The Integration of Caribbean Migrants in Danish Society

Contact person: Professor Karen Fog Olwig

Integration studies have tended to focus on major groups of immigrants settled in ethnic clusters in urban areas. A significant theme has been the supposed tendency for these groups to develop ”parallel societies” that are separate from the surrounding society, and the social, economic and cultural problems believed to emerge as a result of this. The undercurrent in much of this research, in other words, has been the assumption that immigrant groups by nature are skeptical towards blending with the local population and prefer to stick to their “own” group.

This project investigates an ethnic minority that has a tradition for cultural openness and network building across ethnic and racial boundaries, in this case Caribbean immigrants in Denmark. Migration research has shown that whereas Caribbean immigrants have continued their tradition of social and cultural mixing in the Britain, they have been prevented from doing so in the United States due to the strong racial barriers in that country. This project will explore how Caribbean immigrants have experienced settling in Denmark in relation to British and American findings. By looking at a group of people, who display many of the qualities Danes associate with well-integrated immigrants, the project will direct focus away from the tendency to treat isolation as endogen to immigrants, and consider, instead, the societal conditions of integration. How are the Caribbean immigrants’ approaches to social incorporation received by Danes? Which social and economic opportunities are open to them in Danish society and what kind of barriers do they encounter?

Fieldwork will be based primarily on life story interviews with immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean. There are today close to 500 such immigrants in Denmark, half of whom live in the Copenhagen area. The project is part of a larger, inter-disciplinary research project Social Cohesion and Ethnic Diversity, funded by the Danish Council of Strategic Research.