Focus: Re-Examining Integration Through the Study of Narrative, Personal Experience and the Everyday

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Umut Korkut, Doga Atalay and Marcus Nicolson (Glasgow Caledonian University)

The recent media footage of migrants trying desperately to cross the English Channel in dinghies and other small boats has been dominating everyday discussion of migration to the UK. Even if the UK is no longer an EU member migration still remains high on the agenda. In fact, despite the Brexiteers’ claim that leaving the EU would allow the UK to control its borders, an absence of collaboration between UK and its EU neighbours is actually likely to increase irregular migration into the UK.  At the same time, the acute increase in irregular crossings into Britain from the continent also presents a challenge and the migration system requires a comprehensive elaboration involving all policy fields from reception to integration. Thereby, the policy essence of migration politics should concentrate on essential issues of social inclusion.

The extensive academic literature (Phillimore, 2008, 2011) on migration is concerned with various aspects of integration such as employment, housing, language teaching, education and recreation activities recognising the pivotal role they fulfil for both migrants and members of host society. While recognising the essential role that such integration focused policies harness in building more inclusive societies we aim, in this special issue, to move away from policy to practice in order to delineate social inclusion in everyday sites which bring together migrants as newcomers and locals as their hosts. We also show what happens when communities remain polarised and not inclusive. Underlining social inclusion as the most fundamental element for diminishing the boundaries between the newcomers and their hosts, we argue that the current policy debates fall short of elucidating what makes social inclusion a blurred process.

Social inclusion is informed by social interactions between the migrants and the locals. Thanks to these interactions, newcomers and their hosts give cues about their identities to each other. People express their identities to each other using their self-narratives. Narrative is a way of explaining or telling of an event or a story. The same story can be told in different forms on different occasions (Wilson and Stapleton, 2017:6). Everyone is born into a narrative environment. People make sense of the world and position themselves in it through stories (Hammack, 2011; McAdams, 1996) informed by these narrative environments. Bruner claims that “narratives are our obligatory medium for expressing ourselves to others” (Bruner, 2002:89). There are not only one or two narratives in our lives, but a huge number on different aspects and topics.

Bruner also claims that people are generating their own narratives from a range of “possible” lives and life-styles available (Bruner, 2004:694). In other words, we are creating our own narratives and departing from existing “narrative templates” (Wilson and Stapleton, 2017) availed to us by our family and society. Every person creates their narratives by harmonizing their cultural codes and their personal experiences on particular topics. This is an important point. We see that people’s daily life experiences play role in the narrative making process that cannot be ignored. When people lack ‘story’ or experience in a particular topic, however, they tend to build their narratives on the template following what their societies laid for them (Wilson and Stapleton, 2017).

The association between particular lifestyles and particular identities becomes detectable via self-narratives. Moreover, understanding the relationship between identity and narratives is crucial in order to explore how narratives relate to behaviour in groups. That is, we bring our narratives into all kinds of societal relationships. In these, finding people who hold similar narratives to us is more important than finding people with similar identities. Sharing similar identities does not always mean that people share similar lifestyles. In order, for this to occur, we need to have accessible environments where we can express the narratives that represent our identities and foster social interaction with those others holding similar narratives.  What may make these environments accessible for all is the extent to which such environments accommodate the lifestyle choices of narrative holders – in the case of our research expressed through sports and art-related-volunteering activities. These accessible environments would also be the context where joint narratives emerge leading to joint belongingness accommodating the newcomers and their hosts in narrative communities.

The EU AMIF (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) funded VOLPOWER (Volunteer and Empower: Enhancing Community Building and Social Integration through Dialogue and Collaboration amongst Young Europeans and Third Country Nationals) Project, that Glasgow Caledonian University leads, examines the impact of volunteering in sports and arts activities for young adults in seven countries across the European Union. In particular, the research project investigates the experiences of young adult EU-national and Third Country National volunteers in Austria, Croatia, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Through working closely with focus groups of young adult volunteers in each location we explore the relationship between volunteering and social inclusion for migrant and non-migrant individuals. The project has arranged workshops and participatory research methods in the investigative process to understand how identity negotiation operates for migrant groups in each locality. Furthermore, we seek to build an understanding of the impact that narratives, and discourse around migration, has upon young adult’s lives in each country. In this special issue, based on our research in seven sites as well as in Turkey, we pursue a new interpretation for integration concentrating on the importance of joint belongingness that inclusive communities foster.

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