Date of Award

Summer 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

First Advisor

Caroline Nagel


Nationalism is rising in Europe and the world. Much of it responds to massive migration, with nationalistic Europeans vocalizing their belief that immigrants do not “belong” in their countries. Many states respond to this influx of people and rising antiimmigrant sentiment by creating laws demanding immigrant “integration.” Yet a clear understanding of what defines “integration” remains elusive. So too does an understanding of how laws aimed at immigrant integration influence relationships between immigrants and local citizens, institutions, and spaces. This research addresses both of these points in Belgium, a politically and culturally fractured country that serves as a microcosm of Europe’s integration debates. This research investigates “integration” laws in Wallonia, Belgium’s francophone region, and understandings of integration and belonging as considered by: (1) workers tasked with implementing Wallonia’s integration laws, (2) migrants affected by these laws, and (3) locals comprising the “host society” into which migrants are to integrate according to the laws.

Findings from interviews with integration workers show that “integration” cannot conceptually be categorized as an either/or proposition set forth by the state along a multicultural versus assimilationist ideological spectrum. Workers simultaneously incorporate elements from normative assimilationist and multicultural models to create a localized sense of integration. Actors implementing integration laws do so differently—at a localized level—based on divergent ideas of belonging and community. Each worker has his or her own notions of how things should be, or how they are on the ground, and acts accordingly. Laws may dictate one thing; workers may do another.

Findings from interviews with migrants engaging with Wallonia’s legally mandated integration programs reveal that migrants’ seemingly instrumental decision to acquire legal citizenship is not devoid of emotion. Many maintain an attachment to the country’s political culture, meaning safety, personal liberty, and legal institutions, rather than the national culture. Others seek legal citizenship to secure a sense of belonging in their new state. The migrants’ emotional attachments to the state are thus real, but perhaps without the full panoply of emotions desired by nationalists.

Findings from interviews with locals considered members of the “host society” provides empirical evidence contesting the idea of uniform host societies and congruity between society and state (or even substate) boundaries. Host societies are not monolithic entities and nationalist ideologies do not necessarily shape immigration, integration, and citizenship policies in any singular way; there is a process that significantly varies across national space. This variance results from fellow community members’ competing imaginaries and emotional attachments to place that may be more local in nature. Each person acts according to his or her own notions of who they are and who members of their fellow community are. So while certain ideas/societal conceptions may appear one way, everyday imaginations may be different. This contributes to an increasing literature focused on host society perceptions. And it provides a new framework for considering ordinary persons’ perspectives by engaging elements from existing frameworks addressing nationalism and identity (everyday nationhood and belonging).

In sum, this research expands theoretical frameworks regarding belonging, citizenship, and identity while simultaneously providing informed perspectives to those working with immigrants and also officials crafting integration laws.

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Geography Commons