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Narrations of Belonging and Unbelonging of Refugee Women in Geneva

Estelle Gagnebin

2. Literature review

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2.1 Integration as assimilation, acculturation, multiculturalism?

1Since the early sociology of migration in the 1920s-30s, most migration research has tended to focus on the ways in which migrants adapt themselves to, or are socially excluded from, their place of immigration (Vertovec, 2001: 574). However, this process of “integration” had been widely discussed because “there is no single, generally accepted definition, theory or model of immigrant and refugee integration. The concept continues to be controversial and hotly debated” (Castles et al., 2002: 12).

2On the one hand, the classical paradigm of integration is the well-known assimilationist theory (Wimmer, 2007: 9). In sum, this paradigm understands integration as a process involving many stages, at the end of which the newcomer is expected to have assimilated himself into the host society. For instance, Gordon (1964, in Wimmer, 2007: 9) argued that assimilation proceeds at various speeds and through parallel processes in the economic, cultural and social spheres.   

3Newer versions of assimilation theory understand multiple endings to this process. For instance, Porter and Zhou’s (1993) segmented assimilation theory assumes that immigrants’ ethnic communities, identities and cultures might prevail over time and don’t prevent individuals from achieving upward social mobility. Within the framework of socio-psychological theories, John W. Berry’s typology of “acculturation” strategies (assimilation, integration, separation and marginalization) falls into this school of thought (Wimmer, 2007: 10).

4On the other hand, the multiculturalist paradigm understands integration as a negotiation between contexts and cultures. Cultures, identities and communities are seen as persistent across generations of immigrants and understood as desirable, without negative effects on the social mobility of immigrants or on the social cohesion of the whole society (Ibid.).

5Another trend in the literature, according to Cheung and Phillimore (2017), is the identification of factors of integration which allows for an assessment of the extent to which an individual or a group is integrated within the host society. Ager and Strang (2004; 2008) with their “framework on integration” are among the authors cited in this debate. Their framework defines the core domains of integration and outlines their different roles in the process of integration.

6Within this trend in the literature, scholarship studying specific aspects of integration, such as cultural integration, social integration or integration into the labor market, can also be cited. The aim of these studies is to assess the extent to which immigrants and/or refugees integrate themselves into specific spheres. For instance, Liebig, Kohls and Krause (2012) studied the labor market integration of immigrants and their children in Switzerland.

7The methodological nationalism of these theories and scholarship on immigrant integration has been criticized (Wimmer and Glick-Schiller, 2002; Wimmer, 2007; Glick Schiller, 2007). In fact, by studying the boundaries of the nation-state within which immigrants settle, the scholars mentioned above emphasize the differences existing between the host society and newcomers, contributing “to teach citizens that the fundamental social division in society is between natives, who are assumed to uniformly share common social norms, and foreigners who bear some essential form of difference” (Glick Schiller, 2007: 63).

8The early 1990s saw a shift in perspective towards a more global way of understanding migration. This transnationalist approach focuses on the links and attachments that migrants maintain outside the boundaries of their host nation-state. Social networks for instance usually extend beyond the boundaries of nation-states, which is the reason why studying them provides new insights on international migration and incorporation (Waldinger, 2013: 757). This literature on transnationalism contributes to overcoming a feature of methodological nationalism: the assumption that each ethnic or national group would occupy a specific territory (Wimmer, 2007: 9).

9This new trend further questions the concept of assimilation because “if one can build a life in two places, then there is every reason to assume that assimilation – as both concept and reality – belongs to yesterday’s world, not today’s” (Waldinger, 2003: 248). Thus, according to Vertovec (2001), one can ask whether the maintenance of transnational ties represents a distinct alternative to other social forms and processes of immigrant incorporation.

10In sum, these debates on immigrant integration bring forward some concepts and understandings of the so-called integration phenomenon. The idea that immigrants’ experiences within the host society need to be understood as a process, evolving back and forth in time, is especially important. Moreover, as the debate on transnationalism emphasizes, social networks extend beyond the host society and transnational ties must not be forgotten.

