Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Imagining Society: Logics of Visualization in Images of Immigrant Integration

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Imagining Society: Logics of Visualization in Images of Immigrant Integration

Article excerpt


This paper looks at how expert and scientific graphic images of immigrant integration in the Netherlands and Germany portray a distance between minority groups and a dominant imagination of society. It specifically explicates the ways "images of alterity" in assessments of immigrant integration are visually structured by means of a pictorial display of spatial markers of distance. It does so by means of a close examination of the visual expression of Dutch and German national classification systems relating to immigrant integration. Using analytical tools from visual studies, the paper illustrates the ways immigrant integration images enable a "seeing" or "imagining of otherness" by means of a spatialization of the relation between "society" and "immigrant groups," and it shows how such a spatialized visualization has performative effects.


Visualization, spatialization, immigrant integration, classification, distance, otherness, "society"

Images of immigrant otherness in the Netherlands and Germany

Population measurements figure centrally both in nation formation and in governing populations. Forms of enumeration and classification are vital to modern democratic capitalist government (Desrosieres, 1993; Hacking, 1990; Mitchell, 2002; Porter, 1996). Nations and societies are not immediately visible objects, but they are produced and made visible through, among others, population measurements expressed in graphic visualizations such as tables, graphs, and plots. Such visualization techniques aid in what Ian Hacking has called "making up people" (Hacking, 1986). Through their effects on daily governance, migration statistics have deep impacts on people's lives. In this contribution, we focus on the enumeration, classification, and subsequent graphic visualization of subpopulations considered as "other." In particular, we look at the ways immigrant populations in Germany and the Netherlands are graphically visualized as residing at a certain distance from what is--in the statistical work we take as object of our analysis--either called "society," the "natives," or "autochthones." As an example of the type of statistical visualizations we focus on, consider Figure 1.

The figure reports the "overrepresentation" of various subpopulations in the Netherlands in crime suspect figures over against a group called "autochthonous Dutch." It reports this as part of a measurement of "immigrant integration" considered as the degree to which groups classified as "(non-)Western allochthones" (of non-Dutch descent: allochtonen) are incorporated into Dutch society. Such measurements are part of a longitudinal monitoring system that tracks the relative social positions of groups classified as "immigrants," "allochthones," or "people with a migration background." We seek to show how such monitoring practices reproduce dominant images of "society" and help to exclude "immigrant groups" from it. Hegemonic conceptions of society are augmented by measuring immigrant integration, since these "objectively" establish migrant otherness as deviations from society's norms and help to construct "immigrant groups" as a constitutive outside of society. We argue that images of otherness, such as statistical graphs of the integration of "immigrant groups," are especially potent in reifying a "distance" between "immigrant" populations and society. Figure 1, for instance, conveys an image of society as consisting of bounded "immigrant" populations recognizable by their distance from the norm of the crime rate, embodied by "autochthonous Dutch." The latter group is both included in the figure as a neutral threshold or benchmark, and excluded from it as it constitutes the degree zero or "normal" rate from which the other categories, differentiated to ethnic groups here, deviate, indicating their relative lack of integration and hence their social distance to what constitutes the norm for their integration. …

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