Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy

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Civic and Social Integration

  • Johannes EichenhoferEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6730-0_139-2


Affirmative action Assimilation Citizenship Denizenship Diversity Equality Inclusion Participation Multiculturalism 


The concept of integration is mostly invoked in debates about (transnational) immigration. In most states of the world, integration is (still) the most popular answer to the question how the receiving state and society should deal with immigrants. The concept of integration thus concerns the conflict between transnational migration and national identity and between cultural diversity and social cohesion, and it asks for a fair distribution of rights and duties of the immigrants in order to achieve their full inclusion and participation in the receiving society. However, social integration is not only a process that concerns migrants but all members of society. Nonetheless, this entry aims to describe not only the process of social but also of civic integration, which, at any rate, only addresses foreigners or “aliens.” In this regard, this entry only deals with civic and social integration of “aliens.”

Definitional Approaches

Integration is a vast, complex, and confusing term. It is a subject of many scientific disciplines and has descriptive and normative meanings. While sociologists, anthropologists and cultural scientists use the term to describe a social process, which not only affects the individual and his or her relationship to the society, but also the society as a whole, political scientists, philosophers and legal scholars are interested in its normative meaning, which addresses – in a very broad sense – the question of how to ideally cohabit in a modern, highly differentiated, and diverse society. Even at this very vague and abstract stage, integration can be both from a descriptive and a normative standpoint distinguished from the related concepts of assimilation and multiculturalism: While assimilation requires individuals or groups of minorities to fully adapt to the majorities’ way of living (in terms of cultural habits, belief, and law observance), multiculturalism expects members of cultural minorities only to live in accordance with the community’s legislation. As will be shown, integration is placed in the middle of these two concepts. To exemplify this argument, the concept and conception of integration have to be developed further. Debates on “integration” raise at least the following three questions (Murphy 2013, 41–47). The first is the question of “National Identity”. Any nation needs to determine what its constitutive elements are, how it can be distinguished from other nations, and who is and should become its member. Even if integration processes actually occur mainly on the local level (e.g., within a specific district, city, or village) and its legal framework is highly influenced from the international and supranational level (e.g., EU law), most people still perceive that the process of integration occurs in the national context. The second strand of debates on integration is the relation of (social, ethnical, cultural, and religious) diversity and social stability. Within this branch of the integration debate, the following questions need to be answered: What effect does diversity have on a society? To which extent does it promote desired targets such as pluralism of opinions, tolerance, social progress, etc.? And at what point can diversity have negative effects on social stability and social peace? Thirdly, debates on “integration” raise the question of inclusion, participation, and social equality. Almost any integration theory would assume that social, cultural, or “racial” segregation leads to social inequalities, conflicts, and tensions. Accordingly, integration as “the negation of segregation … requires the full inclusion and participation as equals of members of all races in all social domains, especially in the main institutions of society that define its opportunities for recognition, educational and economic advancement, access to public good, and political influence” (Anderson 2010, 112, 113).