11However, as Wimmer (2007: 10-11) points out, the new trend of transnationalism usually fails to avoid methodological nationalism: “Still, the world is made up by clearly demarcated communities of identity and shared culture, albeit now including some deterritorialized communities stretching over several nation-states”. This remark led me to search for a better understanding of immigrants’ experiences within a new society in the literature on ethnic studies and boundaries, namely one which tries to overcome this methodological nationalism.

12Furthermore, transnational concepts also usually fail to consider how experiences of immigrant women and men are gendered and thus qualitatively different (Salih, 2001), a fact that will lead me to turn later on to the literature on gender and migration.          

2.2 Boundary making, shifting and crossing

13The concept of boundaries, especially the emergence and transformation of ethnic boundaries, has been a renewed concern within major paradigms in immigration research such as theories of assimilation and multiculturalism. The work of the Norwegian anthropologist Fredrick Barth has been fundamental in the development of a new paradigm, because he considered ethnicity as a relational process emphasizing how feelings of communality and belonging are created in opposition to the “perceived identity of other racial and ethnic groups” (Lamont and Molnár, 2002: 174), taking a constructivist view of ethnicity as a social process (Wimmer, 2008: 971). Consequently, researchers interested in ethnicity would not study how the ethnic boundary between a group A and a group B was created but how it is embedded in “a landscape of continuous cultural transitions” (Wimmer, 2009: 254). Ethnicity is then defined as the subjective way actors create those group boundaries and distinguish themselves from other ethnic groups by specific markers (Ibid.).

14This consideration views the concept of “assimilation” or “integration” as being reconceived as boundary shifting, which is a potentially reversible and power-driven process (Ibid.: 244). Thus, the process involves a “shifting of the boundaries of belonging, which has to overcome existing forms of social closure along ethnic lines. In this process, immigrants strategically try to adopt cultural markers that signify full membership and distance themselves from stigmatized others through boundary work” (Ibid.: 245).

15Moreover, the interaction between the majority and minority is crucial in creating the boundaries between who is part of immigrant minorities (defining their immigrant ethnicity) and who is part of the national majority (Ibid.).

16Wimmer (2008) identifies 5 types of strategy of ethnic boundary making which may be used by different social actors in various contexts: “shifting boundaries through expansion, shifting boundaries through contraction, the strategy of ‘normative inversion’ targeting how the ethnic group is hierarchically ordered, the repositioning of an individual, and boundary blurring”. This typology furthers the understanding of the strategies used by both newcomers and members of the majority within processes of group and boundary formation.

17However, many challenges appear in the study of boundaries: the understanding of why some ethnic boundaries are more politically prominent than others, which ethnic boundaries are germane when studying the structures of social networks and their enabling access to resources, and why some boundaries and groups are more stable over time. Thus, some boundaries picture higher degrees of closure than others and might follow cultural differences (Wimmer, 2008).

18In fact, some scholars attempt to understand which boundaries are salient within various contexts, especially trying to assess the importance of ethnicity within this boundary-making process. Furthermore, they investigate the strategies used by the created “Others” in reaction to social exclusion. I will now present some of the major literature on these debates, especially those focusing on the context of Europe and Switzerland.

19A significant study from Zolberg and Woon (1999) examines variations in boundaries among different contexts. These authors identify the most prominent boundaries in Europe and in the United States. In Europe, Christianity is seen as the most salient boundary, especially regarding Islam. Religion is a type of boundary that favors the emergence of pluralism, as allowed by the separation of the Church and the State. However, although Europeans claim their support for freedom of religion, in practice there is little public facilitation for the practice of Islam because the European society and culture is embedded in Judeo-Christian civilization. In the United States on the other hand, language appears to be the most significant boundary. In fact, because language cannot institutionally be separated from the State, it demands a more assimilationist strategy, meaning massive boundary crossing.

