In the early 2000s, Germany and other European Union countries began to introduce integration courses as part of a new emphasis on the integration of immigrants (Goodman 2014
; Bertossi 2011
; Joppke 2007
; Council of the European Union 2004
). Most European Union countries, including Germany (in 2005), France (in 2003), the United Kingdom (in 2007), The Netherlands (in 1998), Austria, Denmark, and others, introduced and currently require integration courses for most new immigrants (Joppke 2007
). The goal of such courses is to aid in the integration of immigrants into the labor market, education system and everyday life by teaching them both language as well as civic and cultural information (history, politics, culture) about the host country. Successful completion of integration courses is also formally tied to residence permits, welfare benefits, work permits, entry and even family reunification (Goodman 2014
), illustrating the weightiness and importance that integration has taken on as part of immigration and citizenship policies across Europe. As such, integration courses represent a continuation of the politics of membership, and have thus become a key site of boundary drawing between immigrants and Germans in contemporary Europe.
Mandatory integration courses in Germany began in 2005, as part of the 2004 Immigration Act (Zuwanderungsgesetz
) (Klusmeyer and Papademetriou 2009
). This law was the culmination of government commissions concerned with multiple immigration questions, including labor migration, the asylum process, as well as integration (Klusmeyer and Papademetriou 2009
). In particular, there was a concern with high rates of unemployment of particular groups such as Turkish immigrants, as well as those groups’ use of social welfare programs. Not all immigrants were or are required to take an integration course. European Union citizens are exempt based on their right to residence in any EU member country. All others seeking a residence permit, including spousal and family reunification migrants, are required to take an integration course. Integration courses are also required of anyone receiving social welfare (FOMR 2015). As a result, most integration course participants are non-European.
Germany’s integration course consists of two parts: a language course of 600–900 h, followed by an ‘orientation course’ lasting 60 h. This latter course—the focus of this article—usually takes place over a three- to six-week period and is centered on educating immigrants about politics, laws, history and everyday life in Germany. The integration course curriculum is standardized by the German Migration and Refugees Office, with a limited number of course books with nearly identical topics and content. All course books are divided into three units, in the following order: Politics in a Democracy; History and Responsibility; and The Individual and Society. The course concludes with a Life in Germany test that course participants take at the end of the course. This test virtually replicates the official citizenship est which migrants who wish to naturalize must take. The test consists of 33 questions drawn from a test bank of 300 questions. Those who pass the test can have their residence time for naturalization reduced by 1 year, from 8 to 7 years.
While the goal of immigrant integration through integration courses is clear, what information is deemed necessary for integration is vague. The Council of Europe’s directive on integration courses simply states, ‘basic knowledge of a host society’s language, culture, and institutions is indispensable to integration’ (Joppke 2007, p. 23
). But what counts as basic knowledge? Even the modules of Politics in a Democracy, History and Responsibility, and The Individual and Society, do not reveal the knowledge used to construct Germany and deemed necessary for immigrants to know. This vagueness and ambiguity in defining integration and host-society knowledge points to the need to examine what is being taught in integration courses and how it defines the meaning of integration. As Klusmeyer and Papademetriou note, ‘[integration]’s meaning is subject to change and remains open to competing interpretations’ (Klusmeyer and Papademetriou 2009, p. 261
In this article, I examine integration courses in Germany as a key site for constructing both immigrant and national identities. I use a sociology of boundaries approach (Lamont and Molnár 2002
) to analyze these constructions in two ways. First, I consider whether integration courses create bright or blurred boundaries (Alba 2005
) between immigrants and Germans. I examine the extent to which immigrants and Germans, and their respective countries and cultures, are constructed as different and/or similar. Second, I examine the content of the boundary between immigrants and Germans that emerges in integration courses. I ask what narratives and identity categories about immigrants and Germany emerge and are salient in the integration course. I use the terms suspect outsiders
and prospective citizens
to capture the way that immigrants are constructed based on these two ways of analyzing the immigrant/German boundary.
