English title: Ethnic and Cultural Diversity, Integration Policies and Social Cohesion in Europe. A Comparative Analysis of the Relation between Cultural Diversity and Generalized Trust in Europe

Author(s): Reeskens Tim -

Language: English

Type: Thesis / dissertation

Year: 2009


The question whether social cohesion is under pressure due to increasing societal complexity and diversity has been at the core of social science research. The recent upsurge in immigration flows to European societies has renewed the interest in this puzzle both from an academic and policy point of view. In this doctoral dissertation, the research question that is analyzed is whether social cohesion is weaker in European societies that are highly diverse and whether integration policy are able to strengthen the social fabric of diverse societies. Before this question can be tackled, it first of all needs to be assessed how social cohesion in diverse societies actually can be represented. Traditional definitions that, for instance, depart from a shared set of norms and values seem to imply a tense relation between diversity and social cohesion. However, classical sociological theories have emphasized that social solidarity in complex society is based on the interdependence of differentiated parts. Moreover, this interdependence is facilitated by trust in the generalized other. This kind of trust is moreover an individual attitude that is highly dependent from the national context and consequently lends itself to comparative research. Despite the fact that generalized trust is a valid representation of social cohesion in diverse societies, there are nevertheless various theoretical arguments that emphasize that trust is lower in diverse settings. Recent empirical research in the US has given additional leverage to these theoretical models by showing that trust is lower in diverse neighborhoods. Analyzing this relation across the continent, I have demonstrated that a similar strong erosion of social cohesion due to the share of immigrants, an upsurge in immigration or the social distance of the immigrant population and the native population, is not present in Europe. Finally, bringing in integration policy, countries that have adopted an open set of policy measures have on average a citizenry that ranks slightly higher on generalized trust compared with countries that are restrictive in their integration policies. However, the analysis also shows that the most diverse countries that are open in their policies are not more cohesive than diverse countries with restrictive integration measures. The general conclusion thus, is that in Europe, diversity and social cohesion are not irreconcilable, in contrast with the dominant Anglo-Saxon models that have been proposed so far. Moreover, the analysis has shown that in order to strengthen the social fabric of societies, i.e. to craft trust among citizens, the best policy initiatives can be taken in ameliorating the socioeconomic position, both at the national level (a prosperous economy) as at the individual level (education and employment).


Awarding institution: Faculty of Social Sciences - K.U. Leuven

Number of pages: 298

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