20In a study on the assimilation and exclusion of second-generation immigrants in France, Germany and the United States, Alba (2005) argues that processes of assimilation and exclusion depend on the nature of the ethnic boundary, which can be bright (the distinction is unambiguous) or blurred (the location of the boundary can be ambiguous). He depicts three strategies of ethnic change and boundary processes: boundary crossing (the classic version of assimilation), boundary blurring and boundary shifting. To understand the position of the boundary, one should look at how it is institutionalized. Here I discuss citizenship, religion, language and race as boundaries. In the European context, religion appears to be an important bright boundary requiring individual boundary crossing.

21Dahinden, Duemmler and Moret (2012) come up with similar findings on the role of religion in Europe in their study of the boundary work of Swiss youth. They explore how “public discursive constructions about differences are used and interpreted in daily life to constitute groups and define the boundaries between them” (2). Their results show how a “bright boundary” is constructed by Swiss youth and second-generation youth of Italian, Spanish, French or Portuguese origins against Muslims. In particular, arguments concerning religious practices are used to mark a difference between themselves and these “outsiders” and are supported by arguments for gender equality. Dahinden et al. also assess the counterstrategies used by young Muslims, the “outsiders”, in relation to these normative categorizations and processes of social exclusion. Two types of response are assessed: individual boundary crossing or assimilation and the process of “normative inversion” described by Wimmer (2008: 1037). This last strategy includes actions trying to modify the characteristics negatively defined by the majority: They positively re-evaluate their cultural origins and use discourses of ethnocultural tolerance (Dahinden et al., 2012: 14-15).

22Holtz, Dahinden and Wagner (2013) are interested in the strategies and negotiations of German Muslims used in response to perceived discrimination (created by the bright boundary of religion). In fact, the German Muslims they studied experienced obstacles from identifying as true German citizens and therefore had to use strategies of reconstructing their social identities. Among these were “reactive religious awakening”, “religion as a means of maintaining ethnic identities” and “marginalization and social creativity” (243-245).

23Studying the process of immigrant incorporation in three Swiss cities (Basel, Bern and Zurich), Wimmer (2004) undertakes spatial case studies of social networks in certain neighborhoods to understand the role of ethnicity in these groups’ formation and boundary making. He finds that ethnicity does not structure these processes of group formation (as presupposed by classical paradigms of immigrant integration). Thus, the perceived distance between the “Other” and a sense of belonging is based on the “perceived distance from the central paradigm of order” and not on a dichotomy between Swiss citizens and foreigners. Interestingly, one of Wimmer’s findings lays out how former guest-worker immigrants (Italians, Spanish) distinguish themselves from newly arrived refugees and immigrants from former Yugoslavia and Turkey. He argues that they use discourses pointing out the more recent newcomers’ vices or flaws such as their religiosity or lack of decency in order to maintain “their [own] capital of normalcy” attained at the end of a process of boundary crossing.

  • 1 Lamont and Molnár (2002: 168-169) in an article about the study of boundaries in social science dis (...)

24Dahinden (2013) also assesses this matter of migrant incorporation and ethnicity within the framework of boundary work. She studies the social networks of the population of Neuchâtel in Switzerland to understand which categories are salient in the boundary-work process, as well as the role of ethnicity in this process. She distinguishes between three types of boundary: network boundaries that emerge out of personal networks and symbolic and social boundaries as defined by Lamont and Molnár (2002).1 She also emphasizes the need to study social and symbolic boundaries created by categories other than ethnicity and how those intersect with ethnicity. She concludes that “network boundaries are reinforced by symbolic boundaries and translated into social boundaries, pointing to the social stratification of four clusters of people which are differently placed in this city” (Dahinden, 2013: 57). The main classifications creating exclusion and network and social boundaries are based on race and Islam and are mainly applied to newly arrived immigrants by the already established population which includes the former guest-worker immigrants. She also stresses the observation that ethnicity matters only in combination with other categories (education, establishment or residence permit) when taking a boundary perspective.