My observations are based on three separate integration courses at three different sites in Germany (See Table 1
). Two of the courses took place in Berlin, and one was in Frankfurt. I selected these particular courses based on prior contacts and accessibility as well as the fact that they served different groups of immigrants and were taught through different types of institutions. One Berlin-based course (herein referred to as the ‘Arabic class’) was offered at an Arabic community organization. All of the participants in this course were Arabic-speaking, and most were recently arrived Syrian refugees who had been in Germany for one to one and a half years. Two teachers alternated teaching the course: one was a young Polish student in her early 20s who spoke German but no Arabic; the other teacher was a Moroccan man in his 30s who had lived in Germany for a longer time and was fluent in both German and Arabic. A second class (herein referred to as the ‘Turkish class’) was held at a Turkish social services organization in Berlin, and was taught by an older German man. Despite the ethnic association of the organization, the participants in this course were of diverse national origins. The third class (the ‘Frankfurt class’) was held at the main Volkshochschule
(continuing education school) in Frankfurt. This course was the most diverse by national origin of the three courses, with each participant coming from a different country. It was taught by a German woman in her 50s. Women and men were equally represented in all three courses. Through classroom interactions and informal conversations outside classes, I surmised that class participants often had a mix of class backgrounds and immigration statuses, with the exception of the Arabic course whose participants were all Syrian refugees.
While the courses I selected were different from each other based on participants’ backgrounds, institution and location in Germany, it is unclear how representative they are of integration courses generally. My findings are based on a very small sample of integration courses, largely due to the time-intensive nature of using ethnographic methods. It is difficult to know which factors, or how many, potentially influence how immigrants are constructed in integration courses. Some possibilities include course site (community organization, Volkshochschule, language school), geographic location (regionally but also urban/rural), teachers’ and students’ multiple identities, age, gender, and many others. The three courses I observed were different in terms of students’ backgrounds, geographic location (2 cities), and course site (community organization versus continuing education school). While the sample size is small, the research methods were ideal for the research question, and uncommon in the study of immigrant integration.
One point of comparison that was deliberate in the selection of courses was the ethnicity/nationality of course participants. Many studies of integration have either given no consideration to how immigrants are differentiated by social location, categories, and identities such as nation/region of origin, religion, race; or have examined immigrant integration for a specific group based on one or more categories. Informed by perspectives on intersectionality (Collins 2000
) and the “situated politics of belonging” (Yuval-Davis et al. 2006
), I sought to explore the comparative differences in how different groups of immigrants might be subject to different boundaries or constructions in different integration courses. While the term “immigrants” technically refers to any foreign-born person or non-citizen, immigrants in most host societies are imagined and represented in public discourse as particular groups (cf. Chavez 2013
). In Germany, public discourse about immigration has focused on Muslims—the majority of whom are Turkish, Middle Eastern and Asian—or these same ethnic/national origin groups (Ewing 2008
; Green 2015
). In addition, comparative studies of immigrant groups in Germany have shown that Turks and Turkish-Germans are more disadvantaged than other immigrants in educational attainment as well as the labor market (Kristen and Granato 2007
; Kalter 2011
), and thus symbolic of the challenge of immigrant integration. For this reason, I chose integration courses held at Turkish and Arab community organizations, which serve communities deemed the most “Other” in public discourse. As a contrast, I chose Frankfurt as one of the most diverse cities in terms of national origin. This diversity was reflected in the backgrounds of course participants in the course I observed, who came from Asia, the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe, and North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The majority of the scholarship on integration has focused on either integration policy or on indicators of integration in socioeconomic, cultural and political terms, often using quantitative methods and data (e.g., Ersanilli and Koopmans 2010
