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<Inclusive ConsumptionKapittel 5 av 11

5. Parallel Societies: A Biased Discourse Ignoring the Impact of Housing Market and Policy

Anita Borch holds positions as head of research, research professor and leader of an internal project entitled ‘Inclusive Consumption’ at Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at OsloMet. Her scientific publications since 1994 cover a range of different consumer-related subjects.

This research shows that the academic discourse of parallel societies is based on recirculation of worries about ethnic segregation in Germany, ignoring the role of the housing market and policy in the question of why immigrants end up living where they live. Knowledge gaps need to be addressed to develop efficient housing policy instruments increasing immigrants’ accessibility to and use of housing-related products.

Keywords: parallel societies, ethnic segregation, housing market, housing policy, immigrants

5.1 Introduction

Like the markets for food, clothes and digital media, the housing market is based on the free choices of individual consumers and households. At the same time, the housing market is one of the most strongly regulated markets in Norway. As such, the housing market represents an illustrative example of the intersectionality of the private market and public policy. Housing policy and its connected areas, rural and urban planning, integration and poverty policy, regulate markets. The buying and selling of residences, as well as housing policy instruments, create distinctive societies associated with terms like ‘multicultural’ and ‘parallel’ societies. These societies, their material and socio-economic conditions and the cultural ideas of them form part of public discourses creating groups for and against social integration in and across majority and minority groups.

This chapter deals with one of these discourses, the discourse of ‘parallel societies’, as it comes to expression in international and national scientific journals. The academic discourse of parallel societies has recently been the object of a study conducted by Egge and Solhjell (2018) aiming to discuss different definitions and discourses of these forms of societies. Based on what may seem like a purposive sample of texts, the researchers suggest that parallel societies are defined as ‘situations where there is a lack of national social cohesion and where the state lacks ability and/or willingness to handle social diversity’ (ibid., p. 7). The researchers have also studied how parallel societies are perceived in the public debate and find that parallel societies are promoted as a lack of will to include immigrants of the majority groups themselves and of the majority population. The researchers claim that there, with some few exceptions, is a general agreement that parallel societies do not exist in Norway. On the one hand, research on the academic discourse of parallel societies can make this discourse appear more scientifically based than it actually is (Hiscott, 2005). On the other hand, it can contribute to revealing the discourse’s weak roots in reality as academic discourses tend to be less sensation-seeking than their public counterpart (Bade, 2006).

Egge and Solhjell’s research is the first conducted of the academic discourse on parallel societies in Norway. Exactly because the academic discourse is expected to have stronger roots in reality than other discourses, the most striking observation made in Egge and Solhjell’s study is not the causal factors explained, rather the causal factors that are not explained. Based on Egge and Solhjell’s purposive sample of texts, it seems like the academic discourse only to a small extent explains parallel societies as the result of housing markets and policy. This is striking, in part because immigrants’ choice of residence also is an economic decision, and in part because segmentation of settlement also relies on housing policy. Whether and how Egge and Solhjell’s study is representative of the academic discourse of parallel society in Norway and in the rest of the world, is insecure. I therefore intend to analyse the national and international academic discourse on parallel societies based on another type of sample and a more elaborated set of variables that, amongst others, include different kinds of academic discourses, their relative strength over time and spokespersons. The main research questions are: How are parallel societies understood? What are the discourses’ presumed causes and consequences? What are the disciplinary backgrounds of the discourses’ spokespersons? On what methodologies is the research based? The purpose of this study is to test and further develop Egge and Solhjell’s observations, paying special attention to the role of housing market and policy in segregation discourses. To put the study in context, the chapter starts with a section providing an overview of the Norwegian housing market indicating the complex set of economic, social and political factors that, in varying degrees, mutually influence the creation of public discourses of parallel societies. Based on a methodological section describing the Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis on which the study is based, we then go on analysing the research questions. Implications for research and policy are discussed.

