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What is social integration? Understanding the concept of social integration. Is social integration inclusionary, implying equality of opportunity. The opposite of social integration is social exclusion. Does increasing social integration have a negative connotation, implying unwanted imposition of uniformity? Is social integration simply a way of describing the established patterns of human relations in any given society?
Social integration is the joining of different ethnic group and ethnic identity within a society into a common social life regulated by generally accepted norms and values. This process need not involve the obliteration of distinct ethnic identity, which would be assimilation, but it implies that ethnic identity does not limit or constrain commitment to the common activities, values and goals of the society. Even the most impoverished and apparently disorganized have their own forms of social intergration and social organization.
Social integration can be sought without giving sufficient attention to the need for cultural diversity. When this occurs, there can be an imposition of uniformity. Narrow concentration on the normative goal of social integration will make disintegration undesirable by definition. But the disintegration of existing systems of social relations can be essential as in the case of slavery, before progress toward a more just and equitable society can be made.
In the work of David Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) the term social integration refers to the density of connection between individuals and social institutions. He assumes that a society requires intense individual participation in a wide range of institutions for it to maintain social integration and provide individuals with a sense of meaning and belonging.
When heads of state met in March 1995 at the World Summit for Social Development, they will consider proposals for action under three agenda headings: (a) decreasing poverty, (b) reducing unemployment, and (c) enhancing social integration. Of these three closely interrelated areas of concern, social integration was perhaps the broadest and most ambiguous. Social integration means different things to different people. To some, it is a positive goal, implying equality of opportunity and rights for all human beings.
Social integration may conjure up the image of an unwanted imposition of conformity. Social integration is simply a way of describing the established patterns of human relations in any given society. One pattern of social integration may provide a just or humane context for human beings than another. It is also possible for one pattern of social integration to be markedly different from another without being either better or worse.
Since the General Assembly urged the enhancement of social integration, it is obvious that delegates considered the latter a goal to be attained through various policy means.
Social Integration as Heightened Solidarity and Mutual Identification
Because our century ends with the collapse of numerous states and the sharpening of ethnic strife around the world, there is particular interest at the moment in searching for ways to create or reinforce common identities which lessen the likelihood of violence and provide a groundwork for co-operation. This is true not only at international and national levels, but also within local societies, where a number of developments are weakening basic social bond of mutual support and accountability and encouraging violent behaviour.
Enhancing social integration can be understood as promoting harmonious interaction and solidarity at all levels of society. When this dimension of the concept is given priority, it becomes the opposite of a process of disintegration. No one doubts the importance of denouncing the unacceptable trend toward greater polarization, and launching an urgent call for greater social solidarity.
Anchoring Prescriptions in Analysis: The Uses of an Alternative Approach to the
Subject of Social Integration.
One way to avoid the pitfalls just outlined above, and to orient discussion at the Social Summit toward consideration of central problems of social development in the 1990s, is obviously to base proposals for change on a solid analysis of existing patterns of social relations in different concrete situations. And here an alternative way of approaching the subject of social integration comes into play.
At any given moment in time, it is possible to take a snapshot of the way a certain
society is organized, Wall Street in New York, the squatter settlements of
Rio de Janeiro, a peasant village in India. What are the values and rules which
shape peoples actions in each of these contexts? How is power held and exercised, and how is wealth
created and distributed? In each
context, there is a pattern of social integration.
To understand how very different these arrangements can be, one could compare the pattern
of social integration characteristic of feudal England with that to be found on the Amazon
frontier in 1990.
Processes of social integration
Moving from static snapshots to dynamic pictures of social
change, we can look at the process of social integration and disintegration through
which particular values and institutions develop or break down.
Increasing social integration is simply an indication that the complexity of social relations is greater, that the life chances of people are more bound up with those of others and less amenable to independent determination. Disintegration, in contrast, signifies the unravelling of existing ties.
The policy-relevant question for those who look at social integration in these terms is not how to increase integration per se, but how to promote a kind of integration which favours the creation of a more just and equitable society.