25These studies emphasize how in the context of Europe and Switzerland religion, especially regarding Islam, is a salient boundary (Zolberg and Woon, 1999; Alba, 2005; Dahinden et al., 2012; Holtz et al., 2012; Dahinden, 2013). Some of the strategies put forward by the excluded individuals are individual boundary crossing (Dahinden et al., 2012), social identity reconstruction (Holtz et al., 2012) and normative inversion (Wimmer, 2008; Dahinden et al., 2012).

26My first concern within my research was to understand how the different identities and social locations of the women refugees I spoke with could impact their experience of integration and social inclusion within the context of Geneva. The literature on boundaries helps me to grasp the different processes of group creation and social inclusion/exclusion as well as the counterstrategies used by the excluded.

27However, the work of Wimmer, for instance, focuses mainly on ethnicity along with race, without considering their intersection with individuals’ other characteristics, such as class and gender (Winant, 2015: 2180-2181). In fact, scholars following the tradition of Pierre Bourdieu show the importance of class in the reproduction of exclusion and social boundaries. Symbolic boundaries depicted as the world of tastes and lifestyle were later theorized by Bourdieu as another factor of the reproduction of class privileges (Lamont and Molnár, 2002: 172). The prominence of gender boundaries also needs to be assessed. For instance, hegemonic views on masculinities or femininities have impacts on how one can be discriminated against when undertaking a profession or playing a sport not seen as aligning with its gender norms (Ibid.: 176).

28Therefore, I will now turn to the literature on gender and migration, focusing mainly on the concept of intersectionality as an intellectual and methodological tool to assess various experiences as lived by individuals in relation to their several identities and social locations. This focus on intersectionality is also the latest trend within scholarly debates on integration, as underlined by Cheung and Philimore (2017: 215). In fact, these scholars emphasize the need to examine how gender, faith, ethnicity and class combine and their influence on opportunity structures and experiences during the integration process.

2.3 Migration, gender and intersectionality

29“Scholars across many disciplines include measures of biological sex (i.e. male or female) in their analysis, and migration studies are no exception. But there is a difference between thinking about sex differences with a dichotomous variable and integrating more complex gender analysis and theory into one’s work” (Nawyn, 2010: 749).

30Ravenstein, one of the first theorists of international migration, noted early that “woman is a greater migrant than men” (Ravenstein, 1885: 196 in Mahler and Pessar, 2003: 813). However, at its beginning, the field of migration studies mostly focused on migrant men. Women were pictured as primarily migrating to accompany or reunite with their male companion (Mahler and Pessar, 2006: 27). Only in the 1970s and 1980s did gender analysis become integrated within the framework of migration studies. However, the first integration of gender focused on the binary variable of male and female to understand the distinct experiences of migrants (Nawyn, 2010: 750; Mahler and Pessar, 2006: 27). The actual shift towards studying gender as a system of relations influenced by migration happened in the mid- and late 1980s, focusing then on the system of gender relations and women migrants’ experiences within this system (Ibid.: 750). Scholars focused on a dynamic and fluid conceptualization of gender using theories of gender relations to understand how gender relations changed following migration and settlement (Nawyn, 2010: 751).

31Feminist migration scholars then focused on and analyzed multiple themes linked to migration and gender. For instance, and interesting for my topic, there are studies on how the migration process (including the settlement phase) is linked to gender relations (Anthias, 2000; Fapohunda, 1988; Folbre, 1988; Grasmuck and Pessar, 1991; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1992; 1994; Kofman et al., 2000; Truong, 1996 cited in Nawyn, 2010: 753). Moreover, according to Nawyn (2010: 754), one of the most prominent contributions from gender studies has been within the study of migrant households, family relations and social networks. These studies focus on how the decision to migrate is related to household gender relations and how the so-called feminization of migration was achieved thanks to increasing economic opportunities in sectors such as domestic work, healthcare and sex work. Moreover, ethnographers discovered how the experiences of wage-earning employment would lead immigrant women to more personal autonomy, independence and gender equality (Mahler and Pessar, 2006: 34).

