Working Definition of Social Integration
Social Integration can be seen as a dynamic and principled process where all members participate in dialogue to achieve and maintain peaceful social relations. Social integration does not mean coerced assimilation or forced integration.
The Social Summit focused on the need to move toward a safe, stable and just society by forming and mending conditions of social disintegration – social fragmentation, exclusion and polarization; and by expanding and strengthening conditions of social integration – including towards peaceful social relations of coexistence, collaboration and cohesion.
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Social integration is one of a constellation of “social” terms that is being used widely in contemporary policy development to describe concepts whose aim (as stated by the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action) is to foster societies that are stable, safe, just and tolerant, and respect diversity, equality of opportunity and participation of all people. Other terms that often invoked in support of this goal are “social inclusion”, “social cohesion” and “social capital”. All of these are contested terms, which often results in fruitless debate about what is meant when the terms are used. More seriously for policy makers, they are also notoriously difficult concepts to measure and operationalize, which is a distinct disadvantage in the current context of “evidence-based policy making”.
Study of the concept of social inclusion in Canada was initiated by the Laidlaw
Foundation in 2002 in the context of policy debates on the needs of children and families. The Foundation reframed the debate around traditional notions of poverty by highlighting the social dimensions of poverty, and by linking poverty and economic vulnerability with sources of exclusion, such as discrimination and disability. Rather than elaborating an all-encompassing definition of social inclusion, the Laidlaw Foundation developed a social inclusion framework, outlined in Box 1. Both the Laidlaw formulation and a related framework developed by Malcolm Shookner for Health Canada appear to owe an unacknowledged debt to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which divided human needs into five levels .
In Maslow’s pyramid, the lower four levels – the “deficiency needs” – must be met before the highest level can be achieved. In the Laidlaw Foundation and Shookner formulations, inclusion also depends upon the satisfaction of these needs, although neither are as explicit as Maslow about matching orders of inclusion or well-being to specific needs. However, both conceptualizations do recognize that social inclusion must be both multi-dimensional and transformative. In this regard, they are also in line with the conclusion of Canadian social cohesion researchers that policy interventions must be taken on several fronts and must have substantive and measurable outcomes.
Between 1998 and 2000, Canadian scholars and policy researchers spent a great deal of effort analyzing the concept of social cohesion and attempting to develop indicators based on this conceptualization. The most well-known of the Canadian theorists is Professor Jane Jenson of the University of Montreal, whose unpacking of the five dimensions of social cohesion is outlined in Box 2. In Jenson’s framework, the degree of social cohesion in a society can be characterized by where it ranks on the continuum represented by each of the five dimensions.
Box 2 – Jenson’s Five Dimensions
of Social Cohesion
Belonging ———— Isolation
Inclusion ———— Exclusion
Participation ——— Non-involvement
Recognition ——— Rejection
Legitimacy ———– Illegitimacy
Paul Bernard, a colleague of Jenson’s at the University of Montreal, later suggested that another dimension – equality versus inequality – be added to her framework to make it more complete. Bernard also pointed out that the resulting six dimensions could then be paired, since they represent either conditions promoting social cohesion (as manifested by formal state policies and programs) or substantive societal outcomes of these policies and programs. The resulting pairing is shown in Box 3.
|Box 3 – Bernard’s Formal and Substantive Dimensions of Social Cohesion FORMAL SUBSTANTIVE
Equality / Inequality Inclusion / Exclusion
Recognition / Rejection Belonging / Isolation
Legitimacy / Illegitimacy Participation / Non-involvement
In this formulation, inclusion is one of the elements of social cohesion and it is an outcome or result of policies and programs that promote equality. For example, a state may have in place a variety of policies and programs to promote social, cultural and economic equality. If these policies are effective, the substantive outcome will be citizens who feel included in the life of their communities. If they are not, large portions of that population may feel excluded, posing a threat to the cohesion of that society or community. Similarly, the legitimacy of political, social, economic and cultural institutions, as established by constitution, rule of law or tradition, frequently dictates the degree of political, social and economic participation by individuals within the society. If political institutions are not viewed as legitimate, large numbers of citizens may withdraw their support. Withdrawal from the political, social and cultural spheres manifests itself in a variety of behaviours, such as low voter turnout and falling volunteerism rates, that are frequently considered to have negative consequences for social cohesion.
As a result of research by Jenson, Bernard and others, Canadian policy makers moved toward the following definition of social cohesion:
Social cohesion is based on the willingness of individuals to cooperate and work together at all levels of society to achieve collective goals.
Considerable work was also carried out to develop a tentative model of social cohesion, which is illustrated in the figure below:
If liberalization measures impose strains in developed, stable democracies, they can unleash destructive forces in societies that do not have the mechanisms to manage the economic competition of marketization or the societal competition of democracy. It is therefore incumbent upon policy makers to understand the context within which economic, social and cultural policies intended to promote integration and stability are introduced. Policies that work in one context may not be transferable to another context, despite the best intentions of those who attempt to apply best practices from other jurisdictions.
As noted in the UNRISD’s background paper for the World Summit, “The policyrelevant question for those who look at social integration … is not how to increase integration per se, but how to promote a kind of integration which favours the creation of a more just and equitable society.”
Social integration falls into a class of policy problems that a British researcher, Jake Chapman, has described as “messes”. In Chapman’s book, System Failure: Why governments must learn to think differently, he characterizes policy “messes” this way: messes are characterised by no clear agreement about exactly what the problem is and by uncertainty and ambiguity as to how improvements might be made, and they are unbounded in terms of the time and resources they could absorb, the scope of enquiry needed to understand and resolve them and the number of people that may need to be involved. Policy “messes” founded on complex systems are also distinguished by a variety of perspectives on the problem, based on the different mental frameworks used by the various stakeholders. These perspectives are not limited to differences in academic disciplines, but may also arise from “… different contexts, different cultures, different histories, different aspirations and different allegiances”. As a result, stakeholders may not agree on the nature of the problem or may dismiss as irrelevant differing perspectives on it which do not fit within their frame of reference. For this reason, it is seldom possible to approach a policy “mess” using a linear or rational model of policy or decision making, since there is never a single, correct way to address it.
Social integration, as one of these policy problems, requires not only a sensitivity to context but also a clear sense of what interventions are most needed and appropriate in that context. Since there is no overarching theories about the appropriate sequencing of social integration policy interventions (or indeed, as Paris and Kymlicka have argued, of liberalization and democratization initiatives writ large), these interventions are often introduced by regional and local authorities for a variety of other reasons which may depend more on the availability of resources and support than on conceptual clarity.
The development of robust indicators of social integration, social inclusion and social cohesion is also a significant policy challenge. While quantitative and statistical indicators exist for some forms of economic integration (for example, employment and income data), other types of indicators that are more qualitative in nature and that measure social integration (for example, levels of life satisfaction, civic engagement, trust and cultural participation) are less readily available. More problematic, however, is the lack of a clear conceptual grounding that provides a theoretical modeling of the linkages among the various economic, political, social and cultural variables that contribute to social integration. In view of the current predisposition toward the “social investment state” , it may be useful to utilize various “capital” investments and indicators as benchmarks, but to expand the typology to include physical, natural, financial, democratic, social and cultural capital, as well as human capital, in the investment mix. Until there is a consensus about the systemic aspects of social integration, it may be difficult to develop adequate indicators that will provide the evidence usually demanded by decision makers before committing significant resources.