The terms “civic” and “social integration” mainly refer to the last of the aforementioned dimensions of the integration debate. Civic integration addresses the question under which conditions a foreigner (or “alien)” is and should be permitted to gain membership of the receiving state and all the (civil, social, and political) rights “Citizenship” encompasses. Debates about citizenship are deeply connected with debates about national identity as the first branch of integration debates. Social integration is, in contrast, dedicated to the problem under which conditions an individual should be perceived as a member of the society and which rights should thus be granted to her or him. As a political goal, social integration has to respect both (social, ethnical, cultural, and religious) diversity and social stability. Which rights and obligations each individual faces for the sake of social integration varies from country to country. Despite the great variety of national integration policies, it can be found that political rights are generally reserved for citizens of the receiving state. Accordingly, civic integration refers to a deeper form of integration than social integration. On the other hand, it is a far wider concept than civic integration. Firstly, social integration does not only address foreigners seeking for naturalization but principally all people – citizens and aliens – living in the receiving society. Secondly, the goal of social integration requires integration of the individuals in various social subsystems (such as the economy, the culture, the religion, the educational system). Herein lies a great difficulty of any legal or political approach aiming to promote social integration: While the consequence of civic integration is clear – equal distribution of rights and duties as any other citizen – it is less obvious which rights and duties should be granted to an alien for the sake of her or his social integration. Notwithstanding fundamental human rights, which are owed to any human being despite their nationality and their legal status, the states are free to decide which individual rights they grant to the migrants. Generally speaking, the longer migrants stay in the receiving country, the more rights they are being granted. For example, while long-term residents are in many countries permitted to work, tourists are not. On the other, many countries expect migrants to show specific integration efforts (e.g., learning the language of the host society, finding a profession) in order to grant them individual rights. This combination of “integration requirements” – legal norms which expect migrants to show integration efforts – and the continuous and increasing amount of rights the migrants are granted can be described as “integration paths” (Davy 2005, 144). These paths can be found in many legal systems. They assume that civic integration is the goal and “completion” of any process of social integration (Kießling 2015, 3). A migrant would accordingly live in the host society with less rights and more obligations than the citizens of the host state as long as she or he were in the process of being naturalized. Since the citizenship law of many countries requires the migrants to demonstrate certain integration efforts to improve their ability to integrate (e.g., learning the language of the host society, finding a profession), civic integration as a legal concept is first and foremost an obligation of the migrants. However, many countries provide special rights and programs for migrants to support them in their “integration efforts” (e.g., integration courses, job preparation classes, migrant consultations, etc.). These supportive measures are often perceived as the host state’s contribution to the integration process.

Integration is namely often described as an “on-going, multidimensional, two-way process between, on the one hand, migrants, and on the other hand, existing members of the receiving society along with the receiving state itself” (Murphy 2013, 49). Herein lies one of the main differences from the concept of assimilation as a process of one-sided adaption. The other difference is that social and civic integration do not require the migrant to give up her or his cultural heritage. The conception of multiculturalism does, in contrast, not expect the migrants nor the receiving society to take any “integration efforts.” On the one hand, this conception seems to be in accordance with the anthropological observation that social segregation is the default setting of human nature. On the other hand, multiculturalism has often been criticized for neglecting the need of social stability and not caring enough about the fundamental values of the host society (unless they are carried out in legislation). In contrast, “integration does call for full participation of members of salient social groups on terms of equality, cooperation, and mutual respect in all domains of civil society. (…) It requires the construction of a superordinate group identity, a ‘we,’ from the perspective of which cooperative goals are framed, and appropriate policies selected and implemented. In a democratic society, this “we” is most importantly a shared identity as citizens” (Anderson, 184).

The aforementioned explanations have shown: integration is an ambivalent conception. On the one hand, it aims to preserve social stability, social peace, and social justice. From this point of view, segregation has to be prevented since it is a product of unfair living conditions. This observation is shared by antidiscrimination policies. Likewise, integration policy aims to enable the individual to live a self-determined life within the receiving society (Benhabib 2004, 82). Civic integration allows individuals to overcome their alien status and therefore to gain all political rights like citizens of the host state. It therefore realizes the democratic principle “no taxation without representation.” Consequently, integration serves both collective and individual goods. On the other hand, integration policies may also restrict the individuals’ right to freedom and privacy (e.g., when the law of the receiving state forbids cultural practices that are not compatible with the fundamental values of the receiving state). Integration is thus often perceived to be a threat to cultural diversity.

Civic Integration as a Matter of Law and Legal Philosophy

“While the theme of integration fuses emotive social issues such as identity, belonging and social cohesion, it also raises essential legal issues which must be dealt with within the confines of domestic, EU and international law” (Murphy 2013, 2). Indeed, law is of enormous importance for integration processes. Law can firstly preserve or change images of national identity. It secondly balances cultural and social diversity with social stability. Thirdly, law is the key instrument to promote (or hinder) inclusion, participation, and social justice, since it provides individuals with subjective rights to participate in the society or state. Accordingly, civic integration is first and foremost a legal conception. It deals with a transformation of a legal status: from alienage to “Citizenship” (Bosniak 2006). Civic integration must not be confused with naturalization: While naturalization refers to the external “assignment” of an individual to a state in international law, civic integration is a matter of national law, since citizenship encompasses the rights an individual has against and within the state of her citizenship.