; Alba and Foner 2015
). The strength of these studies has been their comparative approach, which has yielded important conclusions and debates about the inclusivity or restrictiveness of integration programs and requirements, including integration courses. Ersanilli and Koopmans
), for example, examine the influence of citizenship requirements on the socio-cultural integration of Turkish immigrants in three countries. Alba and Foner
) also take a mostly quantitative approach by comparing the integration of second-generation immigrants in six countries in Western Europe and North America, comparing immigrants in seven areas—economics, education, political power, residence, intermarriage, race and religion. It is from such studies that statements and measures of how ‘well’ immigrant groups are integrated are derived. Another strand of literature has examined integration policy, often in comparative perspective (Goodman 2010
; Michalowski and van Oers 2012
; Joppke 2007
; Jacobs and Rea 2007
). Much of this literature attempts to develop typologies and indexes for integration across European states, as well as to argue in favor of, or against, the convergence of integration policy and programs among countries. Some of this work has also taken a critical approach, questioning whether integration policies and programs in fact lead to the desired outcome of integrating immigrants (Goodman 2010
; Goodman and Wright 2015
). Other critical work has examined the use of integration programs as a tool of racial and ethnic projects (Fitzgerald et al. 2017
) or as a tool of immigration control (Goodman 2011
). These various approaches to studying integration have been illuminating in bringing a comparative perspective on policies as well as outcomes across groups, but in general have remained focused on integration policy, and/or quantitative measures of integration.
By definition, integration involves questions of national identity—what the nation is defined as and how it is imagined (Anderson 1991
). The scholarship on nations, nationhood and national identity is, therefore, important to understanding the immigrant/German boundary. As this literature shows, nations have historically used various criteria and categories as a basis for their self-definition, from civic principles to group memberships based on ethnicity, language, religion, race and others (Brubaker 1992
; Hobsbawm 1990
; Anderson 1991
; Joppke 1998
; Beaman 2015
; Simonsen 2016
; Fitzgerald et al. 2017
). Such constructions shape self-understandings and senses of belonging for both citizens and non-citizens, and inform policies and practices of membership and inclusion (Brubaker 1992
; Bail 2008
; Triandafyllidou 1998
; Chávez et al. 2012
; Onasch 2017
). For example, Brubaker’s
) seminal comparison of France and Germany showed how differences in national self-understandings (civic/territorial versus ethnic) led to liberal or restrictive access to citizenship. Similarly, Favell
) compared philosophies of integration in Britain, France and the US, and their impact on policies as well. Other scholarship has shown that integration and citizenship may be more or less ‘ethnicized,’ based on political parties’ differing definitions of who belongs to the nation (Joppke 2006
). Importantly, these definitions and constructions of national identity simultaneously construct non-members and ‘others’ defined as excluded or outsiders (Simonsen 2016
; Triandafyllidou 1998
). At the same time, the specific narratives or identities used in the constructing of nations has varied and is contested. This means that while host societies have always been concerned with immigrant integration or assimilation, those concerns are framed in various terms and categories, and with particular stories or tropes about specific groups who fall into those categories (Bail 2008
; Helbling 2014
; Ewing 2008
; Allievi 2005
). Zolberg and Woon
) article title—‘Why Islam is like Spanish’—captures this fundamental way in which different categories, such as religion or language, may do the same kind of boundary work. While Spanish, a language, may be deemed a threat to national identity in the USA, Islam, a religion, may be seen as a threat to national identities in Europe.
Like the scholarship on integration, the scholarship on nations, nationalism, and national identity has been largely at the macro-level. However, nations and immigrants are also constructed and imagined at the micro-level, through interactional processes, often in local contexts. While large-scale data comparing statistics on unemployment and education or citizenship policies are more often used to analyze boundaries between immigrants and citizens, such approaches cannot account for interactional or local contexts, and risk overgeneralizing national models (see cf. Simonsen 2016
). Integration courses represent such contexts.
