Nordic Migration and Integration Research

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Pyrhönen, Niko ; Martikainen, Tuomas ; Leinonen, Johanna (2017)
  • Subject: 5141 Sociology

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Migration and integration are currently highly contentious topics in political, public and scientific arenas, and will remain so in the near future. However, many common migration-related prejudices and inefficien¬cies in the integration of the migrant population are due to the lack of sound, tested and accessible scientific research. Therefore, the study of migration – by developing basic research and by properly resourcing novel methodological approaches and interventions – will be instrumental in providing a better knowledge base for decision-makers and promoting a more informed population at large. This is the grand purpose this overview report seeks to facilitate. This report was commissioned by NordForsk in August 2016, and has been written by two senior researchers at the Migration Institute of Finland (MIF), Niko Pyrhönen and Johanna Leinonen, with supervision by MIF’s director Tuomas Martikainen. It is based on two main sources: 1) interviews with 56 Nordic experts on migration and integration conducted in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden in late 2016, and 2) an online survey of 356 respondents, distributed to researchers via mailing lists of several Nordic research networks and institutions. The report also includes an overview of current migration trends, a review of central aspects of Nordic migration and integration research, and an overview of research infrastructure in the field. The authors set out on this five-month project with an ambitious goal of charting the current state of Nordic field of migration and integration research. On the one hand, the importance and topicality of this work have been underlined by an emerging sense of global and local migration crisis in the aftermath of a sudden and rapid influx of refugees and asylum-seekers into Europe since the autumn of 2015. On the other hand, an overview such as this is also needed to develop Nordic research collaboration in a contested, polarized and politicized field. We believe that documenting, analyzing and distributing critical assessment and constru¬ctive ideas expressed by researchers with a remarkable array of disciplinary and thematic expertise can help unleash a wide range of unrealized potential and further develop Nordic added value to its fullest extent. The most important results are outlined in this summary, and discussed in more detail in the main body of the report. While all the respondents who participated in this project acknowledge the salience of the crisis sentiment in public, political and scientific debates, most would also like to engage in research that further problema¬tizes and deconstructs the very term ‘refugee crisis’. Considering that the number of international migrants has increased by 60 percent since 1990, and that the number of refugees in 2014 was the highest since World War II, it seems evident that there was a crisis already before the crisis. Demographers, human rights lawyers, and researchers of international relations point out that the rising volume of asylum-seekers has revealed a general disillusionment in the ability of international conventions to adapt properly to ‘the new age of migrations’. As a result, more and more migrants are falling between rigid legal categories and thus being defined as ‘irregular’. However, many respondents point out that the local manifestation of this crisis is often one of national solidarity, which especially in the Nordic context has long been marked by a mythical yearning for a common national purpose exemplified in the Swedish concept of 'folkhemmet', the peoples’ home. The formation of distinct political fault lines between those emphasizing global responsibility of the Global North for the refugees and those advocating the use of advanced border measures to bring migrancy under political control started as far back as the early 2000s. Many respondents are worried about a similar polarization of research into ‘humanist’ and ‘technocratic’ ‘epistemic communities’. Such a development is particularly evident in the endeavors to conceptualize migration as a ‘stress test’ for the Nordic welfare state. There is consensus among the research community that directly policy-relevant approaches are needed to create more resilient systems for integrating migrants. Indeed, excellent register and census data make the Nordic countries a unique comparative context for ‘most similar’ research designs. However, in order to find corroboration between different studies and empirically gauge for best practices, the respondents call for more harmonized data, definitions and framings – supported by theoretical development that challenges methodological nationalism and the notion of Nordic exceptionalism. Even though most Nordic research institutions consist of markedly multidisciplinary staff, there is much room for improvement in cooperation between humanists and social scientists. Respondents agree that rigorous nesting of qualitative and quantitative approaches in the same research projects and work packages is called for in order to reach more sound empirical conclusions. It is worth noting that the researchers themselves are overwhelmingly positive towards increased introduction of such nested approaches. A commonly raised concern, however, is that the funders are not able to properly merit or incentivize experimental, mixed-met¬hod projects, and rarely request explicitly that these projects are to be completed in collaboration between institutions from more than one Nordic country. When asked to discuss specific gaps in the contemporary Nordic research on migration and integration, researchers list methodological questions as being among the most common concerns. Here most of the respondents underline the importance of more careful and expansive historical contextualization and network-embedded research of informal movements. Researchers of civil society and the media sphere hope to see new computational methods adopted to tackle big data-related hurdles, possibly also offering prognostics on how to counter increasing xenophobia. Health and welfare researchers, in particular, point to the need to introduce longitudinal and ‘life-course’ follow-up projects and action research components with scalable intervention pilots. The respondents acknowledge that policy-oriented research on certain topics, such as urban segregation, structural discrimination and large-scale labor migration, has matured much more across the Atlantic. As such, many advocate searching for more appropriate benchmarks for integration success and failure outside the Nordic context – instead of merely measuring employment and income gaps between the minority and majority populations against those in other Nordic countries. Most of the experts interviewed further suggest that focusing on minorities and the autochthonous population simultaneously is a particularly fruitful means for examining, illustrating and developing Nordic added value in migration and integration research. The array of challenges is not limited to difficulties in crossing disciplinary boundaries, but is also reflected in the isolation of themes that are pursued in Nordic research projects. Such segregation can be seen, for example, in how policies and their effects in key research streams – movement, settlement and control measures – are commonly assessed by individuals in different research programs or work packages. While the increased availability of funding for sector-based research, especially in the aftermath of the crisis, is acknowledged as a good thing in principle, it also serves to further fragment the research field into more narrowly focused competencies. As rising research areas – such as forced migration, discrimination and health and well-being – are starting to reach the traction held by areas such as integration, labor market and education, there are even more reasons and more avenues for funders to develop Nordic research by demanding synthesizing, nesting and mixed-method approaches. Peer reviewed
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