According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term assimilation literally means “the act of making or becoming like,” “similarity,” or “conversion into a similar substance.” In sociology and migration literature, assimilation is related to the concept of integration, which refers to “the process whereby any minority group, especially a racial one, adapts itself to a majority society and is accorded by the latter equality of rights and treatment [...]” (Bullock et al. 1986, 428). When the process of integration “reaches the point of obliterating the minority’s separate cultural identity,” the term assimilation of the minority into the majority is used (428). In academic discourse, then, framing of integration and assimilation is posed primarily in the context of a ‘minority group’ which integrates and assimilates.
Integration policies, by contrast, often frame integration and assimilation as matters for an individual. A migrant is required, either legally (e.g., through naturalisation) or socially (e.g., through adoption of certain cultural practices, as well as pressure of discrimination and prejudice), to integrate as well as to downplay or relinquish their own social and cultural identity, so as to finally be assimilated during this process. In return, the migrant would usually gain certain rights as a result of integration and assimilation without disturbing the dominant/majority social and cultural order.
However, a migrant community may well be regarded as un-integrated because of maintaining certain cultural beliefs and practices, especially religious ones, that set it apart from the majority society and its culture. Assimilation of minorities is, by definition, a one-way affair. There is no reciprocity in an assimilationist political culture that privileges the majority population who, at best, ignores or, at worst, is hostile to the minority population’s cultural manifestations. It is against this discriminatory one-way process that minorities have called and fought for reciprocal integration (i.e., changes in the majority culture) and a multicultural society (Modood 2007).
⇢ see also Diversity, Inclusion, Integration
References and further reading:
Bullock, Alan, Oliver Stallybrass, Stephen Trombley, and Bruce Eadie, eds. 1986. The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. London: Fontana.
Modood, Tariq. 2007. Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Scholten, Peter. 2013. “The Multilevel Governance of Migrant Integration: A Multilevel Governance Perspective on Dutch Migrant Integration Policies.” In The Discourses and Politics of Migration in Europe, edited by Umut Korkut, Jonas Hinnfors, and Helen Drake, 151–170. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Work Package: 2, 3, 5, 6, 7