5.2 Ethnic segregation, housing market and policy

The primary objective of the Norwegian housing policy is that all inhabitants shall have an adequate and secure housing situation (White paper no. 23. 2003–2004). After the Second World War, the main goal was that ordinary people should own their own house, achieved through a well-functioning market. In the mid-1980s, the housing market was deregulated, leading to an increased share of privately owned residences and a reduced share of cooperatively owned or rented dwellings (Stamsø, 2017). In 2007, 62% of the whole population lived in owner-occupied households, against 52%, 53% and 59% in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, respectively. About 14% lived in cooperatives and 19% lived in rented dwellings. The social housing stock, which in Norway is a municipality service mainly offered to people in need, is minimal, only 5% (Anderson et al., 2013). Compared to tenants, homeowners have reduced tax and increased safety and the possibility for stability. About 10% of homeowners own an additional dwelling that can be hired out (Gulbrandsen and Norvik, 2007), which has resulted in a complex and weakly organized rental market (Søholt and Wessel, 2010).

In Norway, all asylum seekers are placed in reception facilities. To date, Norwegian authorities have been reluctant to grant economic compensation to asylum seekers who arrange their own accommodation (Brekke and Vevstad, 2007). In the 1990s, the Norwegian authorities were running out of places in larger municipalities and dispersal of refugees was seen as a way to accelerate integration and discourage the emergence of segregated urban communities (Brox, 1997; Djuve and Kavli 2000 and Valentia 2008). More recently, immigration to rural areas has also been seen as an opportunity for municipalities lacking the labour force to fill basic functions in the local society (Søholt et al., 2012). The success of this dispersal policy is, however, contested (Brox, 1997; Valenta and Bunar, 2010), as refugees tend to move to urban areas. That being said, the number of refugees moving to more urban areas has decreased in recent years, thus less in smaller municipalities and in municipalities with a high density of immigrants (Søholt et al., 2014).

Segregation tendencies are also found in urban areas. In urban areas with a high proportion of immigrants, the relationship between minority groups and the majority varies, for example between what Pacione (2005) calls colonies, enclaves and ghettos. In colonies, which serve as harbours for newcomers, the differences between the majority and the minorities are small and temporary. The concentration of immigrants of colonies will tend to dissolve when they mix up with the rest of the population. Some of these colonies will, however, develop into enclaves, characterized with a strong cohesion in the minority group. In contrast to enclaves, ghettos are concentrations of immigrants enforced into being by external factors like discrimination and economic and political conditions. The most immigrant-dense city district in Oslo (Grønland) has been categorized as a colony with some characteristics of being an enclave (Brattbakk et al., 2017).

In Norway, the immigrant population lives in densely populated conditions more often than the whole population does. A lower proportion own their own home. The proportion of immigrants owning their homes is, however, much higher in Norway than in Finland and, to some extent, Sweden and Denmark, which have another mix of tenures. That being said, the proportion of immigrants living in overcrowded dwellings is higher in Norway than in the other Nordic countries (Andersen et al., 2013). In Norway, concentration of immigrants has mostly occurred in neighbourhoods with cooperatives (Anderson et al., 2013). Overall, there is a tendency that the immigrant population adapts to the conditions of the housing market, i.e. from being dominant in cooperative housing into being dominant in the owner-occupied market (Søholt and Wessel, 2010)

Rental housing, which is the first choice for many immigrants who believe that they are not going to stay long in Norway, is more widespread in densely populated areas. The high number of unprofessional loaners implies that immigrants have to look for rentals in a complex and weakly organized market. Immigrants tend to be discriminated against in the rental market, people from Somalia and Iraq more than people from Chile and Bosnia (Søholt and Wessel, 2010).

There is a lack of social housing, particularly in the urban areas. Refugees who are settled directly from the asylum centres are given priority, mainly due to lower access to the private market (Søholt and Strup, 2009). Access to network increases immigrants’ chance to get a residence. The number of immigrants receiving housing allowance is increasing (Søholt and Wessel, 2010).

A national representative survey (1999–2006) indicates that immigrants do not differ significantly from the majority with regards to where they move and why they stay. Exceptions are that minorities more often move because of work and less because of the local surroundings than the majority, and that the majority more often stay because of the housing than the minorities—all results that may reflect that the minorities tend not to have the same history in the local society as the majority. As the answer categories were very wide (‘education’, ‘work’, ‘housing’, ‘family’, and ‘health’), the results do not necessarily reflect that the motives tend to be similar, rather that they refer to different circumstances within each answer category (Søholt et al., 2012, p. 43).

