Friday, June 1, 2012

Measuring discrimination with a questionnaire?

A new report from Timbro, the Swedish right-wing think tank, has caused some commentary. The author argues that discrimination does not explain why immigrants face challenges on the Swedish labour market. This argument rest on the observation that employers in other countries (Canada, Denmark, Germany) answer a question from World Value Survey concerning privileging native born job seekers over foreign born such more negatively than Swedish employers do.

While I have to admit that I was surprised that Canadian employers would be presenting such answers to the question, the report, in my opinion, has a fundamental methodological flaw, and that is its reliance on the World Value Survey for its conclusions. This survey is a quantitative survey of values, taken in from across the world (as the name implies). It could be argued the aggregate data of the Survey gives us some idea about cultural differences across the world (though it is possible to question that, too, to some extent - after all, how do you develop distinctly separate categories of "traditional" and "secular-rational" values?) but I'm not sure that it is a useful in a smaller sample studie like this.

More importantly, it is inherently quantative, and I'm not at all convinced that quantitative methods can reveal a whole lot about discrimination in practice. At best, the report manages to show that Swedish employers have a self-image of not being discriminatory, but from there, it's a bit of a leap to conclude that they will not act in a discriminatory fashion in practice. Indeed, unconscious discrimation, i.e. acts that are not intended as discriminatory, but result in discriminatory outcomes because of ignorare, or prejudice that is assumed to be common sense, cannot be easily probed using a questionnaire.

Qualitative methods, like in-depth interviews, participant observation and so on would be more appropriate, and every time such methods have been employed in Sweden, significant discriminatory behaviour has been observed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Management by mistrust

The Swedish minister of integration recently announced that immigrants who refuse to move to an offered job will received reduced welfare remuneration. As he says, "You have a responsibility to find a job and have to be prepared to move".

While this might seem fairly straight-forward to some, it is a continuation of a long series of policies of the last decade or so, which are united by a common theme. They all focus on compelling, or more accurately, coercing immigrants to 'take greater responsibility for their own integration', as the advocates of this regime would formulate it.

This regime is based on the underlying assumption that immigrants are not doing enough to settle in the new society (however this is defined). Thus, they need to be forced to do more to accomplish this. Several reservations can be raised:

1) I can't say that I've seen any research that would suggest that immigrants are unwilling to find jobs or settle in their new societies, or even that such attitudes, or inactivity on their part would be a significant factor in social exclusion or immigrant unemployment. Whatever these types of policies are based on, it is hardly the current state of migration research.

2) The regime itself lays the blame on failed integration on immigrants, and proposed more punishment or adjustments of them, for instance by "raising their competence" through vocational training programs by coercion. Doing so increases the "us" versus "them" divisions in society by finding "them" culpable for their own social exclusion.

At heart, then, this is just another proposal that is based on management by mistrust. I doubt it will have any positive effect, or make immigrants feel like they are treated with respect by the new country.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Preventing honour killings

CBC continues its coverage of these types of crimes. This feature discusses how a Muslim community centre acts to prevent such violence. It's not a large organization, its website showing that it only has about six employees, and yet, I would not be surprised if it was quite succesful. The difference between this community group and a public agency is that precisely because it's a group developed from the community, of the community, it has a different understanding, different cultural capital and legitimacy for the community. In contrast, a public agency has the problem of its exercise of power. By virtue of being a public authority, it has a barrier to building trust within the community, and I believe that trust is key in the prevention of these crimes. That includes not only helping the people who would become victims, but also, effectively, reaching out to those who might become potential perpetrators and influencing them so that they don't.

I also found it interesting that the group is cooperating with an American group that seems completely unrelated - because how would, at face, honour killings have to do with gang violence among African American communities, be related. Well, judging from what is said in the feature, it is linked through the destructive status mechanisms that drives violence in both cases. Also, they both have in common that they are solutions that come from within the community. That gives the group itself power over the issue and a voice in public space.

I think that is imperative if such efforts are to succeed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Honour related killings in Canada and Sweden

This topic is currently receiving some attention in both Canada and Sweden. In Canada, this is due to two cases currently in the legal system, the Shafia trial , where members of the Shafia family (orginally from Afghanistan) stand accused of killing four sisters, and the extradiction procedure of the mother and uncle of young woman accused of being involved in her murder in India. In Sweden, the attention stems largely from the rememberance of it being 10 years since the murder of Fadime Sahindal, of Kurdish decent.

