> Opinion

JIANG LIHUA, GU LULIANG:Mixed communities not effective for integrating migrants

| 2014-09-25 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


For rural migrant workers in cities, the chief problem to be solved is where to live. In urban areas, people settle down mainly in communities. Consequently, it is urgent to find places for migrant workers within the communities.


Western countries adopted a model of mixed communities early on. Recently, Chinese researchers have also introduced this concept into China. Mixed com­munities refer to urban communities where migrant workers and city dwellers share the same space. Such a community is characterized by a diverse popula­tion. The exploration of mixed com­munities is a response to residential segregation of the two groups, with large numbers of migrant workers residing in urban villages and rural-urban fringe zones.


The establishment of mixed com­munities aims to provide space for migrant workers and citizens to communicate and thus better under­stand each other. It is hoped that they can develop the same or similar cognitive styles and ways of acting in the same space and under common norms in order to narrow the social and the psycho­logical distance between them.


Of course, this is theoretically true. Through investigation, however, we find that narrowing residential dis­tance could lead to mixed results. Mixed communities can indeed increase the chances that these two groups will make contact and communicate. It is even possible they will realize low-level inte­gration as well as establish weak neighborly relations. But for some open communities, there has been no sign of integration, and isolation arises in some cases. It is evident that this model does not necessarily bring integration and may lead to other results.


The differentiation of residential space is related to social stratifica­tion. The two are mutually con­structed. To some extent, the aim of mixed communities is to realize spatial integration to end this state of affairs. But it remains a question whether mixed habitation can end the residential segregation of the two groups.


It is difficult for migrant workers and city dwellers to automatically form an integrated social commu­nity merely by sharing the same space. Given their different lifestyles and work experiences, they have rare contact with each other. In par­ticular, migrant workers go out early and come home late. In the day, they leave the community and other resi­dents and make contact with their workmates or fellow villagers who share the same jobs, gradually de­veloping their own social network.


Similarly, urban residents make contact at work with colleagues, classmates and other citizens. Obvi­ously, living in the same area does not necessarily promote exchanges between the two groups.


In fact, there is a paucity of as­sociation and close relations among migrant workers themselves. Con­sidering that they move often from place to place for survival and de­velopment, they have little incentive to make contact and get acquainted with strangers.


After being away from the rural community for a prolonged period of time, migrant workers ofen expe­rience a breakdown in traditional social relations and the disintegra­tion of their social support network. Though standardized community management has established a new social support network, it is doubt­ful if this can help migrant workers become integrated into the commu­nities.


Though some communities have provided mutual service networks for migrant workers, high-level integration does not appear, as theory predicts, but rather low-level communication is manifested in three aspects.


First, contacts between migrant workers and citizens usually hap­pen through holiday activities, seminars and volunteering. Though these community activities are held regularly, the limited opportunity to share the same social space is not sufficient to create meaningful con­nections between residents.


Second, in daily life, the two groups tend to seek help from the property management company rather than their neighbors, hinder­ing the cultivation of good neighbor­hood relationships. They only know other residents’ names and jobs, and they may greet each other in passing.


Last, social support networks like the mutual service station and the volunteer team provide macro­scopic support for migrant workers, but effective microscopic support for daily life of the neighborhood is lacking.


To conclude, the low-level com­munication and weak ties between the two groups make it hard to achieve the goal of integration. Mixed communities only provide space for contact among migrant workers and citizens. To realize effective integration, external sup­ports are also needed, such as poli­cies and systems, organizational structure, and community service and management.


Jiang Lihua and Gu Yuliang are from the Department of Sociology at Central China Normal University.

The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 642, September 3, 2014.

Translated by Ren Jingyun