21.4.2015 | Von:
Naika Foroutan

Integration as a Metanarrative

Integration is a contested term. So far, attempts to replace it by another term were not successful. Instead, it should no longer be reduced to migrants and their descendants but should be expanded into society as a whole.

Begegnungszentrum der Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) in Berlin-Kreuzberg"What is German?" Poster at an AWO (Workers’ Welfare Association) community centre in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. (© picture-alliance/ZB)

Although integration is perceived as a political term referring to recent German history and the transformation of Germany into a country of immigration, the concept of integration was already popular in the Weimar Republic thanks to the "integration doctrine" developed by Rudolf Smend in his 1928 book Verfassung und Verfassungsrecht (Constitution and Constitutional Law). In this case, however, it was not applied to foreigners or immigrants but to all citizens of Germany and the interplay between the state and the individual. Citizens were to enter into a relationship with the state by being included in the political process. The state was to commit itself to integrating its citizens via the Constitution. The focus here was primarily on the (nation) state as the source of a community-building idea. It is primarily the overarching message of Smend’s integration doctrine – namely that a society needs an "object shared by all its citizens" and a vision of integration to become a community – that has led to retrospective criticism[1]. We now know that, over the course of history, the national community formation that Smend was calling for as an overarching concept – i.e., as a metanarrative (also called grand narrative) – increasingly grew into an ideology to which German citizens absolutely (if temporarily) subordinated themselves.



A metanarrative (also called grand narrative) is an overarching idea or worldview that tries to explain societal phenomena from a superordinate perspective. Metanarratives reduce complexity and serve as guides for structuring one's own behavior and explaining that of others.
Grand narratives (metanarratives) still exist. Although in principle they should foster community-building, they also repeatedly lead to crises and conflicts. This is because many metanarratives identify strong counter-motives in other ways of life (e.g., communism, Islamism, nationalism, etc.). There are many examples that demonstrate the appeal of these "grand narratives." The results of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's regularly published Mitte Studien ("Middle-studies"), for example, show that the popularity of xenophobic, Islamophobic and homogenizing attitudes in the form of nationalism extends to mainstream society[2]. The young people's turn towards radical and extreme Islamist groups also illustrates the appeal of exclusivist grand narratives that provide people with structure and make sense of society for them.

This raises the question of whether highly heterogeneous societies require an overarching grand narrative that guides policy and action and that provides them with structure, orientation and meaning and thus counteracts feelings and ideas of parallel structures, chaos, disorder and a lack of connectedness.

It also raises the question of whether grand narratives can have a meaningful and structural effect on policy without excluding and homogenizing repercussions – i.e., grand narratives that permit multiple perspectives and yet create meaning and build community?

Proponents of such an overarching concept, of such a grand narrative for Germany assume that constitutional patriotism alone is not sufficient to promote social cohesion. The Council on Migration thus calls for an additional action-guiding motive that politically defines how this new heterogeneous Germany narrates itself: "An immigration society is complicated. It is not self-explanatory and does not automatically include all citizens. The implicitness and corresponding identity of a post-migrant society therefore needs to be actively established. We need a republican approach, modeled after traditional immigration countries, that can serve as a beacon for all citizens."[3]

Such a superordinate approach should facilitate integration into a post-migrant society. Integration thus becomes the responsibility of the entire population, for which the state must provide the appropriate structures. At the same time, integration as described above is itself a metanarrative that creates meaning regarding future development options for the heterogeneous, post-migrant society and is composed of the sub-segments and objectives of participation, equality and belonging. The aim of this metanarrative is to lead the political system to structural change that overcomes discrimination and societal inequality and thereby strengthens social cohesion. The grand narrative of "Integration" states that it is possible to create belonging and identification beyond a legal and individual sense for all citizens in an increasingly heterogeneous society, including new citizens and those who cannot get used to this "diverse" Germany.

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


Walter (2012).
See Decker/ Brähler (2006); Decker/ Kiess/ Brähler (2008); Decker et al. (2010); Decker/ Kiess/ Brähler (2012); Decker/ Kiess/ Brähler (2014).
www.rat-fuer-migration.de/pdfs/PM_Pegida_Einstellungen_BPK.pdf (accessed: 2-17-2015).
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