Integration or Articulation? Exploring the Relevance of Stuart Hall for the Sociology of Immigration

Jake Watson, Vanderbilt University

Migration is an animating dimension of Stuart Hall’s theoretical corpus, both as a personal experience and a topic of social inquiry. Despite this, Hall has barely been taken up by sociologists of immigration in the United States. Most scholars continue to draw on the dominant assimilation/integration paradigm, despite repeated and trenchant critiques. In this paper, I think with Stuart Hall to forward an alternative framework for the sociology of immigration, specifically through his concept of articulation. Much like integration, Hall used the concept of articulation to explain how social groups (such as immigrants) form and develop collective identities through their interaction with other social groups, institutions, and socially-prevalent discourses. Hall’s account of this process differs in two specific ways that have implications for the sociology of immigration: first, Hall roots the process of cultural and collective formation in an economic, political, and ideological terrain already structured through dominance; second, he locates social group formation in practices of representation and positioning, rather than a priori categories. The second section of my paper demonstrates the value of this alternative perspective through an analysis of primary data. I draw on data collected from six months of fieldwork on patterns of refugee settlement in metro Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I show that refugee community formation is over-determined by a historically-constituted set of elite-led projects aimed at symbolically and demographically restructuring the region to become competitive in attracting capital and labor. The projects represent ideal forms of refugee identity, and stakeholders have established forums and institutions to encourage refugees to occupy these idealized positions. I draw on histories of displacement, resettlement, and reception to examine differing responses to these idealized forms and outcomes for refugees. Ultimately, I demonstrate that Hall’s concept of articulation provides a framework that more adequately explains processes of immigrant settlement and incorporation.

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 Presented in Session 195. Thinking with Stuart Hall: World-Making and the Afterlives of Empire