Other studies have shown that immigrants move from rural to urban areas due to a lack of social integration, difficulties getting a job, and a wish to live near relatives and friends and in urban, well-established ethnic communities (Brox, 1997; Djuve and Kavli, 2000; Åslund, 2005; Johannesen and Rauhaut, 2007). Similar motives have been reported in a qualitative study of immigrants settled in Haram municipality. In addition, children’s school and education and better opportunities to practice own religion and to use own competences in labour work, were added to the list of motives (Søholt et al., 2012). Lack of integration was not mentioned, although the researchers report that the immigrant population ‘live more parallel to, than together with, the natives” (Distriktssenteret, 2012, p. 3).

Other explanations of the segregation tendencies are demographical factors such as increased immigration; positive birth surplus and white segregation, where natives tend to move out when the density of immigrants becomes too high (Bolt et al., 2010). A study of Grønland, a city district in Oslo, in which 50% of the inhabitants are immigrants, shows that some inhabitants wanted to move because they would prefer living in a safer area; an area with other physical and social conditions or with another type of housing; a cheaper area; or because of concerns for the children’s school and education (Brattbakk et al., 2017).

A final explanation that often is neglected in relevant literature is accessibility and availability (Bolt et al., 2010). Accessibility refers to the ability to get access to housing, like laws and network. Availability refers to the ability to pay for running costs, such as the costs of residences in the area and their connection to subsidies and regulation. In addition, Andersen (2012), adds creditworthiness, referring to access to capital that can be used for investment in housing. The three conditions are linked to a set of policy instruments:

Table 5.1

The connection between housing policy instruments and accessibility-affordability-creditworthiness.

Housing policy instrumentsAccessabilityAfford-abilityCredit-worthiness
Individual support. Housing allowances given to individual households depending on their needs, incomes and housing costsx
Supply support. Subsidies for the construction of new housing or the reduction of the running costs of certain tenuresx
Social support. Establishment of a housing sector that is owned or highly controlled by central or local governments aiming to provide cheaper or better dwellings for certain parts of the populationxx
Tax support. Tax systems that are important for housing costs and that make housing investments more profitable than other investmentsx
Rent/price control? Regulation resulting in rents or prices that are below the local market levelxx
Regulation of access? Rules determining which households get access to vacant dwellingsx
Supported finance. Institutions providing loans with lower interest or with reduced requirements for creditworthinessx

Source: Andersen, 2013, p. 10.

Norway has both individual support, supply support and tax support for homeownership. All the support is needs tested and dependent on housing costs and incomes. Some of the support is provided as loans with lower interests. In addition, there is a special support scheme for first time buyers (Andersen, 2013).

Overall, the immigrant population’s concentration in some city districts in Oslo and other municipalities might be further explained by a complex set of economic factors, rules for access and attractiveness (Søholt and Wessel, 2010). In this perceptive, we could expect that housing markets and policy would play a decisive role in the discourse of parallel societies. Instead, these subjects are only sporadically indicated in Egge and Solhjell’s (2018) report. More specifically, we are told that the rental market in some parallel societies in Sweden has been taken over by ethnic families acting like mafias (p. 31); that the Danish researcher, Freiesleben (2016), criticizes the Danish debate about parallel societies to see ethic segregation as the result of immigrants’ free choices without considering the economic and social factors influencing their choice of residence (p. 16); (but) that experiences from Denmark regarding parallel societies cannot be generalized to Norway amongst other things due to different housing markets (p. 54); that access to the housing market is important to prevent parallel societies (pp. 52 and 55); (but) that if the problem is a bad housing standard, more social housing or other social housing constructions could be the solution (p. 52). Although these brief inputs indicate that housing markets and policy are important, the question of how and why they connect to ethnic segregation remains unaddressed.

5.3 Methodology

5.3.1 The sample

Academic discourses are expressed in a variety of media, including books, book chapters, research reports, and articles published in scientific journals. However, as the quality of the review process in books and book chapters is often unknown, the analysis of this chapter concentrates on academic discourses found in scientific journals that have had their review process quality checked by an independent, public instance, Norwegian Centre for Research Data (NSD), and been accepted at level 1 or 2 (https://dbh.nsd.uib.no/publiseringskanaler/Forside.action?request_locale=en). The interpretations of the findings must therefore take into account that the academic discourses expressed in scientific journals do not necessarily cover all academic discourses on parallel societies.