Despite the great variety of national citizenship laws, citizenship can be purchased in two ways: by birth or by civic integration. Some states provide citizenship to an individual, if that individual was born as the child of at least one citizen of the concerning state. This model, jus sanguinis (law of blood), ties citizenship to the descent. The other principle, jus soli (law of land or ground), makes citizenship depend on place of birth, no matter who the child’s parents are (Motomura 2006, 72). Civic integration, however, occurs to an individual in a later stage of her or his life. It usually requires an individuals’ formal application and various forms of social integration such as a long-term residence in the receiving state and (successful) efforts in terms of social, cultural, or economic integration (e.g., language skills, knowledge about the hosts’ country’s culture, history, or society, a secure livelihood, etc.). Obviously, these (successful) efforts shall not only demonstrate that the individual has become a member of the receiving society but also her or his will to become a member of the receiving state. Accordingly, social integration is often perceived as a precondition of civic integration and civic integration as the completion of social integration. Accordingly, migrants could only gain citizenship of the receiving state if they were – to a certain amount – socially integrated. As Seyla Benhabib puts it: “Migration involves emigration …; actual first entry into a foreign country; civil, economic, and cultural absorption of a shorter or longer duration (visitation, business, study); incorporation, that is, residency of a significant duration; and finally naturalization, i.e. access to political membership” (Benhabib 2004, 136). This gradualist view described by Benhabib, can be criticized from two ways: Firstly, the idea of a “completed” social integration can be challenged. Sociologists would argue that hardly anyone is “fully integrated” since integration is always a relational term, and, secondly, one can be integrated in one specific school class, company, etc. But no one is “fully integrated” in a country. The other critique carries even more weight: Since citizenship provides an individual with many civil, social, and political rights, civic integration must not only be regarded as the goal but also as a tool of social integration. Civil, social, and political rights provided by citizenship may not only promote the individuals’ inclusion and participation but probably also his identification with the receiving state, which is – as will be shown (III.) – an important and the final step for social integration.

Accordingly, civic integration embraces (civic, social, and political) rights and identity. But, as Yasemin Nuhoğlu Soysal observes: “Whereas rights, and claims to rights, become universalized and abstract, identity is still conceived of as particular and bounded by national, ethnic, regional, or other characteristics” (Soysal 1994, 8). Accordingly, a certain tension or even a contradiction (Soysal 1994, 8) between the emerging “universalization” of individual rights on the one hand and the ongoing tendency to connect the collective identity of a society with a nation state on the other hand can be identified. Indeed, this “conceptualization of integration requires immigrants to re-mould themselves in the model of an idealized national citizen” (Murphy 2013, 26). In this regard, citizenship and civic integration can also have an exclusionary effect, since citizenship excludes the non-citizens from the civil, social, and political rights it encompasses (Murphy 2013, 205). This exclusionary effect of domestic civic and social integration laws is often used as a political tool to prevent immigration, which shows that immigration and integration policies are closely interwoven. The more a state emphasizes the importance of its own “national identity” and the more it ties this idea to the aim of a (social, cultural, and religiously) “homogeneous society,” the less (social, cultural, and religious) diversity the state might accept among the society and the less rights and citizenship the state might be willing to grant a migrant. However, these assumptions are fundamentally challenged in the times of globalized values, universal human rights, and evolving supranational citizenship models like the EU citizenship (“Citizenship”).

Social Integration as a Matter of Law and Legal Philosophy

Whereas civic integration is a conception being highly influenced by law and debated among legal scholars, social integration is still rather a subject of philosophy, sociology, economy, political science, or cultural studies. Even though law has a great impact on the dynamics of social integration, this issue has not gained much attention from many legal scholars. The reason for this might lie in the multidimensionality, complexity, and interdependency of this concept.

