Project Project
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Social cohesion and immigrant-native-born gaps: The role of integration regimes and political mobilisation

Research Fields
Project Management
Dietlind Stolle (McGill University), Tim Reeskens (Tillburg University), Matthew Wright (University of California, Berkley), Cameron Stark (McGill University)

Theoretical background and objectives

The consequences of ethnic and racial diversity are at the centre of attention of a wide variety of empirical studies in political science. An entire research agenda was pushed forward when political scientist Robert Putnam first announced that Americans who live in diverse neighbourhoods are least likely to engage in society and social interactions. Based on the results of the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, Putnam argues that at least in the short run ethnic and racial diversity are likely to reduce social solidarity, social capital and particularly social trust between citizens. Various studies have been undertaken to test and counter these results in a cross-national context. So far the consensus is that the negative effects hold outside of the US in Canada, but are admittedly weaker within and across European countries.

However, before concluding that racial and ethnic diversity have detrimental effects on trust and other civic attitudes throughout all Western societies, we need to extend current research. Two aspects are studied in more detail in this project. In a first part we hypothesise that the rhetoric of political parties influences whether diversity negatively affects social cohesion. Political campaigns might use a divisive rhetoric of "nationalistic and anti-immigration" positions with the potential of heightening the perceived conflict between native-borns and immigrants. In order to test this argument, we investigate the influence of political rhetoric framed on cultural issues, i.e. nationalism and multiculturalism.

Within this debate, a new critique has emerged which focuses on how integration and immi­gration policy regimes might help to overcome the negative effects of diversity. Integration regimes are assumed to display symbolic messages about the inclusiveness of society which help to increase generalised trust and other aspects of social cohesion. However, while many of these accounts focus on the overall population's generalised trust as the best measure of social cohesion following Putnam's example, they fail to take into account the gaps between immigrants and native-borns on various dimensions of social capital or civic engagement. Ob­vious­ly societies that manage to create lower immigrant-native born gaps on various measures such as trust, democratic values, political participation and engagement are prone to exhibit higher levels of social cohesion than societies where these gaps are insurmountably high. These aspects will be investigated in the second part of this project. Both aspects that are investigated in this project relate to the relationship between assimilation/retention and solidarity/ trust/cooperation that constitutes an important aspect of the MIT research programme.

Research design, data and methodology

Both parts of this project will be analysed by comparing a large variety of West European countries. Multilevel analyses will allow us to test the impact of political mobilisation and integration regimes. Data for political rhetoric and individual attitudes are obtained from the Comparative Manifesto Project and all four waves of the European Social Survey (2002-2008). The integration regimes are operationalised with data from the MIPEX-project.


Helbling, Marc/Reeskens, Tim/Stolle, Dietlind (2010): "Bringing Political Parties back in – Cultural Diversity, Social Cohesion and Political Mobilisation." (under review).