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Welfare and Values in Europe: Transitions related to Religion, Minorities and Gender

Final Report Summary - WAVE (Welfare and Values in Europe: Transitions related to Religion, Minorities and Gender)

This project aimed to generate new insight into the religious, minority and gendered values which influence social cohesion and social change in European society. Innovative in scope and methodology, this study captures a set of complex relations between religion, minorities and gender, because it is at the juncture of these three domains that some of the sharpest transitions in value systems are taking place in Europe. WAVE is predicated on the assumption that intangible concepts such as 'cultural identities' and 'values' are understood best through the ways in which they are expressed and developed in practice. It thus examines the interaction of diverse value systems through the prism of welfare: who provides what to whom, and for what reasons, are critical markers of the values of a given community, as are who demands what and for what reasons.

The aims of the WAVE project were originally structured around the concepts of conflict and cohesion, asking whether and the extent to which religiously-informed values led to conflict or cohesion between majorities and minorities in diverse European societies, all to be examined within the context of welfare demands and welfare provision.

Our research indicates that most majority-minority interaction in the domain of welfare lies somewhere between the categories of 'conflict' and 'cohesion', in a large grey area which requires careful navigation. Here, we find such resource factors such as time, space, and money as operative in the actual interaction between majorities and minorities, and more every day factors such as the role of the media, communication (which often boils down to the issue of language, and the minority's knowledge of the majority language), immigration policy, employment policy, and the role of 'professional helpers' (those who administer welfare policies, the first point of contact for many minorities with majority individuals). Besides particular factors, we also have different 'dimensions' of conflict or tensions, for example, between different minority groups (rather than between majority and minority), or between different generations of the same groups. The same applies regarding dimensions of cohesion. Meanwhile, our research questions the very notions of conflict and cohesion and identifies complex (rather than dichotomous) relations between the two whereby, for example, conflict may be a necessary precursor to longer-term cohesion. This is an important improvement on the state of the art, as we were able to offer, in our case study reports, indications of the conditions under which religiously-informed values might lead to tensions or rather to solidarity between groups. Further, we have indicated how in many cases it is conflicts of interests, rather than of values, at play in majority-minority tensions in various contexts.

Critical to our work in the WAVE project is careful attention to this large grey area, comprised of active resource factors, and pointing to different dimensions of conflict and cohesion beyond majority-minority relations and to different relationships between conflict and cohesion.

A further significant development in the WAVE project, and improvement upon the state of the art, is evidence of the ambiguity to be found in Europe regarding whether we are striving to preserve diversity, or rather to promote integration (often through pressure to assimilate). In some cases, there seems to be only a fine line between the two, as in even the most 'progressive' of contexts insofar as openness to difference is concerned we find examples of pressure to conform to the national status quo. The area of gender equality in northern European contexts is one such case, where the majority value of gender equality may override the majority value of preserving diversity.

Related to the ambiguity between the aim to preserve diversity and that to promote integration is an ambivalence over the role of minority networks in social cohesion versus tensions between minorities and majorities. Minority associations and networks may simultaneously carry the potential for greater integration into majority society by increasing minority self-esteem, recognising and encouraging the use of their own resources, and symbolically at least setting minority welfare services in the same domain as (and perhaps even on equal footing with) other majority-provided welfare services, on the one hand, and the potential for further segregation and isolation of minorities from majority society, on the other. The extent to which minority associations' practice is a positive implementation of the subsidiarity principle is a question that arose in our research. This is indeed a very difficult question to resolve, but our research has offered important clues into the circumstances under which minority networks may serve an integrating versus a segregating function. It also opened further questions regarding 'good' versus 'bad' segregation, and how we are to determine the difference, and who is better placed to make such a judgement.

In short, our research methods brought us close to the experiences and concerns arising in the everyday experiences of minority-majority interaction on the ground and thus offered us the opportunity to observe and record these above-mentioned 'bigger questions' which influence these every day experiences.

It should be noted here that the WAVE project offers us a snapshot of these national and local contexts in the 2006-2009 period. Many of the insights gathered are timeless; others will be influenced by external factors, such as the current global economic crisis (especially in the extent to which our results relate to labour migration).

On the basis of our research we have generated a broad list of policy recommendations relevant at the local, national, and EU level. Meanwhile, through dissemination events carried out at the local and national level in each case, we fulfilled the objective of achieving a close interaction with stakeholders and informing them about EU objectives related to the research, as well as gathering their views on local policies for transmission to the European Commission.

The aforementioned insights achieved through the WAVE project will be valuable for studies of minorities in Europe; majority-minority relations; welfare in the European setting; and majority and minority values. Already, the WAVE project results have been available for impact on these research areas through the reports available on the WAVE website. But the larger impact on this research sector was made through the WAVE International Final Conference (held in Uppsala in March of 2009). Here, the WAVE results were presented by its researchers, followed by presentations of related research by researchers from different parts of the world. Thus already the WAVE material has embarked on an interaction with other research in the field, and it is expected that this trend will be enhanced in the coming months as further publications arise from the research.

The WAVE proposal included a three-level plan for dissemination which we have now implemented: presentations of the results at the local level and the national level (these took different forms in the various case studies, as appropriate to each setting); and reports based on feedback from stakeholders present at those conferences, which formed the basis of a conference at the European level. The latter took place 26-28 March 2009, at the University of Uppsala. Further, the WAVE material has been used in the courses taught by several of the WAVE scholars. And a WAVE website has been in operation since the start of the project, publicising news on the development of the project. The state of the art reports are available online, as well as the case study reports.