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Immigrant integration through civic and political participation

Project leader: dr. Mojca Medvešek
No. Application: ARRS-RPROJ-JR-PRIJAVA/2020/509
Partner institution: Univerza v Ljubljani, Fakulteta za družbene vede (FDV UL)
Researchers: dr. Janez Pirc (IES/INV), dr. Romana Bešter (IES/INV), Antonija Todić (IES/INV), izr. prof. dr. Mitja Hafner Fink (FSS/FDV UL), doc. dr. Meta Novak FSS/FDV UL), doc. dr. Simona Zavratnik (FSS/FDV UL)
Founding: ARRS
Duration of the project: October 2021 – September 2024

Scientific background, problem identification and objective of the proposed research 

Scientific background

Different countries adopt different approaches to managing the process of integration, but a common goal of all is to ensure that also after the arrival and settlement of immigrants, social cohesion is maintained to prevent social polarisation and conflicts. Expectations about what a successful integration of immigrants into the new environment should look like vary. As a result, also approaches to studying integration processes vary. Nowadays, the study of integration processes relies on rather complex operationalisations of the concept of integration. It takes into account different reference populations (immigrants and the majority population) and processes that take place in three dimensions (legal-political, socioeconomic, cultural-religious) and on three levels (individual, organisations, state institutions) (Garcés-Mascareñas & Penninx 2016). Bosswick and Heckmann (2006, 11) define integration as the process of inclusion of immigrants in the institutions, relationships and positions in the receiving society. A significant role in such regard is played by active civic and political participation of immigrants, both at the individual and collective levels (Koopmans et al. 2005; Bloemraad 2006). Literature reveals that the concepts of civic1 and political2 participation are not always clearly defined and distinguished (Ekman & Amnå 2012, van Deth 2014). In the case of ethnic communities such as immigrants, the boundaries between the civic and political spheres of public life are generally blurred (Medved 2007). Research confirms the role of civil society organisations as mobilisers of immigrant political participation (Leighley 2001; Strömblad & Adam 2010), but the mechanisms linking the civic participation of immigrants to their political participation are still insufficiently explored (Giugni & Grasso 2020).

Vogel (2008) points out that civic and political participation of immigrants should be given more attention in the immigration countries, especially in Europe where migration is gaining importance due to population aging. Assuming that democracy depends on highly active citizens, ways are being sought to encourage the civic and political participation of immigrants, which is usually lower compared to the majority population (Morales & Giugni 2011). Research on the factors influencing political participation initially focused on individual factors. The prevailing paradigm at the end of the last century considered socioeconomic factors as the main determinants of an individual’s political activity. Political (in)activity can be explained by the following two models: a) the resource model (Brady et al. 1995) and b) the theory of relative deprivation (e.g. Klandermans et al. 2008). The results showed (in line with the resource model) that people with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to participate in political life than people with lower socioeconomic status (Leighley 2001). Moreover, trust in institutions also seems to have an impact on the forms of political participation (e.g. Hooghe & Marien 2013). On the other hand, research on the political participation of ethnic minorities suggests that civic and political participation of members of minorities is also influenced by factors related to the organisation and activity of minority communities. For immigrants, who tend to have lower socioeconomic status and thus have less individual resources for political participation, engagement in politics is likely to be tied to political mobilisation by organised immigrant communities (Leighley 2001, 5).

This raises the question of what impact the association and mobilisation of immigrants within immigrant organisations have on their integration into the wider society. From the point of view of integration, this is primarily a question of whether policies that advocate and promote such association and the preservation of cultural diversity contribute to social cohesion or, conversely, undermine social cohesion. Scholars are not unanimous on the impact of immigrant participation in immigrant organisations. Some authors (e.g. Portes & Rumbaut 1990) believe that the participation of immigrants in immigrant organisations and the pursuit of »ethnic« interests is only a transitional phase in which immigrants gain experience and prepare for participation in the wider society. In contrast, other authors (e.g. Uslaner & Conley 2003) argue that people with strong ties to their own ethnic group are likely to withdraw from civic and political engagement in the wider society. According to Herman and Jacobs (2015), the influence of immigrant organisations on the political participation of immigrants depends also on the attitude of the wider society towards immigrant communities – if the receiving society supports multicultural policies and encourages the establishment and funding of immigrant organisations, being members of such organisations can have a positive effect on the political participation of immigrants in the wider society. If, on the contrary, the state is not favourable to this kind of immigrant organisation, it can incite ethnic segregation and radicalisation of immigrant communities (Pilati 2012). Lately, scholars have been highlighting the importance of the concept of immigrant autonomy (Papadopoulus & Tsianos 2013; Zavratnik & Cukut Krilić 2018) whereby self-organisation and activity are actually forms of participation that take place outside of traditional institutional channels, but often in cooperation with civil society (e.g. autonomous communities of migrants and activists, NGOs).


