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Multicultural Democracy and Immigrants' Social Capital in Europe: Participation, Organisational Networks, and Public Policies at the Local Level

Final Report Summary - LOCALMULTIDEM (Multicultural Democracy and Immigrants' Social Capital in Europe: Participation, Organisational Networks, and Public Policies at the Local Level)

The main objective of this project is to study the degree of political integration of the foreign immigrant population in several European cities, and therefore to study multicultural democracy at the local level. This project defines the concept of political integration as the combination of the degree of socio-political participation and the level of trust and acceptance of the political values, institutions and elites of the host society. We believe that this project is making, and will continue to make in the medium-term, a substantial contribution to the state of the art in several ways.

First, this is the first European project of this nature to study such a wide range of cases with the same methods of data collection, and at multiple levels of analysis. This project, thus, sets a new and high methodological standard for the study of migrants' political integration in Europe and elsewhere for its genuine comparative approach.

Second, the amount of information gathered is so large that the contributions will continue in the years to come. This report has only provided a small sample of the vast possibilities for analysis that the data collected with the project offers. In the coming years, the number of analyses that we will be able to do of the data will grow substantially, and with the public release of the dataset three years after the conclusion of the project (2012) the potential users and possibilities for analysis will grow exponentially.

Third, the fact that the project has been coordinating its data collection design and instruments with other teams external to the consortium (in Belgium, Norway and Sweden in particular) means that there is an even greater added value to the project in terms of the capacity to reach more generalisable and far-reaching conclusions. This become evident with the forthcoming publication of an edited volume in contract with Palgrave to be published by the end of 2010, where the data for the Norwegian and Swedish case will be included in the analyses, as well as equivalent data that were collected for the cities of Barcelona (Spain) and Geneva (Switzerland) with national research funding.

Fourth, this project also contributes substantially to the state of the art by emphasising the importance of the local context. Without denying the relevance of the national context, as our own results indicate, the important variations that are to be found at the local level in the opportunities afforded to immigrants to integrate in the political life of the countries where they reside has too often been neglected. Comparative studies have in the past focused on the national level, while the local level was often relegated to case studies or comparisons of a couple of cases. This project is the first of its nature to show that genuine comparative designs that focus on the local level can truly provide us with extremely valuable insights as to what policies work better for the purposes of integrating migrants to the public sphere.

Finally, in terms of the major policy implications of this project, we want to highlight two. On the one hand, this project shows that simplistic public and policy discourses about migrants' political integration and the various policies and factors that drive it fail to acknowledge the complexity of the issue at stake. The notion of political integration is indeed multidimensional, and this means that different 'types' or 'forms' of political integration result in different outcomes across contexts and in sometimes diverging antecedents. The policies directed at reducing the gaps between the autochthonous and the migrant population in relation to the attitudinal dimension of political integration will not necessarily be effective in reducing the equivalent gaps in the behavioural dimension. Different patterns of inequalities in political integration need to be tackled with different policy strategies. On the other hand, this project also calls to a greater responsibility in the way that institutional, political and public discourses about Muslims are conducted. Our study shows that there is no empirical support for the assumption that migrants of Muslim religion are more 'difficult' to integrate than the rest. Hence, policies need to be designed to reduce the extreme prejudices against Muslims that often populate public discourses, even by key political elites and often also by policy-makers.

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