Two opposing positions
Since the 1980s, most of the debate in the social sciences in Germany on the societal roles of MSOs has revolved around two opposing positions: Either MSOs are seen as promoting or as hindering integration. At issue as the framework for this discussion is essentially the question as to what effects a strong involvement of migrants in ethnic and country-of-origin-related social relations and groups have on their participation in and integration into the society of arrival. Some studies, such as Breton (1964),
The sociologist Hartmut Esser has drawn precisely the opposite conclusion, noting that successful internal ethnic integration increases the risk of separation from the society of arrival (Esser 1986). In the short run, getting involved in one's own ethnic group may seem promising and may help immigrants to cope in the country of arrival and to stabilize their own identity in the difficult situation of migration. However, Esser suspects that, in the long run, getting too deeply involved with one’s own ethnic group of reference may prove to be a ‘trap’ which may prevent socioeconomic advancement because integration into the educational system and the labor market of the host country can only be successful if immigrants adapt to the demands of the host country.
Several migration researchers have also emphasized that little empirical research has been done on the specific impacts of internal ethnic integration and MSOs and that it is impossible to draw any useful conclusions, "particularly about their role as integration-promoting sluices or as segregation-promoting, mobility-preventing sociocultural traps" (Fijalkowski and Gillmeister 1997: 29, transl. by the author).
No consensus on the role and impact of MSOs
Although numerous individual empirical studies on MSOs have been conducted since the 1980s, no consensus has been reached on the predominant role and impact of MSOs. Indeed, "the integrative and disintegrative potential of self-organizations have received considerable attention from researchers and have become the subject of much controversy in the public and scholarly debates, with one side accusing [MSOs] of creating and consolidating a parallel society and the other emphasizing their mediating role and service functions" (Huth 2002: 4, transl. by the author; see also Fijalkowski and Gillmeister 1997; Güngör 1999; Jungk 2000; Thränhardt 2000).
It is true that the focus of some MSOs, such as the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), certainly is on representing the interests of the countries or cultures of origin of their members and that others, such as the Grey Wolves, an organization that has been under the surveillance of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, make deliberate efforts to prevent their members from integrating themselves into the country of arrival.
Characteristics of MSOs
Two ideal types of migrant organizations can be distinguished: (1) member associations, which focus primarily on their own internal affairs (cultural migrant associations, mosque communities, and 'tea houses'), and (2) lobbying associations, which focus primarily on political or general social recognition and external impact (political, refugee, ethnic minority associations). If the main purpose of a migrant organization is to provide a place for 'fellow countrymen' to meet and for people with a migration background to find appreciation and to share a common language, a common culture and similar interests, then its attachment or bonding character is its predominant feature. If, however, the main purpose of a migrant organization is to establish contact and communicate with other associations (soccer clubs, religious associations) or with government agencies (integration councils, government ministries) and to influence their environment in the country of arrival and, possibly, in the country of origin through collective mobilization, then its uniting and bridging character is its predominant feature.
Recent research perspectives
Research on MSOs in Germany and internationally has significantly increased since the late 1990s.
This text is part of the policy brief on Interner Link: "Migrant Organizations: Size, Structures, and Significance".