Both the international and the national discourses on parallel societies have been explored. The analysis of the international discourse is based on articles selected from Scorpus on 04.08.18. Scorpus is an online archive covering approximately 20 000 academic journals. The search term was ‘parallel societ*’. The sample includes 18 articles that mentioned the search text in the title, the abstract or in the keywords, and were published in the English language.

The national discourse on parallel societies is based on articles published on 05.08.18. Google Scholar is a search engine dealing with academic literature. The search terms were ‘Parallellsamfunn’ [parallel societies] and ‘parallelle samfunn’ [parallel societies]. The analysis concentrates on 8 articles mentioning the search terms in the title, abstract, keywords or in the text, excluding the reference list. The sample includes only articles that address parallel societies in Norway and that are published in a Norwegian journal. Based on these criteria, three articles that were (1) written by Norwegian researchers, (2) in the Norwegian language, and/or that were (3) addressing parallel societies in other countries than Norway, were not included in the sample.

Table 5.2

The sample of articles on parallel societies.

No.AuthorsTitleJournal/publisherYear of publ.
1.Müller, D.K. Reinventing the countryside: German second-home owners in Southern SwedenCurrent Issues in Tourism2002
2.Mushaben, J. M.Thinking globally, integrating locally: Gender, entrepreneurship and urban citizenship in Germany. Citizenship Studies2006
3Mueller, C. Integrating Turkish communities: A German dilemmaPopulation Research and Policy Review2006
4.Ewing, K.P. Between cinema and social work: Diasporic Turkish women and the (dis)pleasures of hybridityCultural Anthropology2006
5.Gruner, S. ‘The Others Don’t Want ...’. Small-scale segregation: Hegemonic public discourses and racial boundaries in German neighbourhoods. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies2010
6.Ramm, C. The Muslim makers: How Germany Islamizes Turkish immigrantsInterventions2010
7.Yu, S.S and Ahadi, D. Promoting civic engagement through ethnic mediaPlatform2010
8.Rezaei, S. Royal delicacies at peasant prices: Cross-national differences, common grounds – Towards an empirically supported theory of the informal economic activities of migrantsWorld Review of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development2011
9.Stehle, M. White ghettos: The ‘crisis of multiculturalism’ in post-unification GermanyEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies2012
10.Lentin, A. and Titley, G. Managing Integration: German and British Policy Responses to the ‘Threat from Within’ Post-2001Journal of International Migration and Integration2012
11.El-Tayeb, F. Time travellers and queer heterotopias: Narratives from the Muslim underground. Germanic Review2013
12.Haverig, A. Managing Integration: German and British Policy Responses to the ‘Threat from Within’ Post-2001. Journal of International Migration and Integration2013
13.Schwarz, A. ‘Parallel societies’ of the past? Articulations of citizenship’s commemorative dimension in Berlin’s cityscape. Space and Culture2013
14.Antons, J.-H. Displaced persons in post-war Germany: Parallel societies in a hostile environmentJournal of Contemporary History2014
15.Loch, D. Immigration, segregation and social cohesion: is the ‘German model’ fraying at the edges? Identities2014
16.Gomes, C. Negotiating everyday life in Australia: unpacking the parallel society inhabited by Asian international students through their social networks and entertainment media useJournal of Youth Studies2015
17.Kobza, N. and Mutlucan, C. Entrepreneurship leading a change in Europe: a perspective of young professionals IFAC-PapersOnLine,2016
18.Mason, A. The critique of multiculturalism in Britain: integration, separation and shared identification. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy2018
1.Gressgård, R.Anerkjennelse: Hvilke forskjeller er relevante?Norsk tidsskrift for migrasjonsforskning2007
2.Blom, S.Sysselsetting blant innvandrere: Hvilken betydning har individuelle egenskaper og tilpasningsstrategier?Søkelyset på arbeidslivet2010
3.Younis, T. A.På lag? Minoritetsjenter som ikke deltar i organiserte fritidsaktiviteterNorsk pedagogisk tidsskrift2010
4.Danielsen, K. and Ingebrigtsen, A. Stover—problemområde eller lutter idyll? Om forholdet mellom statistikk og erfaring. Tidsskrift for velferdsforskning2014
5.Haugen, H. M. Trosopplæring, åndelig utvikling og diapraksis. Arbeid i flerkulturelle samfunn. Prismet forskning2015
6.Nadim, M. Kulturell reproduksjon eller redning? Småbarnsmødre med innvandringsbakgrunn og arbeid. Nytt norsk tidsskrift2015
7.Austenå, A-M. Migrasjonskrisen: Når signaleffekten helliger midlene. Internasjonal politikk2016
8.Rosten, M. G. Territoriell stigmatisering og gutter som ‘leker getto’ i Groruddalen. Norsk sosiologisk tidsskrift2017

