21.4.2015 | Von:
Naika Foroutan

Do We Still Need the Concept of Integration?

In general, the term integration is understood as referring primarily to people with migration backgrounds and their involvement in German society. That is why it is a highly contested term. Do we still need it then?

Demonstranten gegen den Nationalen Integrationsplan vor dem KanzleramtWhat does "integration" mean? Protesters object against the "National Plan for Integration" in front of the chancellery in July 2007. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

The call to replace the term "integration" with, for example, "inclusion" has been raised repeatedly in recent years. But because the public understanding of the concept of inclusion is associated with people with disabilities, an expansion of that concept is not possible at the moment.

In addition, the question remains: Would abolishing or banning the concept of integration ultimately have any meaning if the underlying structures are preserved? Böcker, Goel and Heft have already rejected this idea in their critical reflection on the concept of integration: "The violence of the discourse around integration cannot be counteracted by choosing an alternative term. It is less the word 'integration' that is problematic than the racist exclusion underlying the discourse that is reproduced by any uncritical mention of integration."[1]

It is easier to decouple the word integration from the notion of migration and to define it in line with its original meaning and purpose for all of society than to fill an entirely new word with this semantic content. In view of the paradigm shift of the concept of integration, the following would indicate the meaning and purpose of integration:
  1. equitable economic, legal and political participation of all citizens in society's central assets
  2. for the purpose of creating equal opportunities
  3. and eliminating discrimination and inequality.
  4. In addition, symbolic recognition and therefore belonging and participation would need to be included as a meaningful end point in the narrative of a new integration paradigm.
  5. And it would have to be made clear that integration is not just a question of cultural, ethnic, religious or national origin but just as much a matter of social stratum and class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. All this defines the heterogeneous society that is given as the empirical basis. Integrating into this society is a great challenge.
Integration would thus be a metanarrative that gives meaning and purpose to heterogeneity. Simply saying that "Germany is diverse" without explaining the tasks and requirements that accompany such heterogeneity seems to overwhelm many people.

The objective of policy would then be to give all citizens the chance to integrate into a heterogeneous, post-migrant society and to facilitate this integration while simultaneously making the process more equitable. Integration would therefore be more than the sum of its parts. Simply replacing the term with the word “participation” would deprive us of a concept that is worth fighting for as a society.

This text is part of the policy brief Integration in a Post-Migrant Society.


Böcker/ Goel/ Heft (2010), pp. 309-310.
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