As mentioned above (II.), the conception of social integration has descriptive and normative meanings. Descriptive approaches are usually the domain of sociologists and political scientists. They answer the questions, such as what integration is and when an individual can be called “integrated.” Many empirical and theoretical works on social integration have been done in those disciplines, and it is impossible to provide an overview that claims any sort of completeness. However, some ideas shall be presented in the following to structure the problem of social integration. David Lockwood has made a very fundamental distinction between the integration of an individual “into” society (which he calls “social integration”) and the integration of the society as a whole in terms of social stability (what he calls “system integration”). Based on this distinction, the German sociologist Hartmut Esser has developed three stages of social integration of migrants in the host society (Esser 2001). The first stage is called (ac-)culturation. It describes the purchase of knowledge and competences that are essential to communicate in the receiving society. The next stage is the placement of an individual on a social position. Here, the law plays an important role, since it provides the individual with rights and duties, which will decide to some extent which social position a migrant is allowed to take in the receiving society. According to Esser, placement entails interaction or at least the capacity to interact in the receiving society. The last stage is identification, which can – according to Esser – possibly only be achieved after generations. The strength of this model is that it can describe both the potentials and the limits of the law in promoting social integration. Legal rules can require and promote acculturation by requiring and promoting migrants to take (successful) “integration measures.” At the same time, it is the key instrument to determine the placement of an individual, since it provides or denies him or her the civil, social, and political rights to take further integration efforts. In contrast, law is not able to regulate interaction and identification, since it is up to the individual whether she or he wants to interact with others or identify her- or himself with the values of the host country. Whether a migrant is willing to communicate in the language of the receiving society or to even identify with the receiving state is only up to the individual migrant. Other theorists have emphasized the importance of other institutions for the process of social integration. The process can be distinguished between the following approaches: integration through communication (Habermas 1985), integration through social systems (Parsons 1952; Luhmann 1995), and integration through constitution (Smend 1994).

It has also been mentioned that social integration needs to be distinguished from the conception of (social, cultural, or “racial”) assimilation. Assimilation takes a dominant social group as fixed and demands that other groups join it by abandoning their distinct group identities and conforming to what the dominant group takes to be its defining norms, practices and virtues” (Anderson 2010, 114). The goal of assimilation would therefore consist in the “elimination of group difference or group identity” (Anderson 2010, 183, 184). This process can also be described as a “one-sided process of adaption,” which expects migrants “to actively take on the culture and language of the majority population and renounce their own ethnic or cultural identity” (Murphy 2013, 21). Integration does likewise expect migrants to take integration efforts, but the goal of integration policies is not as clear as the goal of assimilation. Ideally, it has been described as a double-sided process between the individual and “the society,” which had to promote social integration through the provision of “integration-friendly” law. That means that individuals should be supported in their “integration efforts” (see above, II.) through legal provisions which promote social inclusion and participation of migrants. At the same time, social integration does not expect the migrants to resign their culture. However, it is true that “(social) integration … can too easily imply a largely one-sided process in which newcomers adapt themselves to the structures of life and dominant culture of their host society” (Aleinikoff and Kluesmeyer 2000, 20). Moreover, “integration policies are often simply a slower and gentler form of assimilation” (Castles and Miller 2003, 250). The concept of multiculturalism, on the other hand, grants immigrants “equal rights in all spheres of society, without being expected to give up their diversity, although usually with an expectation of conformity to certain key values” (Murphy 2013, 16). While legal equality for migrants and other minorities is perceived as a political goal in Canada, Australia, and Sweden, the aforementioned laissez-faire attitude toward the conformity to certain key values of the host society can be found particularly in US law (Castles and Miller 2003, 250).

At this point it has to be reiterated, why social integration is worth being promoted by the state. Here, several public and individual goods can be mentioned. Some of the public goods (social stability and peace, social justice) have been mentioned already above (I.). This observation can now be continued: The issue of “integration requirements” has shown that integration policies also aim to reduce unemployment and dependency on social welfare. At the same time, it promotes individuals to actively contribute to the common market and therefore to generate wealth. Finally, integration policies are also of importance in terms of security, since integration law of many countries requires the individual not to commit any crime. But integration policies do not only serve public interests. They are also in the interest of the individual addressed by an integration measure. As Sheryll Cashin has put it: “Separation is not in our collective self-interest, and integration – efforts to reduce such separation – will benefit everyone” (Cashin 2004, 29,293). Integration measures serve the individual in a paternalistic way: They predefine what is good for her or him and then oblige the individual to take measures to achieve these goals. In this paternalistic view, social integration seems like an opponent of privacy and autonomy. However, this observation is only justified if privacy is seen as an individual right to freedom. From this standpoint, integration policies had to be regarded as an interference in this sphere of autonomy and liberty. On the other hand, integration policies (like any social policy) grant the individual a lot of new perspectives and therefore the possibility of autonomous decisions. In the end, every state has – according to its own constitutional values and traditions – to decide how it solves the normative conflict between the individual autonomy and the individual and common goods of social integration.

