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Review of  Constructions of Migrant Integration in British Public Discourse

Reviewer: Seyma Toker
Book Title: Constructions of Migrant Integration in British Public Discourse
Book Author: Sam Bennett
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 29.4087

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Upon their arrival into a new country, migrants are surrounded by discourses of integration. These discourses are created by politicians, circulated by media, and paradoxically exclusive of the agents of the integration – migrants themselves. This is also a common pitfall in existing literature on migrant integration policies; migrants’ perspective on integration does not receive the attention it deserves, either in policy making or in policy research. Sam Bennett acts on this contradiction and brings a methodological innovation to critical discourse analysis of migrant integration in his book “Constructions of Migrant Integration in British Public Discourse: Becoming British”. Drawing on a comprehensive pool of both “top-down” and “bottom-up” public discourse data including policy documents, media texts and data from focus group interviews with migrants and new citizens, Bennett examines the shift in the discursive construction of migrant integration between 2000 and 2010 in the UK.

Chapter 1, To Be or Not to Be (British): Discourse, Integration and the Public Sphere, outlines the theoretical orientations and the methodology in his study. It starts with definition of terms such as discourse, text, context, and the description of the “discursive public sphere” model developed by the author that differs from the existing models in that public discourse is conceptualized as emerging from a dialectical relation between political discourse, media discourse and interpretive community. Description of the model is followed by a brief survey of the literature on migrant integration in the UK, where the author argues that discursive construction of integration in the public sphere across multiple discourse genres and its connection to migrants’ own understanding of integration remains an area underexplored.

Chapter 2, Discourse, Race, and Migration, examines the discursive nature of racism and exclusion in the history of the UK. It reviews several theories of racism and particularly elaborates on social constructivist theories in relation to policy and media. Aligning with critical discourse scholars such as Fairclough, Wodak, and van Dijk, the author takes a discursive stance on the construction of racism, believing that “racist ideologies are produced in discourse and reproduced and acted upon through discourse, the effects of which, in turn, reinforce our initial conceptions” (p.31).

Chapter 3, (En)Acting Integration, is devoted to explanation of two important concepts for the study: integration and citizenship. Bennett first gives a review of different theories of integration and citizenship such as multiculturalism, politics of recognition, politics of redistribution, and theory of transnational membership. He then moves on to explain integration in practice, detailing integration models from Berry's (2003) model of acculturation to Ager and Strang’s (2004) two-way integration framework, which is the one adopted in this study. He contends that integration in the UK is a performative process and a neoliberal model of citizenship best explains how incoming non-nationals are integrated in the society.

Chapter 4, Historical and Socio-Political Contexts, prepares the readers for the following analysis chapters by providing the history of migration and integration policies in Europe and the UK during the Labour governments of 1997-2010. It argues that Britain’s migration policies have historically been tied to race or ethnicity as they were during the Labour governments. The author draws attention to the shift in Labour’s approach to migration during this period from the rhetoric of border control to a neo-assimilatory stance, differentiating between desirable and non-desirable migrants based on their contribution to the economy and commitment to British values.

Chapter 5, Analysis of Government Policy Texts, provides an in-depth discourse analysis of government documents on integration over a decade, including white papers, green papers, and government reports. The analysis reveals that integration and community cohesion are discursively constructed as separate in policy documents, the former pertaining to newcomers while the latter is a result of integration. In addition, a closer examination of the concept of “community” across the texts demonstrates vague and differing meanings, at places referring to a single body of people and in others plural but inclusive or exclusive of migrants and refugees. The author also unpacks the meaning of “integration”, discussing that integration discourse is normative and is constructed as an endless process in which ‘migrants’ particularly asylum-seekers and refugees are portrayed as the problematic object supported by government rather than agents of this process. The main argument in this chapter is integration policy between 2000 and 2010 appears as normative, assimilatory, and racialized (particularly against British Muslims) in the policy documents, and it is paving its way to a more performative understanding driven by neoliberal assumptions on expectations of economic self-sufficiency and active participation in the nebulous concept of “community”.

