9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS09 Research Methods in Ethnic and Migration Studies

Inside the moment: Negotiating integration through language, identity, and culture in Finland

Does language proficiency still play the part in integration we have long assumed, or has something changed? How are identities - of all members of society - being negotiated in educational, occupational and other everyday settings? What kinds of meanings and explanations are attributed to culture in these negotiations? And are these attributions really explanatory?

This article is based on an emerging research agenda and methodological approach in which the roles and interplay of language, identity and culture are being critically re-assessed with regard to integration in a rapidly changing Finnish society. The project focuses on the perspectives of both migrants and natives of the host country to integration in the following key settings: working-life, education and everyday life.

Language, identity and culture remain undisputed key focal points in explaining integration - or its´ absence - across Europe. However, it is increasingly clear that unquestioned normative assumptions and conflation of ideas about language, identity, culture and integration itself have resulted in "cultural shortcuts" (Hansen 2000), in which stratification is now challenging European societies previously characterized by an absence of stratification (Forsander 2004). What has escaped attention, in countries like Finland, is the fact that integration occurs in a series of ephemeral moments, most of which pass unnoticed.

The methodological approach featured in this article is based on the state-of-the-art interdisciplinary results of the authors, who themselves have formed a multicultural team in order to circumvent ethnocentric assumptions. For approaching the negotiation of integration, three different themes have been chosen that empirically and conceptually illuminate "critical sites" of integration in Finland: 1) language proficiency, 2) social conditions and strategies, and 3) culture and identity. The research team uses a mixed-methods concurrent nested strategy (Creswell 2002). This strategy is designed to fundamentally challenge normative policy discussion, parochial substantive and conceptual framing of migration-related issues within a robust, methodological approach to migration that will go beyond state-of-the-art in the Finnish context and lay the groundwork for subsequent international comparative research.