguments that we make are often conditional or hypothetical in the sense that we say: “Okay, given this premise, things look like this”. That might in itself be a reason for why we should adopt the premise or question the premise. This is just a part of a reflective equilibrium way of thinking. We almost never can have a secure starting point in political philosophy. It's always going back and forth. We say “Okay, if we start here and assume this, then we can make this kind of argument, then we end up here. And that's probably not a good place to be, because that sounds strange. So, we go back, and we adjust our assumptions. And then we see what happens”. This is just a process that in principle goes on and on, and which never ends.

Interview: Sara Toffanin

Text: Joanna Kreft




MtR I: Gina Gustavsson

Today we welcome our first guest: associate prof. Gina Gustavsson from the Department of Government at Uppsala University. She is a specialist on nationalism, pluralism, and cultural issues in relation to migration.

Can you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your academic interest? How did you get involved with Goodint?

Gina Gustavsson: I'm an associate professor at Uppsala Department of Government. I have always combined political theory with political psychology, so I am interested in the intersection of these two disciplines. In particular, thematically, I've always looked at precisely these types of questions of integration that Goodint aims to address. For example, in a postdoc project, I was looking at attitudes to and debates surrounding the Muslim veil, and people wanting to ban it in the name of liberty and liberalism. I've also looked at attitudes to Mohammed cartoons in Denmark and my recent projects have been on national identity.

You could say that I've become sort of a national identity scholar, and national identity is a multi-dimensional, multifaceted issue. This means that there are some dimensions of it, which might be quite conducive to democracy, cohesion, inclusion, but there are certainly also sides that are, in fact, the opposite, that is exclusive and problematic. I'm interested in both those sides and from both a political theory and a psychology perspective.

You recently published the book surrounding some of those issues. Can you tell me more about it?

G.G: I've written a book last year titled “Du stolta, du fria : om svenskarna, Sverigebilden och folkhälsopatriotismen” (trans. “You Proud, you Free. On the Swedes, Brand Sweden, and Public Health Patriotism”). That's a book directed towards the general public, although it contains some research as well on how the national identity in Sweden played out during the pandemic. In this book I argue and try to show that there's a problematic and uncritical side even to civic national identities.

Usually, the idea is that if national identities are civic, and not ethnic, then they will be inclusive. However, my general take on this is that it does not really matter much whether the content of the identity is civic or ethnic, but rather the attitudes people take to the national identity, whether they allow the critique of it, and whether they are very proud of it - the kind of pride that tin the social psychology literature they call collective narcissism. There's the distinction between authentic pride and more hubris related pride, arrogant pride, where we see that if people are very concerned about the reputation of their country, then when threatened, they become more likely to blame problems on outgroups. And that happened in Sweden during the pandemic.

Sweden has shown a unique path in the pandemic. By now, it's fairly obvious that this has cost a lot in terms of excessive deaths and illnesses. You could still argue that it was a good way to handle the issue, because you, for some reason, think the liberty of the middle class is so important. In any case, what is problematic is that we see in our data that if you ask people why immigrants have been disproportionately hit, they believe that it's because of the way immigrants behaved themselves. Whereas we know that it's a structural issue. This has been the case in most countries, including in countries where immigrants speak the language perfectly like a Pakistani minority in the UK. Nevertheless, people in Sweden for example, believe that it's language problems that lie behind the fact that many migrants were hit in Sweden. The pandemic hit the elderly in the nursing homes badly. It happened everywhere, but in Sweden lots of people died. About half of our respondents believe that it's because of immigrants working in those homes not speaking the language well enough. And this is no surprise because authorities, like the Public Health Agency have been saying that in the interviews. It's a more subtle type of racism or at least prejudice. It's not Sweden Democrats, it's not the right wing populist saying this, it's regular people who think of themselves as progressive and tolerant.

Can Goodint address those issues? It seems that we need more research on what it means to be well integrated with society.

G.G: Yes, I think so. It has been my personal view that there's been too much focus on values, and on minorities having or acquiring the same values. And what I'm finding in my recent work with a Danish colleague, is that if you look at immigrants, and their understandings and attitudes towards their new national identity in Denmark, then whether or not they share values with other Danes doesn't really matter for their trust. What matters for them to become trusting of the natives is that they feel Danish or that they feel like they share the national identity. This is a more emotional thing than many political theorists tend to believe. Therefore, I expect we'll have lots of debates on this, because there's other people in the Goodint project too, who think that values are very important, like Nils Holtug, for example. It has just been assumed that if an identity is important then the mechanism of acquiring that identity must be that you share values and you think you have the same ideals as other people. Whereas me and other more psychologically minded scholars are saying: “no, the values may not actually matter”. And then, if that's the case, why should we even have these value contracts and focus on value or shared values in the public policies?

What are your hopes for the GOODINT project?