This is a very complex issue and one disclaimer needs to be made right away: I haven't studied these types of events or the processes behind as part of my work. I merely take part of what the ongoing public debate in public space and make reflections based on my experience stuyding ethnic relations.

Sometimes (and in my impression this is more explicitly so in Europe), the public debate is said to consist of two camps, one (predominantly to the left) arguing that honour killings are just another form of patriarchy, and one (arguably on the right) saying that it's an issue of culture, where some cultures condone and encourage such killings in the name of honour. What is particularly problematic is that both sides tend to mirepresent the other side's argument in an almost hyperbolic fashion. So the "culture as a cause" side argues that the other side are "cultural relativists" who would look away and even allow murder for the sake of "multiculturalism" or "respecting other people's culture" (and I've never actually heard anyone make any such arguments). Meanwhile, the "it's patriarchy side" wants to paint the other side as just another group of racists.

The reason I find it complex is that I don't think that either form of explanation is succifiently nuanced, but also that both sides seem to simplify the processes that might underly these phenomena to the point of misrepresenting them, which would also obstruct preventative work rather than facilitate it.

For those who want to explain this with culture, several questions immediately rise: how are the Kurdish, Afghan and Indian cultures similar? It's not the religion of Islam, clearly, since the Indians in question, it seems to me, are not Muslim, but Hindu (indeed, it was a marriage across caste-lines that was alledgedly the motive of the killing). Moreover, there are many, many people within each of these communities who are activists trying to combat these practices, including Sara Mohammed herself, the founder of the Swedish network above. Indeed, if I recall correctly, the Kurdish community organized a manifestation against these practices in connection to the murder, so it's fairly clear that it's difficult to assign this type of value to a culture in a wider, ethnic sense (unless someone wants to try and make the argument that Kurds who take exception to such practices are "less Kurdish" than those who condone them, which is an argument I would find absurd).

Yet, at the same time, there does seem to me some form of status mechanism involved - the perpetrators seem to share the "protection of the family honour" motive. Thus, there is some form of cultural capital that drives these processes. Exactly how that takes place, and what common denominators can be found, I could not say (since I have not studied these properly)*.

However, I am concerned with the public debate, because reductionism is not going to prevent more murders, and that goes both ways. Engaging in a rhetoric that paints an entire community of "others" as "potential honour murderers" is only going to exacerbate racialization and stigmatization. Likewise, denying that there are young men and women who, at the end of the day, risk their lives if they do not conform to a wider family's demands with regards to their love lives, is not going to help these victims.

Finally, the ways of addressing the issue seem to differ between the two countries. In Canada, it seems to be the immigrant communities themselves who address the issue. Many advocates I have heard speaking on the subject express their concern that these murders will increase prejudice against the own community, and also argue that these practices are not inherent in the culture and therefore police should be so concern with "respecting the culture" that they do not take firm action against such crimes. In Sweden, immigrant organizations are quite underfunded and hardly agents to speak of. Instead, it is the government agencies that own the issue, as described by Björling, a former member of a women's centre. The problem with that is that the predominantly ethnic Swedish civil servants have very limited insight into the communities and also lack competence in dealing with the issue. Indeed, the grassroot organizations seems to have been continuously sidelined by Swedish government officials, in a most destructive manner, according to Björling. It's a pattern I recognize.

My experience tells me that the Canadian model probably can be more succesful: it gives ownership to the issue to those closest concerned with it, including the advocates of victims, who are likely to be more knowledgeable about this. It would also avoid stereotyping and racialization. That said, I'm not aware of any study that has actually compared the two models.

*If I were to speculate, I would probably make a Bourdieusian analysis, thinking about cultural capital in fairly closed social network (Habitus) as one important driver. In that sense, the practice can be related to both culture and patriarchy, and distinct from some other patriarchal practices, but not cultural in an ethnic sense, since it seems like a phenomenon that exists within subsets of larger communities.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Swedish News comments Canadian immigration policy

It turns out that the Aktuellt, a Swedish equivalent of CBC's The National, visited my hometown of Edmonton recently, to do a feature on Canadian immigration policy (ironically, nobody had informed the journalists that I live here).

There is one trait that stands out to me from the piece: It repeats something that is turning into a truism in the Swedish debate: Canadian immigration is so selective, and does not accept many refugees (implication: so no wonder it works better than in Sweden).

