Christou, A.: Immigration in Europe and the Integration of the (European) Second Generation, 2012

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Introducing concepts and contexts

Over the last decade an emergence of intensive research on the second generation in the United States has also surfaced in Europe. Research on the second generation has focused mostly on issues of ‘home’, ‘identity’ and ‘belonging’; all three rather fluid concepts often linked to processes of ‘integration’. All these concepts, from ‘generation’ to ‘integration’ are not only complex, contested and ambiguous but also location specific where specificities of particular societies shape both policy and everyday life of migrants and their descendents.

This policy brief will provide an overview of recent studies of the integration of the second generation in Europe and reflect on some core policy considerations.

Scholarly attempts in defining and theorising the second generation have often encountered challenges in situating the term ‘second generation’ in both its descriptive and analytic context. The conflation of ‘second generation’ to include a wide collective of people who are the offspring of the immigrant ‘first generation’ can become problematic analytically and so variable definitions have been advanced to clarify the second generation group in generational terms. But, more importantly, the conceptualisation of the second generation is nearly always correlated to a trajectory of ‘assimilation’ into the host country.

Complications with definitional problems often affect the interpretation and outcome of research when clarification has not been given to whom we include in the category of second generation. A classic routine definition has alluded to those offspring born in the host country to immigrant parents who are considered the immigrant first generation. However, analytical complications may arise when we relax this definition to include those with one immigrant parent and one ‘native’ to the host country or when we include children brought to the host country at a young age. Although the latter case in census and population-register statistics lists those children recorded as ‘foreign-born’ and hence members of the first-generation migration cohort, in strict sociological terms they are practically indistinct from members of the second generation when they arrive in the host country before school age. Yet, we do encounter even more detailed numerically precise definitions of the so-called ‘1.75, 1.5 and 1.25’ generations according to their age of arrival, referring respectively to foreign-born children arriving before 6, between 6 and 12, and after 12 and up to 17 years of age but, in some cases the cut-off age point of generational categorisation can become rather arbitrary and even futile. And whereas in some countries research has started to be conducted on the second generation and their integration, as will be discussed subsequently, in others such as the United Kingdom there is less of an echo of even the usage of the term ‘second generation’ (subsumed under the framing of ‘minority ethnic communities’ in a ‘multicultural context’), yet, in everyday life, events such as 7/7 (the summer 2005 London bombings), strongly underscore that the public and academic absence of discussion indicates the lack of understanding of the second generation, especially in relation to such fluid and often volatile concepts of ‘belonging’ and ‘integration’.

Furthermore, a flurry of recent and exciting research has directed attention to the return migration of the second generation to their respective ancestral homelands, which, however, will not be discussed in this paper but will form the central framework for a subsequent policy brief reconceptualising ‘roots and routes in the age of crises’, in incorporating the present financial and social crisis in Europe into the analysis.

For the time being, in this paper, a brief overview of the phenomenon and the outcome of both quantitative and qualitative research addressing the integration of the European second generation will follow next.

Migrants in their homelands: The ‘Europeanisation’i of the second generation?

Contemporary European cities should be celebrated as vibrant urban spaces of multi-ethnicities, pluri-religiosities and cross-cultural experiences. But, how do the offspring of migrants in Europe feel in terms of their sense of identity and belonging? The excerpts below are revealing:

European and Greek. Because it’s here I grew up, I have the same way of behaving like the Greeks, way of dressing, style of hair; I have lived here most of my life. In Albania I was a little child, I don’t know anything (from there); it’s here I have learnt most of the things. And also European, because now Greece has joined Europe; we behave a bit more differently from before, the foreign languages that have been integrated to communicate with people… I believe these two groups represent me the most. [...] I think it might change in future, because Albania has slowly, slowly started to…what to say? To progress: has started to make the first steps in terms of economy, culture, and I believe that one day Albania with be at the same level as Greece. And then we can say freely that we belong to the Albanian ethnic group, because then they will be equal.