32Within the field of settlement and integration, transnational feminist research brought a new lens for understanding the phenomenon and the various experiences of immigrant men and women. In fact, the literature shows how men might contribute more than women to maintaining transnational ties that would facilitate a return. On the other hand, by favoring their household to stay abroad, women tend to maintain and deepen the personal benefits that follow the migration process (Mahler and Pessar, 2006: 34).

33These new transnational and globalized research frames (see for example, Mahler and Pessar, 2003; 2006) call for a heuristic understanding of gender (Nawyn, 2010: 757). Thus, “Gender is a principal factor that organizes social life, and it has been operative since the dawn of human existence: a fact that cannot be stated for most other socially stratifying forces such as social class and race. Yet gender cannot be viewed and analyzed in isolation. Rather, gender is dynamic, and it articulates with other axes of differentiation in complex ways that many scholars have been exploring” (Mahler and Pessar, 2006: 29).

34This type of analysis further understands “gender practices within not just a social location that includes race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and nationality but also a context of place and history” (Nawyn, 2010: 757). For instance, Parren (2008, in Nawyn, 2010: 757) explains how immigrant women move from one patriarchal system to another and how they find not only new constraints to autonomy but also new opportunities in their host country.

35Another example is Salih (2001) who takes a household approach to apprehend Moroccan migrant women’s reproductive role as performed in Morocco and in Italy. These women’s formal and social constraints are interconnected with their migration and their insertion into the labor market when it comes to women’s possibility of migrating or living transnationally. In other words, Moroccan women’s transnational movements between Morocco and Italy are constrained by the roles they are expected to take within their domestic spheres and households. In this context, Moroccan women’s experiences of transnationalism not positive ones but ones of tension between multiple belongings and needs.


36Intersectionality is the concept that allows for a heuristic understanding of the interplay between gender, race and class. The starting point, Ain’t I a Woman (hooks, 1981) criticized the analogy between the situation of women and those of Blacks, which implies that “all women are White, and all Blacks are men”. This work was the beginning of deconstructing the categories of “women” and “Blacks” which further led to the concept of intersectionality (first introduced by Crenshaw, 1989, who focused on how categories of discrimination intersect) and its attempts to analyze the interplay among social divisions such as (but not exclusively) gender, race and class (Yuval-Davis, 2006a: 193-194). How race and gender intersect in the labor market has been the subject of many studies, focusing on wage inequality, discrimination and stereotyping and on how domestic work is embedded in hierarchies of class, gender, race, ethnicity and nationality (Brown and Misra, 2003). For instance, in the field of migration and gender, Riano and Baghdadi (2007) studied the labor market participation of skilled immigrant women from Latin America in Switzerland using an intersectional lens demonstrating how those women cannot use their social and cultural capital to foster economic and professional advancement.

37A position in the literature argues that intersectionality is “the best means we have for exploring the multidimensional and complex articulations of forms of social division and identity” (Anthias, 2016: 184). In fact, intersectionality, as understood by the constructivist approach (built on Gramsci’s view of power as ongoing struggles over hegemony), emphasizes that identities and social locations cannot solely be understood by arithmetic frameworks. This implies that individuals should be apprehended as “becoming subjects” (Prins, 2006: 280), whose markers of identity (gender, class or ethnicity) provide narratives and resources as much as they are exclusive forms of categorization (Ibid.).

38In fact, and significantly for this study, scholars use the concept of intersectionality to understand how identities and social locations of immigrants influence and are negotiated within specific contexts of boundary work. For instance, Esser and Benschop (2007) study how Islam, gender and ethnicity are negotiated by migrant Muslim businesswomen within an entrepreneurial context in the Netherlands. They show how these women do boundary work (called identity work as a reaction to inclusion or exclusion tied to identity categories) related to Islam and gender in professional contexts. Negotiations of identity in relation to Islam are used to create new opportunities, such as professional “niches”.