That's certainly comforting for Swedish commentators, but it is also, alas, far too simplistic and ignores some important facts that need consideration:

First, while it is true that it is harder for refugees in Canada to find jobs than it is for those who come through the work force immigration stream (in Canada called the Highly skilled stream), it is still quite possible for refugees in Canada to find entry level jobs. In other words, the difficult for Swedish immigrants is to find jobs, period. For a Canadian refugee, entry to the labour market is more challenging than for those who immigrate through other streams, but entry-level jobs are still quite achieveable.

Secondly, this is reflected in the single-minded focus of the Swedish debate, where the issue of whether immigrants there can ever work in their own level of competence (for instance, can an immigrant with a BA find academic level work?) is rarely, if ever addressed.  Swedish commentators seem to be content that integration on the labour market works if immigrants just find some kind of job at all, which is indicative of very low levels of ambitions, indeed. The debate in Canada is, instead: how can immigrants reach the same income levels as the native born population, and find jobs in their own competence level. The debate is thus qualitatively different in that regard.

Thirdly, one should not lose sight of the fact that a substantial number of immigrants to both Canada and Sweden come through family class immigration, even though these numbers have dropped somewhat in Canada during the past few years, (a fact which, by the way, have created a lot of frustration in immigrant communities).

There is, thus, no reason for Swedish commentators to feel look at Canada and become complacent about integration in Sweden because of the work force stream employed by this country. It is an incomplete comparison, at best.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ethnic discrimination and representation

After seemingly long absence from the public debate in Sweden, discrimination has once again been given some attention. Recently, the think tank FORES released a new study does indeed constitute a barrier to labor market integration for immigrants in Sweden. Meanwhile, there've been some comments concerning the case of quotas within the police department, where an ethnic Swedish man experienced discrimination because he was not considered as a recruit because of these quotas. At the same time, another study shows that most Swedish private employers have not even considered ethnic diversity in the workplace, or have to achieve it.
I'm pleased to see the issue re-appearing again. For too long, the public debate has been focused on how to demand more from immigrants, as if the root cause of social exclusion is to be found within the "flawed" immigrants.

What is concerning, though, is that even a decade after this was acknowledged as a problem, employers, both public and private, seem to lack the capacity to deal with the matter. Madon makes a convincing case that the Police seems to have been using quotas in a most blunt manner. Reducing the matter of minority representation within the staff to simply a matter of counting heads of different colours is never a good idea. What is needed is an understanding of substantive representation, that is to say, how a plural work force manages to capture the experience from many different social spaces or environments, allowing the organization to navigate competently in these spaces. That is to say, these experiences, although they maybe not formally recognized with diplomas, can still be considered skills, in the sense that the person who has them has the capacity to view the world from different perspectives, and also gives the organization a greater legimacy across different communities.

Here in Canada, the news recently noted such an example within the armed forces, Lieutenant Colonel Harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada's first Sikh commanding officer. After tours in Afghanistan, he bore witness to how his different cultural capital, his different outlook and capacity to understand more than one perspective, made him invaluable to both the Canadian and American forces on the ground. As he says: "It's not political correctness. For the Canadian forces, it's an operational necessity...".

Employers everywhere need to learn about these very concrete ways of conceptualizing competence if discrimination is to become a thing of the past.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Metropolis Conference Day

I spent most of the day yesterday at the Prairie Metropolis Centre Regional conference here in Edmonton. I was given the honour of presenting a poster of my upcoming paper/dissertation chapter, anchoring the literature on immigrant and ethnic organizations in Bourdieu's theoretical framework. It was a fascinating day in many ways, even for me who is fairly knowledgeable about the subject matter at hand. The keynote address made by Howard Duncan, executive head of the Metropolis Secretariat, was particularly interesting.

He described the profound impact that Metropolis has had in bringing together researchers and practicioners from the field, allowing for very direct communications between governments, NGOs and the academia that is now, in many respects, institutionalized.

Indeed, this was reflected during the conference itself. Community organizations have an active role to play here in Canada and are represented among both the speakers and the guests, and the level of sophistication of the conversation is quite remarkable, focus on how to solve very practical issues of communication between different communites. One example was a presentation about how health care can be delivered effectively to minority communities as well, by raising the cultural competence of health care workers in direct cooperation with the community.

This environment is such a contrast from the practices I remember from Sweden. Over there, the room was habitually filled with civil servants from the local or national governments, with community representatives largely absent, and certainly absent from the list of presenters, sending a strong signal about who was regarded as an authority in the field and who was not.

It is possible that the conference practices have changed in the past six years, but I wouldn't expect any radical change of the situation, since these actors are hardly recognized as legitimate actors in the social service delivery role.