(Vilma, 16 year old female of Albanian origin growing up in Greece, in Vathi, 2010)

It’s the mentality, the mentality is really different, especially at the time [in his youth]; now of course, you grow, you get more mature and you communicate with other people, too. But at the time, it was the communication ….I just WANTED to be with immigrants, and the Swiss were a bit colder and you related less to them. I think it’s simply the interests you had, the common interests, you are secondo, you are an immigrant, and you seek contacts with the same people.’

(Luca born in Switzerland in 1972 of Sicilian origin, in Wessendorf, 2008).

Luca and Vilma are but two cases of the so called ‘new second generation’ but each exemplifying two different migratory histories. In the case of Luca he is one of the offspring born to migrant guestworkers in the 60s and 70s, whereas Vilma exemplifies those second generation children born in the post ’89 migration flows from Eastern to Southern European countries.

Vathi’s (2011) doctoral research is the first mixed method comparative study of the Albanian second generation that examines the ethnic identities, transnational ties and integration pathways of Albanian-origin teenagers in three European cities, namely that of London, Thessaloniki and Florence. The geographic locations are rationally justified as the most appropriate since Greece, Italy and the UK are the three main European destinations where Albanian migrants have arrived and now settled during their quite recent but incredibly intense two decade long migration subsequent to the more than four decades isolation of the country under a communist regime.

Vathi’s study conceptualises integration as a process rather than a static entity and thus in an inductive fashion – while also examining institutional, policy, media and regularisation frames – uncovered intriguing patterns and outcomes on a translocal and transnational level. Such an approach considers both structural and socio-cultural contexts and has revealed that the second generation incorporates that dimension of social integration which is seen through socialisation and friendship interactions as well as host-country ‘youth culture’ experiences. This trend (socio-cultural integration) should be the focus not only of future research on the integration of youth of immigrant origin but also on the top of the agenda of policy makers who need to appreciate the interrelation of structural and social integration.

It is important to draw from Vathi’s research the fact that the second generation develops feelings of belongingness as they become further engaged with experiences of urban identity and city culture and the appreciation of diversity and a cosmopolitan orientation. In this direction, ethnicities are not operationalised as a vehicle to identification and integration but rather tendancies of modernisation (mostly of a ‘westernised’ type) shape comfort zones of feeling to belong to the city, be that Athens, Florence or London in this study which could also be any other European urban setting.

In a study of the Turkish and Moroccan second generation in the Netherlands, views on the ‘multicultural society’ are predominantly positive and very strong among second-generation Turks and Moroccans. However, there appears to be less optimism as regards future trends and this is understandable given the various extremely negative and violent socio-political events in the recent years (Crul and Heering, 2008).

But how about second generation cases where both histories and ethnicities are rather blurred? In the case of second generation Russians in Estonia research (Vetik and Helemäe, 2011) has shown that there is no evidence to support the implicit hypothesis of the predominance of integration theories, which assume when there are instances of weak ethnic identity this indicates a strong sense of belonging to the host country and its society, instead of a strong identification with one’s ethnic group. In this extensive research the findings indicate that variation in the strength of ethnic pride and attachment is not reflected in the different levels of the sense of belonging to Estonia. Therefore, not necessarily do we encounter a rigid demarcation between ethnic groups and majority groups and hence strong borders of exclusion in relation to integration which illustrate that basically belongingness to the ethnic group and the ‘host’ country (of the primary group’s destination) are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Yet, in the case of this research, the central conclusion is that the core obstacle preventing a shared belonging among second-generation Russians is the perceived pressure to assimilate as expressed by both the state and the majority group. Here, we need to extend research to investigate if non-belongingness to either indicates outright alienation and complete lack of identificational integration. Yet, thus far it becomes clear, as documented by recent research, that comfort zones of participation in the society enable greater integration, however, imposed policy of such are not harnessed but repelled.

