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Components of Context: Rethinking Local Context in Migration Research

Authors: Francisco Lara-García*, Columbia University
Topics: Migration, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Migration, Context of Reception, Integration, Assimilation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since the discipline was founded, sociologists have studied immigrant integration in specific urban contexts. Yet the precise role of context in shaping immigrant integration remains poorly understood. This is because the field has tended to focus on immigrant characteristics and behavior, rather than context, as main factors explaining variation in outcomes. More importantly, contexts have not been selected and compared systematically. Rather, case selection has relied on vague theoretical criteria – such as population size, global city status, or the presence of co-ethnics– which privilege a small, select group of exceptional big city contexts that do not represent the range of places where immigrants live today. Future work should embark on a conceptual reorientation and a broadened research agenda that a) explores the whole range of variation of contexts and b) and identifies with more analytical precision which contextual features are impacting integration processes. I suggest five components of context - the ethnic community, the nature of inter-ethnic relations, the local governance and institutional landscape, local labor markets, and the physical environment - for which there is evidence of impact and which offer a starting point for more systematic research on how and why contexts shape the life trajectories of immigrants.

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