Integration courses are in fact, by definition, sites for the making of national identities, as they have the specific goal of teaching about the nation and host society. Scholars such as Eugen Weber have shown that education has been a key tool in the making of national identities. As Soysal and Schissler note: ‘[h]istorically, subjects were transformed into citizens through the teaching of history, geography, and the language of the nation’ (Soysal and Schissler 2005
). Integration courses and their curricula represent a ‘codified and legitimized version of what is worth knowing and what is right and wrong because they speak with the institutional authority of their principal user: the educational system, that is, to some degree at least, the state’ (Kotowski 2013, p. 301
Previous scholarship has defined integration and citizenship almost entirely through the numbers of barriers to nationality acquisition or requirements for residence and naturalization (cf. Howard 2009
; Goodman 2010
; Fitzgerald et al. 2017
). Yet, a key aspect of belonging and becoming a member of a society is based on the permeability of the boundary, which in turn depends on constructed understandings of immigrants, host societies and the meaning of membership. As the comparative study of citizenship and national identity has shown, how national identity is understood is critical for both whether immigrants choose to become full members through naturalization, and what that membership means (Chávez et al. 2012
; Brubaker 1992
; Williams 2013
). It is therefore critical to examine the meanings of immigrants and host nations.
To examine these constructions, I use a sociology of boundaries approach (Lamont and Molnár 2002
; Zolberg and Woon 1999
; Alba 2005
; Korteweg and Triadafilopoulous 2013
; Onasch 2017
; Wimmer 2008
). Zolberg and Woon
) have most clearly developed the boundary construction approach to the study of immigration. Specifically, they introduced the concepts of boundary ‘crossing’, ‘blurring’ and ‘shifting.’ According to their formulation, incorporation and inclusion are part of a negotiated, dialectical process of boundary drawing between hosts/Germans and immigrants. Boundary crossing occurs when individuals ‘change themselves by acquiring attributes of the host society’; boundary shifting occurs when ‘the line differentiating members from non-members is relocated’; finally, boundary blurring is characterized by the ‘tolerance of multiple memberships and an overlapping of collective identities hitherto thought to be separate and mutually exclusive’ (9). Alba
) further expanded on this language by introducing the distinction between ‘bright’ boundaries—or those where ‘individuals know at all times which side of the boundary they are on’—versus ‘blurred’ ones, which ‘allow for ambiguous locations with respect to the boundary’ (22). Using race, religion, citizenship and language, he compares the second generation in France, Germany and the US. Based on these categories, he shows that the two European societies create a brighter boundary between immigrants and Germans than does the US (39).
I combine the sociology of boundaries’ methodology with ethnography and discourse analysis (Tonkiss 2012
) as specific methods of data collection to analyze the immigrant/German boundary. Critical discourse analysis focuses on the way that ‘ideologies are reproduced through language and texts,’ as well as the way that language is crucial to the reproduction, legitimation and exercise of power (Tonkiss 2012, p. 408
). Language is about both categories or what is said, and reflects statements which can reproduce or, alternatively, challenge existing power relations. Within the study of immigration, a few studies have examined integration using ethnographic or discourse analytic approaches. Two important contributions are Korteweg and Triadafilopoulous
) and Onasch
), both of which analyze the meanings of immigration and integration using discourse analysis or ethnographic methods. Korteweg and Triadafilopoulous
) examine the way that parliamentary debates about integration in the Netherlands construct immigrants. They find that parliamentary debates centered on Muslim women, rather than all immigrants, as the intended targets of integration programs. In addition to showing the importance of representations and stereotypes in the discourse on integration, their analysis illustrates that integration programs imagine immigrants as particular kinds of people (cf. Hacking 1986
), which in turn inform policymaking and programs. Similarly, Onasch’s
) work on boundary drawing in the French integration program illustrates the ways immigrants are represented and treated in integration courses, and finds that essentialized stereotypes of religion, culture and race, emerge through interactions between students, course instructors and other personnel involved in integration programs.