5.3.2 Foucauldian inspired discourse analysis

The analysis is inspired by Foucault’s (1972) archaeological methodology and his notion of statements (the smallest component in a discourse), discourses and a discursive order. The definition of parallel societies and the anticipated consequences of parallel societies (positive and/or negative) are in this research seen as the most important statements of the discourse and are ‘privileged signs’—the statements around which other statements evolve (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001). Other statements regard the position of parallel societies in the text as a main or secondary object of study; the spokespersons of the statement (the disciplinary background of the researcher(s) and the journal); the localization of parallel societies (the continent and country in which the parallel society addressed takes place); the methods used (e.g., experiments, surveys, and qualitative interviews). Analyses of the statement are given in Table 3.

The statements cluster into discourses that constitute seemingly logical reasoning. A discourse perceiving parallel societies as a ghetto will, for example, be based on a different logic than a discourse addressing parallel societies as a multicultural society. The discourses are organized alongside dimensions constituting a discursive order, for example, one dimension may go from seeing parallel societies as an unorganized society into seeing it as an organization, and another going from emphasizing the negative to the positive consequences of parallel societies (see Figure 5.1). A discourse about parallel societies is not only linked to other discourses about parallel societies, but also to discourses addressing related phenomena, such as the Ghettos and the Multicultural Society. For a more detailed description of the methodology, see Borch (2012) and Borch and Kjærnes (2016).

5.4 Results

Table 5.3 shows the recorded statements of the discourse on parallel societies in the sample of articles:

Table 5.3

Characteristics of the internationally and nationally academic discourse of parallel societies (N=18, 8)

Social science/humanities
- Sociology
- Social anthropology/cultural studies
- Political scienceHumanistics
- Ethnography
- History
- Philology
Media and communication
Business and administration
Natural sciences and technology


Social sciences
- Sociology
- Social anthropology
- Political science
- Journalistic, media and communication
- Pedagogy
- History
- Philology
Business and administration
Natural sciences, technology, architecture & design


- UK
- Germany
- Denmark
- Norway
Other continents


Main subject
Secondary subject


Desktop studies


Organised societies
Unorganised societies


Positive, ambivalent or neutral



As shown in Table 5.3, the discourse spokespersons of the international discourse on parallel societies are educated within the social sciences and humanities. The researchers are for the most part publishing in social scientific journals. Most articles address parallel societies in Germany. The presumed consequences of parallel societies are more frequently negative than positive. Most of the analyses are based on desktop studies. In most articles, parallel societies are the primary or secondary subject. When they are the secondary subject, they tend to form part of discussion about multiculturalism or vulnerable (poor) residences of settlement that can be associated with ghettos, enclaves or colonies (cf. Pacione, 2005).

Overall, the various statements seem to cluster into three different discourses, which can be placed along two dimensions; going from being unorganized to organized society (closed and open system; structured and unstructured network), and from negative to positive consequences (Figure 5.1).

Figure 5.1

The order of academic discourses of parallel societies

As here shown, two discourses on parallel societies can be identified, here entitled the discourse of vulnerable areas of residence and the discourse of the multicultural society, two names referring to the greater discourses of which they seem to form part. Both refer to unorganised societies, but whereas the consequences of the former are regarded as bad, the consequence of the multicultural society can be both positive or negative. In addition, there are two articles that see parallel societies as organised societies with consequences that are either negative (‘the Extremist Seedbed”) or both positive and negative (‘the Underground Movement’). However, these articles are so few in this data material that they hardly can be recognised as discourses.