Speculating the future of the second generation in Europe: reflecting on policy considerations

One of the most critical policy challenges for Europe continues to be that of the integration of the second generation, which, admittedly, is a diversified group in terms of educational attainment, employment status etc. but nevertheless forms an integral part of European societies and communities.

Full participation and equality of social rights should be seen as pathways to integration. Such pathways should refer to full institutional cultural belonging which contextualises the needs of local societies to create inclusive, diverse societies, as well as to involve and mobilise civil society actors in the provision of those integration processes and policies.

The media can contribute to the creation of more inclusive societies by fostering a public understanding of diversity as a phenomenon that should be embraced, and they can aid in the publicity of intercultural projects that involve wider civil society.

Local governmental and non-governmental organisations must collaborate with communities and civil society actors in the provision of those integration processes and policies.

Universities as educational centres of learning and socialisation should strive to include within their curricula, degree programmes and individual courses that contribute to combating everyday racisms, hierarchies, power geometries, exclusions and marginalisations of those groups that are minoritised and racialised in our societies. As academics we should be in constant consciousness that our work as teachers is not to just convey subject-specific knowledge or simply to share the vast information flow in the subjects we teach but to inspire students to strive toward an ethical pursuit of their civic roles in becoming responsible social subjects and inclusively-driven world citizens.

Only when turbulence shocks the foundations of society does the attention of public and politicians alike come to the forefront of debate on belonging under the discourse of ‘social and community cohesion’. The riots of Paris in 2005, Estonia in 2007, Copenhagen in 2008, Athens in 2009 and the UK in 2001 and London in 2011 over cultural symbols and multiethnic symbiotic living brings the subject to the spotlight which then fades with time but always without resolve to achieving societies sterilised from the toxic effects of xenophobia. This is the time to re-energise discussions and to engage the public in a dialogue to creating participatory societies so we can strip away the label of currently living through an era of crises and replace it with one of constructive change.


Crul, M. and/J. Doomernik: The Turkish and the Moroccan second generation in the Netherlands: Divergent Trends between and Polarization within the Two Groups (International Migration Review, 37, 4, pp. 1039-1065, 2003)

Crul, M./H. Vermeulen: The Second Generation in Europe (Introduction, International Migration Review, 37, 4, pp. 965-986, 2003)

Crul, M./Heering, L.: The Position of the Turkish and Moroccan Second Generation in Amsterdam and Rotterdam: The TIES Study in the Netherlands (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2008)

Vathi, Z.: The Children of Albanian Migrants in Europe: Ethnic Identity, Transnational Ties and Pathways of Integration (DPhil University of Sussex, UK, 2011)

Vathi, Z.: A context issue? Comparing the Attitude towards Return of the Albanian First and Second Generation in Europe (Journal of Mediterranean Studies 20 (2): 343-364, 2011)

Vathi, Z.: A matter of power? (Ethnic) Identification and integration of the Albanian-origin immigrants in Thessaloniki (Working paper No 62, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, 2010)

Vathi, Z.: Local identities, incorporation and identification of Albanian immigrants in Florence (Working paper No 60 of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research, 2010)

Vathi, Z.: New Brits? Migration and settlement of Albanian-origin immigrants in London (Working paper No 57 of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research, 2010)

Vetik, R./Helemäe, J. (eds.): The Russian Second Generation in Tallinn and Kohtla-Järve: The TIES Study in Estonia (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011)

Wessendorf, S.: Negotiating Italianità: Ethnicity and Peer-Group Formation among Transnational Second-Generation Italians in Switzerland (Working Paper No 48, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, 2008)

i Scholars who research and write on the ‘Europeanisation’ theme broadly conceive this to be interrelated with the impact of the EU on domestic politics and have variably developed their own definitions that mostly reveal a degree of commonality in their conclusions. My usage of the term ‘Europeanisation’ is meant here as an extension of scholarly debates on the issue of integration of the second generation in Europe as ‘European’ in their totality of membership in their societies and not simple as members of EU member states.

Anastasia Christou, University of Sussex, UK, 2012




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