Germany’s Migration and Refugees Office has a standardized curriculum with specific course books with nearly identical content. However, it is the realization of that content through examples, illustrations and elaborations chosen by teachers, as well as the interactions between students and teachers about some topics and not others, that construct the boundary between immigrants and Germans/Germany, and constitute immigrants as suspect outsiders or prospective citizens. It is through this process that meanings of ‘immigrants,’ ‘Germans’ and ‘Germany,’ are made. The curriculum and the interactions that arise in its context are deeply interwoven and, therefore, I analyze both the text of the curriculum and the spontaneous interactions and conversations between teachers and students and among students. Examples, illustrations and elaborations on course material can have very different meanings about immigrants and Germans/Germany. For example, in teaching the principle of ‘freedom of religion,’ a teacher could ask a participant, ‘Can you force others to wear the hijab?’ Such a question constructs religious freedom as freedom from a Muslim practice and symbol of Islam, with the accompanying narrative of Muslims as religious zealots who try to convert others to Islam. Such an example brightens the boundary between immigrants and Germans/Germany and views immigrants as suspect outsiders. Other interactions may blur the boundary of Germans and immigrants by emphasizing the citizen-ness of immigrants. For example, teachers’ elaborations may include an emphasis on the rights of immigrants to practice religion or other cultural practices, which suggest their ability to belong in Germany without discarding their identities.
Examples such as those above construct not only the boundary separating immigrants and Germans, but also the boundary between Germany and immigrants’ countries of origin. In integration courses, the host society may be idealized and presented as superior to immigrants’ countries of origin. I therefore took note of when Germany and Germans were idealized compared to immigrants and their countries of origin. I interpret those instances when Germany was idealized as cases of bright boundary drawing. Using the same approach, I also paid attention to the critiques of Germany offered in the curriculum, classroom and in interactions. I analyzed these examples as well as others where Germany was seen as ‘no better’ as instances of boundary blurring, since in doing so immigrants were constructed as equals who did not necessarily need to change or assimilate to become integrated, and were therefore prospective citizens.
Because these elaborations are spontaneous, interactive, and take place in real time, ethnographic methods are ideal for analyzing the immigrant/German boundary. For each course, I observed roughly half of the 60 total hours of each integration course. Following Emerson et al.
), I closely observed and took field notes in a small notebook on classroom and course site settings, course participants’ backgrounds, and interactions within the classroom as well as outside it, and before, during and after class. I also took notes of interactions I had with students and teachers during and outside of class. I specifically listened for instances where teachers’ examples, illustrations, and elaborations that were occasions for boundary drawing between immigrants and Germans. I later reviewed these notes for themes where immigrants could be constructed as suspect outsiders
or prospective citizens
, and then coded them using the themes I examined.
In this article, I have examined the ways in which the immigrant/German boundary is drawn in Germany’s mandatory integration courses. Based on my observations, three dominant themes emerged as important for viewing immigrants as either suspect outsiders or prospective citizens: (1) gender relations and gender equality; (2) democracy and rights; and (3) religious and expressive freedom. These were the themes that elicited the most interactions, elaborations and conversations among teachers and students in the courses I observed. My analysis of course content and interactions between teachers and students on topics related to these themes shows that immigrants were more often constructed as prospective citizens than suspect outsiders. This was shown through multiple spontaneous instances where teachers, elaborating on curricular material, tended to play down dominant stereotypes, themes and narratives about immigrants as patriarchal, religious zealots, and as ignorant or infantile in their knowledge about democracy and rights. In contrast, teachers’ examples and use of texts emphasized the rights and potential inclusion of immigrants, as well as critiquing Germany’s own adherence to the same values and themes through which immigrants are assessed.
