Event Report: Redefining Integration

Written by:
Lester Holloway
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As Dame Louise Casey's report throws the definition of integration into sharp relief, to a mixed chorus of unbridled gleeful and concerned criticism, Runnymede Communications Coordinator Lester Holloway looks back at our timely Redefining Integration conference last week.

With Donald Trump the president-elect of America, Brexit in Britain and the threat of the far right National Front winning the French presidency, what is the role of integration today? That was one of the questionsdebated by an experienced panel of academics and thought leaders at Redefining Integration.

The central focus fordebate was how we define integration and its role in bringing communities together. You can watch a video (15 mins) here.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, told the conference that discussion around integration had reflected a society polarised by Brexit. He said there had been a “redistribution of anxiety” with people who had been more complacent about community relations now feeling shaken up, and those who were previously pessimistic now feeling more upbeat after the referendum and Trump’s victory.

He said: “It’s made less contentious the idea that there are things to sort out on how we live together and how fair our society is in socio-economic terms. But there is probably going to be a greater polarisation about that. I think there’s a lack of clarity when we talk about integration, what it means and why we think it matters, how we explain that and who does what about it. There quite a lot of common ground but somewhat different starting points about which of these things are the first thing to deal with it.”

Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, added: “What is central government’s role and obligation in promoting equal citizenship? Rather than looking at ‘can we force neighbours to like each other more’, or have dinner with each other more frequently, if we’re really interested in contact the levers that policymakers have are things like housing allocation, like schools admissions policies… to ensure that middle class parents don’t game the system. There is a role in encouraging greater contact but that is more at a local level and arguably by non-governmental organisations, including anti-racist organisations.”

Dr Laurence Lessard-Phillips and Dr Silvia Galandini of the Universities of Manchester and Birmingham presented their research on integration. The day conference, at NCVO’s offices in King’s Cross London, was co-sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, and the universities of Birmingham and Manchester.

Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper, who is completing a PhD at Oxford University, spoke about how certain crimes had become racialised, such as honour killings, when patriarchal violence against women which stemmed from feelings of being ‘dishonoured’ crossed religious and ethnic communities. He said the criminal justice system had created “separate categories of crime” for people of colour and this showed that the system itself was unwilling to integrate into a diverse society.

Dr Zubaida Haque of the Runnymede Trust said: “From a research perspective I sometimes don’t understand what’s being measured when we talk about integration. People talk about segregation when in fact they’re talking about ethnic diversity. Integration isn’t a simplistic concept; it happens through more than one dimension.

“We also need to think about different stages of integration. Having a sense of belonging to a particular group, whether it’s a minority group or a community or a religion, is important for the beginning stages of integration, especially for minority communities. It creates a sense of stability. Safety and stability also means that communities, new migrant communities as well as old migrant communities, are [safe from] fear of racial harassment and racism.”

Other speakers included Dr Jenny Phillimore, Dr Neli Demireva, Dr Ben Gidley and Sophie Ngo-Diep.

The #RDintegration hashtag was used90 times during the day, reaching more than 95,000 Twitter users and almost 450,000 timeline deliveries.

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