Chapter 6, Analysis of Media Texts, presents the analysis of print national and local newspapers on the discourse of integration. Combining quantitative corpus analysis with a close-up qualitative analysis of language patterns, the author shows how government policy texts are circulated, reproduced and re-contextualized through media. The findings in this chapter parallel the analysis of the policy documents, particularly regarding the construction of community. Communities are primarily racialized in the media discourse, though they are either framed more vaguely in the policy texts or linked to a certain geography. Similar to the discourse in the policy texts, non-Brits are discursively constructed as “different” and “required” to be integrated to be the ideal citizens performing British values (e.g. tolerance and democracy) and neoliberal citizenship. In this chapter, Bennett illustrates how elite discourses of integration initiated in the government policy documents are mirrored and interpreted in the media as explained in his model of discursive public sphere.

Chapter 7, Analysis of Focus Groups with Incoming Non-Nationals, turns our gaze to “the words, thoughts, feelings and experiences of incoming non-nationals themselves towards integration” (p. 131). It first maps out the discourse topics (Reisigl & Wodak, 2001) evident in focus group interviews with migrants of different legal status and method of entry. Then, it provides a critical discursive analysis of what the author terms “doing integration” by the focus group. The findings illuminate that integration is constructed as a locally experienced phenomenon by the respondents – a process that is mainly dependent on language skills and opportunities for social contact with the community. One interesting finding from the interviews is that incoming non-nationals appear to internalize the public discourse on neoliberal expectations from newcomers such as contributing to the economy, paying taxes, and being self-sufficient. Though their understanding of integration shows diversity and complexity, it parallels the local and performative aspect of integration dominant in the political discourse. For instance, paying back to the local community is a salient theme in how non-nationals describe good citizenship. But, as opposed to the association of top-down British values with integration by elite policy-makers, migrants view integration as a local activity, not necessarily a national one.

Chapter 8, Discussion and Conclusion: The Discursive Construction, summarizes the findings in the analysis chapters and ties them back to the model of discursive public sphere and theoretical discussions on the integration of migrants in the UK. As throughout the book, the author contends that political and media discourse discursively construct integration as neo-assimilatory between 2000 and 2010, associating successful integration and good citizenship as performing self-sufficiency and adherence to British values of democracy, rule of law, and equality assuming that incoming non-nationals are deficient in them. From the perspective of migrants of various legal statuses and countries of origin, integration is perceived as a local and individual experience. They challenge the elite, assimilatory representation of good citizenship based on national values; they indicate that they have multiple social bonds including the local community, the openness of which plays a crucial role in their integration experiences. The chapter concludes by reframing integration as a local activity and process, calling for further cooperation of local authorities, and inclusion of multiethnic migrant groups into policy design, and consideration of alternative model of transnational citizenship.


Bennett’s work advances the literature in migration research by introducing methodological novelty to analyze integration in critical discourse studies (CDS), combining top-down and bottom-up analysis of data. In this regard, it achieves its aim to “add and develop research into integration theory by providing an in-depth analysis on how migrants and other stakeholders view the process of integration” (p.4).

One limitation of the study concerns the exclusion of social media as a part of the data used for bottom-up analysis. Although interviews in this study can be considered as spaces where migrant groups can voice their resistance to dominant political and media discourse on immigration, inclusion of social media discourse generated by the migrants themselves, for instance, their comments or tweets on relevant online platforms, would have strengthened the bottom-up data sources and enriched the analysis.

The analysis sections incorporate some visuals and tables to highlight the key themes and connections; however, Chapter 5 could, for instance, have benefitted from a visually neat representation of the frequency of key terms related to community and integration to paint a broader picture of the corpus, as Chapter 6 attempts to do. These frequency tables would make it easier for the readers to follow the analysis as well as helping them to compare the instances across different genres of policy texts.

While not free of shortcomings, Bennett’s study remains innovative in methodology and is recommended to graduate students and scholars interested in migration research and critical discourse studies.


Ager, A. & Strang, A. (2004). Indicators of Integration: Final Report. London: Home Office.

Berry, J. (2003). Conceptual Approaches to Acculturation. In K. Chun, P. Balls Organista, & G. Marin (Eds.), Acculturation: Advances in Theory, Measurement and Applied Research (pp. 17-37). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Reisigl, M. & Wodak, R. (2001). Discourse and Discrimination: Rhetoric of Racism and Antisemitism. London: Routledge.
Şeyma Toker is a Ph.D. student in Applied Linguistics at Georgetown University. Her research interests include second language socialization, migration, identity, and critical multilingualism.

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