August 10, 2010
For Steven Vertovec, Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, basic research need not necessarily be confined to the ivory tower. His Department of Social Diversity was responsible for contributing hard facts and suggestions for the city of Frankfurt’s newly drafted integration and diversity plan.
Text: Birgit Fenzel
A while ago, a journalist from one of the smaller Berlin daily newspapers penned the phrase: “peace, love and falafel” in connection with a piece on integration. If the way to the heart truly is through the stomach, then, given the number of kebab shops, pizza stands and sushi bars that crowd our city centers, the issue should actually have been settled long ago. That the problem is far from solved, however, is clear from the fact that even acknowledged municipal integration policy experts such as those working in Frankfurt are still seeking new ways for people from different cultures to coexist constructively.
The metropolis on the Main River has a fair amount of experience in such matters. In the late 1980s, municipal authorities came up with the idea of a Department of Multicultural Affairs – commonly known by its German initials, AmkA. The task of this department was, and is, to promote the peaceful
coexistence of people of German and foreign nationality, as well as differing origins and religions. This move contrasted strongly with the prevailing attitude at the time, when most citizens generally preferred to ignore the social reality of immigration. The concept of integration was also taken to mean that the immigrant minority should adapt themselves to the dominant – German – culture of the majority.
To mark the 20th birthday of AmkA, Frankfurt’s multicultural pioneers set to work on a special anniversary “present”: a 236-page draft of an integration and diversity plan in which guest contributors describe the social realities in the city from their own perspective. The scientific elements of the plan were entrusted to cultural anthropologist Regina Römhild, now a professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University, and Max Planck Director Steven Vertovec.
Conceived as a blueprint for an open discussion with the citizens of Frankfurt, the work contains some surprises. Aside from the fact that it makes AmkA appear at least nominally obsolete, it suggests a radical change of course.
On the basis of Vertovec’s observations, the standard multicultural view of people from different cultures living side by side with one another no longer fits with the social conditions he has encountered – and not just in Frankfurt. As a social anthropologist for more than two decades now, he has been studying the phenomena of international migration, cosmopolitism and multiculturalism in the major cities of the world.