Cultural Capital During Migration

Towards the relevance of education titles and residence permits for the status passage into the labour market.

Proposal for the Volkswagen Foundation

Abstract: The integration of highly qualified migrants into the labour market can become an opportunity for knowledge societies because their prosperity depends on the incorporation and improvement of cultural capital during their entry into the labour market. A systematic comparison of status groups who differ with respect to the level of their educational title, the place of it’s acquisition (at home or abroad) as well as to their residence status will show how their transition into the labour market is structured by the interrelation of both factors. The status passages will be empirically analysed taking meso- and macro-social contexts (networks, social exclusion, institutional rules etc.) into account. Every status group will be researched in the context of Germany and of one country of comparison respectively (Canada, Great Britain and Turkey.) A project council will ensure the transfer of results to administrative and political practice.

The prosperity of knowledge societies is dependent on generating, protecting and utilizing cultural capital, in particular in its form as educational titles. The integration of migrants into the labour market can become an opportunity if their cultural capital is accepted and recognized, while it can become a problem if this capital is neglected. This study group will investigate the potential for and restrictions on the recognition of the cultural capital of migrants during their entry into the labour market. In this respect it will systematically relate the broad legal-political structures for migration (in particular the institutional acceptance of professional degrees, the right of residence of migrants and labour regulations) and migrants’ own – individual and collective – interpretation and action strategies. In an interdisciplinary study this group will show why the cultural capital of migrants often remains unutilized, how forms of inequality are reproduced that are difficult to legitimate, and how Germany, as a modern knowledge society, loses momentous resources by not recognizing this cultural capital. Comparing Germany with other countries (Canada, Great Britain and Turkey) will shed light on alternative – and possibly innovative – forms of labour market integration for migrants. On this basis we will engage in an on-going cooperation with key representatives working in the field and in politics, and seek to develop strategies with them for more fully and effectively utilizing the cultural capital of migrants in Germany.

The central subject of the research is the integration of migrants into the labour market. This process is conceptualized as a multi-dimensional status passage: (1) as an entry into the labour force, i.e. as a change in status of the educational and professional accomplishments, with it’s imminent social risks and need for re-orientation, and (2) as a process of migration, i.e. as a change in status because of a transition between nation states with their specific educational systems and labour markets. The ability of migrants to make their educational titles or their cultural capital compatible with the demand of the labour market is decisive for the way in which the status passage evolves between educational institutions and the labour market.

With respect to its content and its recognition, cultural capital is explicitly but also implicitly bound to the nation state. Through migration cultural capital – even if it seems to be internationally convertible – can be distorted or devalued in its compatibility. In this respect migrants are widely dependent on the legal, social and symbolic recognition of their cultural capital. However, migrants are not perceived as passive “victims” of potential institutional and informal forms of exclusion. Rather, those involved in status passages are themselves shaping the locally or nationally specific conditions under which their status transition in the labour market evolves. Thus the study group will reconstruct the individual and collective strategies of migrants aimed at making use of their cultural capital in the labour market in spite of the risks of exclusion that they might face. From thus perspective, the investigation will not only focus on access to existing employment but also on forms of independent subsistence (for instance as small independent business owners, etc.). It will also investigate if social networks are conducive to integrating migrants into the labour market and thus into the receiving society at large or whether they contribute to a process of self-exclusion.