Problem identification

Research shows that the world is facing a decline in traditional forms of civic participation (such as union activism, membership in church and cultural organisations) and political participation (membership in political parties, electoral behaviour) (Dalton & van Sickle 2005). With the decline of traditional forms of political participation, especially the decreasing voter turnout, the democratic legitimacy of elected bodies and their political decisions is diminishing. We can thus talk about democratic deficit. As civil society and political organisations lose their members, opportunities for social interaction and civil society debate also diminish. As a result, people's social capital is declining (Putnam 2000; Vogel & Triandafyllidou 2005), as well as public trust in democratic institutions, political parties, and politicians.

With the decline of traditional forms of civic and political participation, increasing apathy and scepticism, and growing social divisions, additional challenges emerge, including those related to migration. Migration increases the number of people without full political rights, further exacerbating the democratic deficit (Morales & Giugni 2011) and contributing to greater cultural diversity and possible further divisions among the population. In the last decade, the share of the population with their first residence abroad has increased in almost all OECD countries (OECD/EU 2018, 42), including Slovenia. The number of countries from which immigrants originate is also growing, thus increasing the ethnic diversity of the population.

As the share of immigrants grows, so does the need to manage the process of immigrant integration into the wider society. In addition to employment, housing, access to public services, and other needs that are at the forefront in the first months following immigration, civic and political participation of immigrants are important aspects of the integration process in the long run. This has become a prime topic of professional and political debates over the last two decades (Bloemraad 2006; Fennema & Tillie 2001; Koopmans et al. 2005; Morales & Giugni 2011), and as a result many countries have begun to adjust their integration policies accordingly. In 2004, the Council of the EU adopted the Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy in the EU, stating, inter alia, that the »participation of immigrants in the democratic process and in the formulation of integration policies and measures, especially at the local level, supports their integration«. In this context, the Council recommends that immigrants should become involved in all facets of the democratic process wherever possible. When unequal forms of membership and levels of engagement persist for longer than is either reasonable or necessary, divisions or differences can become deeply rooted (Council of the EU 2004, 23). The data presented by MIPEX 2015 show that a few years ago political participation was a weakness in the integration policies of many countries (including Slovenia), but there have been some changes in this regard lately (Huddleston et al. 2015). In 2019, one third of EU countries promoted civic integration by providing opportunities for immigrants to become actively involved in the receiving societies (Annual Report on Migration and Asylum 2019 2020).

Integration happens every day, at work, at school, in the neighbourhood, in associations where immigrants spend their free time. An important role in this process is played by civil society organisations, cultural, sports and other associations (religious, youth and student), trade unions, as well as various more alternative forms of association and social interaction (e.g. social networks). It is assumed that the immigrant participation in majority civil society organisations offers an opportunity for intercultural learning, building mutual respect and a sense of belonging among immigrants, and at the same time contributes to overcoming xenophobia, exclusion, radicalism. This raises the question of how the decline of traditional forms of civic and political participation among the majority population affects the participation of immigrants? On the one hand, the disinterest and apathy of the majority population can also be transmitted to the immigrant population and reduce the immigrants’ interest in civic and political engagement in the wider society. On the other hand, this could also encourage immigrants to a more active participation within their own organisations. In addition to enabling the achievement of certain socio-political goals, association and participation in various immigrant organisations also enables immigrants to maintain contact with their culture of origin and help preserve and present it to the majority society. This, too, can contribute to intercultural learning and the building of intercultural respect, as well as to a sense of acceptance among immigrants.

As regards the effects of civic and political participation of immigrants in the structures of the majority society or in special immigrant structures, theory is not unanimous. Some studies (Portes & Rumbaut 1990; Uslaner & Conley 2003; Schrover & Vermeulen 2005) show that in different circumstances and under different conditions, the two forms of immigrant participation (in majority and immigrant organisations) can have different, even opposite, effects on the integration of immigrants in the receiving society.

In Slovenia, there is a lack of research on civic and political participation of immigrants. Some partial research has been carried out in connection with specific populations or individual forms of participation (more on this in 27.2). The results of a study conducted at the Institute for Ethnic Studies in 2003 – which also examined the political participation of immigrants with Slovenian citizenship who immigrated from the former Yugoslavia and their descendants – showed that the voter turnout of the population under consideration was lower than the general voter turnout and that they were more interested in political participation at the local level. In addition to the participation deficit, there was also a deficit in the »institutional integration« of the interests of immigrants in the receiving society (Medved 2007). However, civic participation and the mechanisms that activate civic and political participation remained unexplored.