Belonging and politics of belonging

39The work of Yuval-Davis (2006b; 2007; 2010; 2013) makes the link with the notion of intersectionality related to identities, social locations and processes of boundaries.

40Yuval-Davis (2006b) makes the distinction between belonging and politics of belonging. Belonging is about “emotional attachment, about feeling at home and feeling safe”. On the other hand, she calls the politics of belonging “the dirty work of boundary maintenance” which separates communities between “us” and “them”. Requirements of belonging can be more or less permeable depending on factors such as different levels of belonging, social locations, identities, and ethical and political values. Requirements relating to social location, origin or place of birth are less permeable than language, culture or religion for instance. According to Anthias (2016: 177), this notion of belonging allows “questions about the actual spaces and places to which people are accepted as members or feel they are members, and broader questions about social inclusion […] entailed in processes of boundary-making”. Belonging would then involve processes of boundary making as well as boundary breaking (Ibid.).

41Yuval-Davis (2013) comes up with a more individual focused analysis of bordering in her article “a situated intersectional everyday approach to the study of bordering” where she makes the distinction between identities (“specific forms of narratives regarding the self and its boundaries”) and identity politics (“political projects of belonging promoted by specific social agents which construct specific collective boundaries around particular identity narrative”). Boundaries between the “me” and the “Other” would be shifting processes and contested and not always symmetrical. Mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion depend on power positionality, normative values and cognitive and emotional identifications of the social actors. The bordering work could then entail various boundaries and communities (“me” and “us” / “us” and “them”/ “us” and the many others / “me” and the transversal “us”). The boundary between “us” and “them” is the brightest in periods of extreme conflict or war where one individual’s identity is closely identified with one of its community.

42However, Yuval-Davis’s work focuses mainly on the politics of belongings as practiced by nation-states. For instance, she develops how European politics of belonging tend to be highly securitized regarding immigrants. As asylum seekers (especially Muslims and people from the Third World) are constructed as a threat to European nations and their culture, Europe fosters its borders and boundaries as they are related to issues not only of national security but also of social and cultural integrity (Yuval-Davis, 2007). Hence, I will now turn to the work of Floya Anthias and her concept of intersectional positionality to assess individual experiences.

Intersectionality and intersectional positionality

43Anthias’s concept of translocational positionality allows for an understanding of the sense of belonging and identity as a product of social locations and processes within an intersectional framework (Anthias, 2008: 5). She argues that narratives and strategies of identity and belonging should be understood as relationally produced and as closely linked to social boundaries and hierarchies. These can, in turn, change depending on social location, context and geography. The understanding of belonging is dynamic and procedural and focuses on processes of inclusion, exclusion, access and participation. Moreover, the hierarchical constructs of ethnicity, gender and class (amongst others) are related to boundary-making processes (Ibid.).

44Some aspects of Anthias’s concept need to be emphasized. First, the intersectional frame tries to move away from the idea of “groupism” along categories such a gender, ethnicity and class and their intersection. The focus is on social locations and processes. The discussion must concentrate on structures defined as “broader economic and political institutional frameworks” and processes (“broader social relations entailing discourses and representations”) (Anthias, 2012: 107). Moreover, taking a transnational perspective aims at correcting the nation-based approaches of intersectionality, acknowledging multiple and diverse social locations and senses of belonging (Anthias, 2016: 183).

45Her argument is also based on “a rejection of the culturalization and hierarchization found in the particular construction of belonging within diversity and integration discourses and practice” which sees people mainly relating to their ethnic or racial categories without acknowledging other facets of their social locations (Anthias, 2016: 183). Another consequence for the understanding of belonging is that it “has become a term that can no longer be linked to a fixed place or location but to a range of different locales in different ways. This also means that people might occupy different and contradictory positions and have different belongings globally” (Ibid.). Belonging is a process and not fixed within one specific location and time (Ibid.).

