A critical approach to the production of academic knowledge on refugee integration in the global North
As migration from the global South to increasingly multi-ethnic global North countries has accelerated in recent decades, questions of how belonging shapes social outcomes have permeated discussions of asylum policies, service provision, national security and other topics touching upon the relationship between birthplace and rights. Categorised most frequently as issues of integration, these debates generally assume the binary nature of belonging: one is either a member or an outsider. The narrower body of academic literature on refugee integration in global North resettlement countries is similarly beset by problems rooted in a false distinction between those with and without refugee status. In reviewing a set of self-selected case studies to explore the role this literature plays, this paper argues that the selection of the refugee as the subject of research on resettlement problems is in fact based on the researcher’s subjective determination of what is most important in shaping a refugee’s experiences: refugee status. The assumptions underlying this decision foster the conceptual ambiguity that marks these studies’ diverse and often inchoate understandings of the term 'integration', which in turn render a set of claims about refugee integration that is prohibitively complex and fails to contribute to a better understanding of resettlement. Since such work may in fact reinforce the problems that it seeks to understand, this paper advocates for a more reflexive exploration of how assumptions about belonging shape research on global North resettlement and on refugees more broadly.