On the one hand, these results are surprising. The current debate about immigrants and recent refugees in Germany has led to the rise of a far-right party (Alternative for Germany) within the mainstream, as well as a visible far-right movement (PEGIDA), both within the last five years. In addition, a few high-profile incidents involving migrants or those believed to be migrants, such as the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015, were interpreted and framed by mainstream media and many Germans as confirming beliefs about immigrants as suspect outsiders
(The New York Times 2016
). These events and their framing in the media echo others of the past decade, such as honor killings and forced marriages (Ewing 2008
). Notably, these narratives were implicit or explicit in the integration course curriculum and test questions. However, they were subverted by teachers’ examples and elaborations, which ranged from mocking questions directed at Muslims to critiquing Germany’s own adherence to the values that immigrants are expected to learn in order to integrate. This leads to the question of teachers as the frontline workers of integration courses and integration. In the courses I observed, teachers were clearly critical of right-wing and conservative positions on immigrant integration. Whether this is common among German teachers is uncertain, and it should be noted that teachers may not be reflective of the general population, so that how immigrants will be viewed in everyday life in Germany may be different than how teachers view and construct them.
As my analysis and findings show, ethnographic methods are especially illuminating of the boundary-construction process. Nations and immigrants are not only imagined at the macro-level or through state policies, but are equally constructed at the micro-level and in interactional contexts. Examining these micro-level sites of boundary construction may reveal a more nuanced image of nations as having ‘bright’ or ‘blurred’ boundaries of belonging. Micro-level and ethnographic studies may reveal a blurred boundary in a ‘bright boundary’ nation-state; or it may illustrate other important aspects of boundary construction that are otherwise missed by only analyzing statistics and state policies. Historically, Germany has been characterized by ‘bright’ boundaries (Alba 2005
), yet in the particular cases examined here, the boundaries between Germany/German and immigrants were more often blurred than bright. At the same time, because the data and findings are based on a very small number of specific cases, it is difficult to know how representative they are of integration courses generally.
Importantly, boundaries of outsiderhood or belonging can be constituted as much by adherence to values such as religious freedom and gender equality, as by categories of difference such as national origin, religion and ethnicity/race. In the explicit discourse of the German integration course, the basis for boundaries was almost entirely through adherence to values. On the one hand, this could signal a potential re-defining of belonging and even Germanness—against the historical basis of descent or ‘ethnicity’ (Williams 2013
; Howard 2012
; Miller-Idriss 2006
). On the other hand, ‘values’ can become a proxy for group membership, particularly in a global context in which ascribed statuses such as race, religion and others are illegitimate criteria for exclusion (Fitzgerald et al. 2017
). Because values may in fact do the work that categories once did, and many of these categories in fact overlap, I have used the terms suspect outsiders
and prospective citizens
in place of specific categories of difference. Just as importantly, these values are as universal as they are particular to Germany. ‘Human rights,’ ‘democracy’ and ‘gender equality’ all belong to a larger global, universalist discourse to which many nation-states subscribe. In this way, Germany, and Germanness have themselves been defined in universalist terms, fusing national identity with global, universalist principles. But again, this does not mean that immigrants cannot be excluded or seen as outsiders.
I approached the selection of courses through a comparative and intersectional perspective with an interest in how courses serving different groups of immigrants might differ in drawing the immigrant/German boundary. Based on my observations, there was little difference between the Turkish, Arabic and Frankfurt classes, or teachers’ interactions with students of different national origins or religions. Although initially I conducted focus groups with students at the beginning of my research to know whether participants felt more like citizens or outsiders, these proved difficult due to language and other barriers.
Integration courses are one site of many where immigrants learn what they must know and do in order to potentially belong. Based on the observations here, Germany’s integration courses may contribute to immigrants’ sense that crossing the boundary of Germanness or citizenship is possible. However, boundaries between immigrants and host societies and their members are made at multiple sites and through an ongoing process of negotiation (Zolberg and Woon 1999
). Integration courses are only one site where this boundary is made, but which is also the main way that the state creates citizens out of immigrants.