46Second, she makes the distinction between notions of identity and belonging: “key aspects [of identity] are found in articulations and stories about who we think we are as well as associated strategies and identifications”. On the other hand, belonging entails mainly the dimension of experiences of exclusion which give a sense of how people feel about their locations in the social world (Anthias, 2008: 8).

47Anthias (2002) uses this concept of translocational positionality to understand issues of exclusion and narrations of belonging among second-generation young Greek Cypriots in the UK. She finds out how those young people narrate stories of being excluded from the dimension of Britishness and how they would distinguish themselves ethnically (and positively) with stories of cultural practices and family links producing an “unambiguous ethnic belongness”. Interestingly, these youngsters would emphasize their sense of difference in terms of demarcating whom and what they are not (which relates to Wimmer’s [2004] findings on social networks and boundary making in Switzerland). Important markers of difference are the distinction between Black and White as produced by the hegemonic discourses and practices in British society.

48Using Anthias’ concept of translocational positionality to explain her findings, Dahinden (2010) explains how the social networks of Albanian-speaking migrants in Switzerland are constructed among different forms of stratification and mechanisms of exclusion. Language and ethnicity are the primary factors constructing boundaries but age, type of migration, type of residence permit, education and gender are central in structuring the internal segregation of social networks. The transnational lens allows Dahinden to explain how the social exclusion of this population is almost complete since they are missing both transnational ties (which are only of minor importance when it comes to support) and local resources.

49Al-Rebholz (2015) uses biographical narratives of Muslim migrant women in Germany to understand their intersectional constructions of belonging and unbelonging within a transnational context. She first assesses how the identity of Muslim migrant women is constructed within the European context. Then, the biographical narratives of the women are used to develop how they construct and negotiate a sense of belonging according to their experiences of diversity, multiculturalism and various identities. In this context, intersectional identification and senses of belonging of the young women encompass many ethnicities, spaces, languages and socio-cultural contexts. Anthias’s concept of translocational positionality allows for such procedural and dynamic analysis of identities embedded in specific social times and contexts (Al-Rebholz, 2015: 66-67).

50To conclude, there are three main takeaways from this literature review. The first takeaway is the idea that the concept of settlement and integration can better be analyzed through the lens of boundaries (Wimmer, 2004; 2008) with various strategies used by the excluded individuals such as individual boundary crossing (Dahinden et al., 2012), social identities reconstruction (Holtz et al., 2012) and normative inversion (Wimmer, 2008; Dahinden et al., 2012).

51Second is the importance of the notion of belonging in relation to boundary work. As belonging is a notion of people “feeling at home and feeling safe” (Yuval-Davis, 2006b), meaning actual places where people are and feel accepted and socially included (Anthias, 2016: 177), it is indeed closely related to processes of boundary making and boundary breaking (Ibid.).

52Finally, the concept of intersectionality developed in gender studies brings new insights on how identities and social locations of immigrant influence are negotiated within specific contexts of boundary work. The concept of translocational positionality developed by Anthias (2002; 2008; 2012; 2016) uses this notion of intersectionality in order to understand various positionalities among different contexts and spaces. It argues that the interplay of gender, class, ethnicity and other factors needs to be considered when focusing on someone’s identity and should be embedded in a transnational space made of hierarchical and social boundaries.


1 Lamont and Molnár (2002: 168-169) in an article about the study of boundaries in social science distinguish between symbolic and social boundaries. Symbolic boundaries are “conceptual distinctions made by social actors to categorize objects, people, practices, and even time and space” and social boundaries “objectified forms of social differences manifested in unequal access to an unequal distribution of resources (material and nonmaterial) and social opportunities”. Thus, both should not be seen as equal and symbolic boundaries can be understood as necessary but not sufficient for the creation of social boundaries.


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