While “liberal models” would emphasize the importance of the individuals’ autonomy and thus try to solve the conflict through legal equality and mutual recognition of the cultures, “communitarian positions” would emphasize the importance of common values and social cohesion, which in a normative conflict tend to trump the individuals’ right to freedom and autonomy. Accordingly, liberal and communitarian models give different answers to the question how social integration shall be achieved in a diverse society. Still, both positions would not deny that social integration in terms of inclusion and participation requires the state to grant the individuals rights. Liberals would argue that minorities (such as migrants) should have equal rights as citizens of the receiving state. This can be achieved either through civic integration (II.) or by granting all migrants or specific migrant groups equal rights as the citizens. This concept is partly realized for “denizens.” Accordingly “denizenship” can be regarded as a real alternative to “Citizenship”. At the same time, liberal positions require every member of the society to accept and promote cultural diversity. Legal equality is a very important instrument to achieve social integration, since it prevents the migrant from any form of legal discrimination, which could lead to disintegration or segregation. If migrants are granted less rights than the citizens of the receiving state, the migrants are the ones who carry the integration costs. As Elizabeth Anderson emphasizes, “integration does not proceed without cost. The experience of integration is often stressful and causes the loss or alteration of cherished racially homogeneous institutions. (…) The integration of long segregated groups carries psychological costs. (…) Given these costs, members of stigmatized groups need places of refuge, social settings in which they can count on unquestioned acceptance and affirmation, share these experiences among themselves, and generate strategies for coping with the stresses of integration” (Anderson, 180, 183).

Social but not civic integration can also be achieved through “affirmative action. This model asks for specific rights that are only secured to minority groups or its individual members, which have to be added to universal human rights in order to achieve social justice or “true equality” (Kymlicka 1995, 108). Moreover, cultural diversity and membership in different cultural groups should be acknowledged as an important value (Kymlicka 1995, 84, 121). Migrants would therefore to some extent have more rights than citizens. This result is criticized for rather emphasizing the differences between groups or individuals than contributing to overcome these differences – which would be an essential goal of social integration. This critique would especially have been formulated by advocates of the communitarian approach. Communitarians doubt that social integration can only be achieved on the basis of a distribution of rights. They seek for a “deeper form” of social integration, such as shared values, which are often established in the Constitution or are not laid out in law at all. However, these deeper forms of integration cannot be prescribed by law, since it is the decision of an individual whether she or he wants to identify with the values of the receiving society. Nonetheless, many countries establish special “integration duties,” whereby migrants are obliged to consent to the values of the receiving state. Most legal systems have an approach that combines liberal, communitarian, and “affirmative action” views. As Sheryll Cashin pointed out, “meaningful integration will not come about by any command-and-control forcing of race and class mixing. The answer lies, I believe, in the changes that have already begun to happen in communities across the country” (Cashin, 318).


Civic integration as the process of transition from being an alien to a citizen of the receiving society is first and foremost a legal concept carried out in the citizenship law of the receiving state. The process of social integration is however a broader and more complex issue and thus object of many fields of law (e.g., immigration law, labor law, social security law). While civic integration has a clear and transparent goal, the naturalization, the goals of social integration are far from being undisputed. While some request special obligations for immigrants to show “integration efforts” (e.g., learning the language of the host society or finding a job), others emphasize the importance of providing the immigrants with equal rights for them to be able to integrate themselves. Most countries therefore combine “integration requirements” with the continuous and increasing grant of rights. These legal “integration paths” enable the migrants not only to integrate socially but also to gain citizenship, since the citizenship law of many countries tends to refer to these “integration measures.” While these forms of integration policies can only be enforced by legal norms, there are also aspects of social integration, which cannot be regulated by law. The law can neither prescribe migrants to interact with the citizens of the receiving society nor to identify with its fundamental values.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BielefeldBielefeldGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Tetsu Sakurai
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate School of Intercultural StudiesKobe UniversityKobeJapan