G.G: There are a lot of great minds in this project. It would be wonderful if we could settle, amongst each other at least, some of the questions that we still don't know the answer to, for example, is social cohesion bad for democracy? That's another thing that I think is especially relevant in the Nordic countries, where there's such a conformism and a very strong wish to get along and to have unity. This has been very obvious during the crisis of the pandemic. This unity is sometimes good for democracy. It's been very good for the welfare state, for sure. But sometimes it stands in contrast to the open society and people hold back their views in public debate. I think immigrants especially find it difficult to criticise their new country because they are expected to be loyal. So, I think that element from an audit perspective is interesting. I spent last year in the UK and I don't think that's such a huge debate there. In Hungary more obvious types of exclusion are problematic. But in the Nordic countries social cohesion is a very interesting aspect. Sometimes it is almost as if people think that the crisis of democracy means that we must protect the unity of our country, which to me is the opposite of protecting democracy. It just means that you silence people who disagree. If those people are immigrants, then there's a prejudiced aspect to that.

What is, in your opinion, the most pressing issue regarding migrant integration?

G.G: I would say the most subtle aspects of prejudice. There is a lot of work, of course, on open, anti immigrant sentiment like racism and intolerance. And I understand that it is still a huge issue in all the three contexts that we are interested in. But I think there's especially in the Nordic countries, a lot has gone under the radar. People who think that they're open to immigrants are, in fact, not always open to immigrants. The most subtle exclusion of immigrants stands in the way of integration, especially in the Nordic countries. We know, for example, from studies by people who are not in this project, that in the Nordic countries civic understandings of nationalism are related to Islamophobia, whereas that's not the case for the rest of Europe. We need to know why this is. I think it has to do with this extreme pride in the unity and trust and the very non conflict prone workings of Nordic democracy.

Yes, people here are very agreeable. Politicians in Norway, for example, do not usually resort to personal insults like it is often the case in some other countries, e.g., Poland.

G.G: Yeah, I mean, the fact that the display of emotions is not open in the Nordic debates, obviously doesn't mean that they're not there. They are more passive aggressive, and I think that sometimes makes it more difficult for immigrants. For example, in the pandemic debate in Sweden, there were immigrants voicing critique, and, and some were told, basically: “Why are you so angry? Take it easy!” And at the same time public officials were saying that the situation in Sweden during the pandemic is bad because of the immigrants and their language concerns, which is quite a grave accusation, though based on no evidence at all. So it's understandable that people would become angry. But if you're angry, then you've lost a debate in the Nordic countries independently, whether you're right or not.

Are there any trends in politics or culture that give you some hope and optimism regarding the progress in handling issues of migration and integration?

G.G: One thing is that it feels like the younger generation of immigrants, sometimes called second generation immigrants, is slightly more visible in the public debate than some years ago. I'm talking about Sweden, which is the only case I am familiar with in this context. What is more, thanks to social media, etc., they can be visible, despite not being included in the major outlets. Well, they are becoming more and more included among journalists for example, but still there is a disproportionate representation among politicians and gatekeepers in the public debate. However, there's a growing presence of immigrant and immigrant voices. I also feel that they don't seem to be all saying the same thing or taking necessarily “the immigrant stance,” but they feel free to take all sorts of stances. So they're not only representing their ethnicities. That's a hopeful trend, and that there are these people who encourage others to voice their opinions, which is something that we need more of.

Do you think that the Covid pandemic has opened the discussion and allowed people to discuss those issues we spoke about?

G.G: It has created a lot of tension. My book generally is about how we need to see this in our own Swedish national identity and culture and understand this subtle prejudice. And it seems like people are quite open to this message now. They certainly weren't when I started writing about this. It feels like there's a certain amount of openness and maybe, in the case of Sweden, there's also increasingly many who are a bit humbled by the Swedish mistake and by the policy failure, though there are certainly lots of people still defending it.

There are also people who have realised now: “my country did something that was wrong, and I went along with it”. I hope that people now might at least be open to debate. My wish would be that people would understand when they discuss the crisis of democracy, which is very much on everyone's lips, for example polarisation, that we have about 20% of our population, who are foreign born, and many of whom are experts in democracy, because they have fled from dictatorships. My mom, who is from Estonia, from the Soviet Union, is the case of that. Those of us who have these experiences and this background, we know the authoritarian tendencies when we see them. Whereas in Sweden (and I think that's true for Norway) people tend to think: “Oh, these immigrants, they come from non-democracies, so we need to teach them about democracy”. I would rather have it flipped around and ask these people about what it is like in everyday life to live in an authoritarian regime. It was especially clear during the pandemic when many Swedes thought what makes an authoritarian regime authoritarian is that police are in the streets stopping you from demonstrating, not that you censor yourself, because you never know what you're allowed to say, etc. So, I think there's a lot to be learned from people who have lived in authoritarian regimes.

Interview and text: Joanna Kreft