Since then, with the increase in the number of immigrants in Slovenia, the number of immigrant organizations has also increased significantly. In 2007, there were about 64 registered immigrant organisations, while today their number far exceeds 100. This raises the question of whether the growing number of immigrant organisations also increases the engagement of immigrants within these organisations and how this affects the attitude of the majority society towards immigrants. It is worth exploring in what way, in what forms and under what circumstances do civic and political participation of immigrants contribute to their successful integration and social cohesion. 

Objective of the proposed research

Civic and political participation of immigrants is much more than their engagement in associations or participation in elections. It is also a reflection of the level of immigrants’ trust in the institutions of the receiving society, of the internalisation of its (political) values, and of the acceptance of immigrants by the majority population. The aim of the project is to determine the levels and forms of civic and political participation of immigrants3 in Slovenia compared to the majority population and how various factors (individual, group or structural) affect immigrant participation. Above all, the research aims to identify the connection between civic and political participation of immigrants and their integration in Slovenia.

The research will rely on the methodological approach of mixed method research. We will combine quantitative (statistical analysis) and qualitative data (desk research and interviews), which will allow for a more integrated approach to measurement, analysis, and interpretation. The empirical part of the research will include the majority population and immigrant groups. The research will focus on immigrant groups traditionally present in Slovenia, i.e. immigrants from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, and some new immigrant groups or groups whose numbers have increased markedly in recent times (e.g. Albanians, immigrants from the countries of the former Soviet Union). Qualitative data gathering (interviews) will be carried out in municipalities with large shares of immigrants or in larger cities: Ljubljana, Maribor, Jesenice, Kranj, Velenje, Novo mesto, Koper.


 The main research questions are:

  1. What are the levels and forms of civic and political participation of immigrants compared to the majority population?
  2. Are there any differences in the levels and forms of civic and political participation between individual immigrant groups?
  3. What factors (individual, group, structural) hinder or encourage civic and political participation of immigrants and how to strengthen the supportive environment for participation?
  4. To what extent and in what way do immigrants participate in immigrant or majority organisations? What motivates them to participate?
  5. What is the attitude of the majority population towards civic and political participation of immigrants?
  6. What are the effects of civic and political participation of immigrants in Slovenia on integration?

 We will specifically address two demographic groups: the young and women. We will explore:

  1. What role does gender play in civic and political participation?
  2. What is the civic and political participation of young immigrants? 

The research questions will be addressed through the THESIS on civic and political participation of immigrants as an important mechanism of social cohesion, which in times of intense global mobility leads to the need for a systematic research of patterns of inclusion and participation of immigrants in various areas of social and political life in the receiving societies. 

Detailed description of the work programme

Considering the project objectives and research questions, the study of civic and political participation of immigrants will build on the theoretical model developed by Vogel and Triandafyllidou (2005). We adapted the model in accordance with the theories emphasising the importance of the group perspective in the political participation of immigrants. We upgraded it by including the element of integration and the relations between immigrant civic and political participation and integration. The study of these relations will be one of the highlights of this research. Finally, the model will be supplemented in line with the findings.

Figure 1 shows the key factors influencing civic and political participation of immigrants and the relations between them. Each of them is briefly described below.

Individual factors include socio-demographic characteristics (age, gender, education, religion), immigrant resources such as available time, experience, language competences; personality traits including attitude, self-image; social networks that individuals activate for the purpose of achieving a specific goal or interest.

Group factors include the characteristics of individual immigrant groups, such as: socio-economic, cultural (previous political experiences of immigrants and their value system) and other characteristics (number, mode of settlement, history of migration).

Structural opportunities in society, which can be either general, i.e. affecting the entire population (electoral system, legal provisions, existence and openness of existing institutional structures), or special, i.e. relating to immigrants (e.g. role and definition of civic programmes, possibility of participating in elections, existence of consultative bodies at national/local level, citizenship policy, existence of special immigrant organisations). Structural opportunities determine the framework within which immigrants can participate in society, thus also influencing their motivation to participate. Even if this framework is narrow and limits immigrant participation, it can still affect an individual’s motivation to become active. Of particular importance in this regard is the existence of immigrant organisations, which represent not only special structural opportunities for the civic and political participation of immigrants, but also a factor of preservation of the ethnic/cultural identities of immigrants.  

Figure 1: Model of civic and political participation of immigrants and their impact on integration and social cohesion (adapted from Vogel and Triandafyllidou 2005; Vogel 2008)

Another relevant factor in the model is the behaviour of members of the majority society. The behaviour of individual representatives of civil society organisations has a major impact on immigrants’ awareness and perception of structural opportunities for participation in the receiving society. From the perspective of a potentially civically and politically active immigrant, these players translate abstract options into concrete opportunities. On the one hand, they can serve as gatekeepers who set strict conditions and restrictions for immigrant participation in their structures, while on the other they can also actively seek and open opportunities for the active participation of immigrants (Vogel 2008, 25).

Individual motivation for civic and political participation develops under the influence of individual factors, group factors and structural opportunities in society. For civic and political participation, an individual spends time and energy, risks potential public exposure, but eventually receives a tangible or intangible reward, which is also a type of motivation. Motivation can be anything from acquired status, reputation, sense of acceptance, monetary compensation, sense of moral responsibility, to a sense of relative deprivation due to which immigrants perceive their position as disadvantaged compared to that of the majority society or that of members of certain other immigrant groups (Klandermans et al. 2008).

The activation process represents a concrete transition from motivation to action. Various recruiters and role models can play an important role in this process, encouraging the individual to join and actively engage in a particular activity, network, or organisation. The activation process is repetitive and has a cumulative effect. The initial activities of immigrants have an impact on further activities and can lead to new knowledge, skills, networks, which enables them to take on more responsible tasks or change field/activity. However, they can also affect the attitudes and behaviour of the majority social players towards immigrants (Vogel 2008).

Active civic or political participation of immigrants can present various forms, various intensities, and various roles of individuals in the process. The forms and the roles as well as the intensity of participation can change over time. Immigrants can pursue various goals and interests within the structures of the majority society or within immigrant structures. They can join existing organisations or set up new ones. The activity of immigrants in immigrant organisations does not exclude their engagement in the organisations of the majority society and vice versa.

In addition to studying the individual elements of the model, we will also study the level of civic and political participation of immigrants. The following three levels will be considered:

1.   non-engagement (the individual is not interested in wider social and political events, does not have an opinion on social and political issues, is not a member of and does not participate in any civil society or political organisation),
2.   passive participation (the individual closely follows political and social developments, has an opinion thereon, but is not actively engaged),
3.   active participation (the individual’s actions influence local or national policy, he or she is active by helping others or solving community problems; this implies concrete forms of action, behaviour).

The study will help us collect the necessary data to shed light on the level and form of participation and the factors influencing civic and political participation of immigrants. Above all, we will explore the impact of various forms of civic and political participation of immigrants on the integration process and social cohesion. An integrated society is characterised by social cohesion, which the Council of Europe defines as the capacity of a society to ensure the well-being of all its members, minimising disparities and avoiding marginalisation (Council of Europe 2004). An important feature of an integrated society made up of culturally diverse groups is also the acceptance of diversity. The opposites and obstacles to integration and social cohesion are discrimination, social exclusion, marginalisation, segregation, etc. The impact of civic and political participation on integration and social cohesion can therefore be studied, on the one hand, with indicators measuring the identification of immigrants with the receiving society, their feelings and perceptions of equality with members of the majority society and acceptance by the majority society, and on the other hand with indicators measuring perceptions and attitudes of the majority population towards immigrants or various forms of their civic and political participation. 

To achieve the main goals of the project, work will be organised in 10 work packages (WP).

Figure 2: Organisation of work packages






1 Civic participation of immigrants can be understood as activities aimed at the general social benefit and not only at the pursuit of personal interests, such as engagement in local communities, cultural or ethnic associations, trade unions, etc. (Vogel & Triandafyllidou 2005; Ekman & Amnå 2012).

2 Political participation also encompasses various forms of engagement, from activities aimed at influencing government decisions and policy outcomes to forms of formal political participation (Ekman & Amnå 2012).

3 For the purpose of this research, immigrants were defined as persons who were born or had their first residence outside Slovenia, regardless of whether they are citizens of an EU country, a third country, or have Slovenian citizenship.

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The new issue (85) of the Treatises and documents - Journal of Ethnic Studies is now published.


The new issue (81) of the Treatises and documents - Journal of Ethnic Studies is now published.


The new issue (80) of the Treatises and documents - Journal of Ethnic Studies is now published.


The new issue (79) of the Treatises and documents - Journal of Ethnic Studies is now published.