5.4.1 Vulnerable areas of residence

The first article addressing parallel societies as vulnerable areas of residence is written in 2006 and the discourse reached its top in 2013, when three articles were published. The last article was published in 2014, which may indicate that the strength of this discourse has decreased in recent years.

Most articles on the vulnerable areas of residence were published in social scientific media by social scientists and address the parallel societies of the Turkish immigrants in German cities. All analyses are based on desktop studies. Parallel societies were either the main or a secondary subject of the article.

In this discourse, parallel societies are understood as closed and self-sufficient societies. They are a ‘threat from within’, dangerous, anti-democratic and fundamentalist, with a diverse group of suspect and possible enemies of the society. Women, who are prevented from participation in the society, can escape and get assistance from the State.

The parallel societies are the result of self-segregation, caused by a withdrawal to traditional culture and religious values, and the consequent reaction of the majority population and institutions. A human tendency to make cultural dichotomies, racism and discrimination, anxiety for incompetence and conflicts, are regarded as possible causes, along with an avoidance of facing an emerging underclass claiming an ethnic identity of its own, failure of multiculturalism, and a lack of integration policy and anti-discrimination legislation.

Beside lack of social integration, the consequences of parallel societies are associated with contested cultural dichotomies, social exclusion, challenged identity construction among young Turkish immigrants, fragmented citizenship, riots and terror. However, parallel society can also be a source of change into a new and improved integration policy and an opposition questioning the notion of vulnerable areas of residence.

5.4.2 Multicultural society

Articles on the multicultural society discourse have been published regularly from 2002 to 2018, within journals and by authors representing a variety of different disciplines in and outside the social sciences. The last three articles published within this sample all belong to this discourse, which may indicate that the relative strength of this discourse is increasing.

The parallel societies addressed in this discourse cover all parts of Europe, except for east and south. Also, parallel societies on another continent are represented. The analyses are for the most part based on desktop studies, and to some extent, interviews and field work. Most articles address parallel society as a secondary subject.

Similar to the discourse of the vulnerable areas of residence, the discourse of the multicultural society sees parallel societies as cultures living side by side: ‘an isolated domain within a shared area with only a limited number of often unavoidable encounters’ (Müller, 2002, p. 443). In one article, parallel societies are seen as ‘ideal types’—a type of society that does not exist in reality, but that nevertheless works as a model, for example in the form of ethnic, complementary or competing business models.

Parallel societies are seen as the result of borderwork—a mechanism, of which immigrants are spatially and temporally (historically) placed outside the majority. Lack of integration policy has unleashed do-it-yourself integration among immigrant communities. The integration process is not seen as self-segregation, rather as the result of a failed attempt to get along with the locals. Some construct their identity in accordance with their ethnic group. Some react by being more ‘majority’ than the majority itself. In the article published in 2018, the author writes that parallel societies are not the result of multiculturalism, which may indicate that later authors take an active stand against the vulnerable area discourse, tending to see parallel societies as the results of failed multiculturalism.

As her article illustrates, the multicultural discourse shares many of the same characteristics of the vulnerable area discourse. A distinguishing feature is, however, that it does not only focus on negative consequences. It is, for example, argued that parallel societies will allow immigrants to create a sense of belonging in the host country—yet not to the host country due to disengagement from local society and culture. In these minority societies, they can assist each other, amongst other things in getting familiar with the systems of the host countries. That the opportunity creates businesses based on alternative sets of rules, values, loyalties, solidarity, trust and rationales that, in the next round, will bridge majority and minority cultures, is also emphasized. The political implications of the multicultural society are thereby to allow cultural minorities to separate to some degree if it benefits them positively, or, simply do nothing, as immigrants who fail to integrate in the majority society tend to get along with the situation.

5.4.3 The Norwegian discourse

The Norwegian discourse on parallel societies is based on articles published from 2007–2017, of which are five are published in 2014 or later. All are published in interdisciplinary social scientific journals, however, unlike what was found in the international discourse, pedagogic journals are also taking part. All the authors are social scientists. In most articles, the term parallel societies is only mentioned once in the text. In the remaining two, it constitutes a secondary subject. In all articles, parallel societies are understood as unorganized societies with negative consequences. However, in two articles, some positive sides are also mentioned. As such, five articles belong to the discourse on the vulnerable area of residence, whereas two belong to the discourse on the multicultural society. In contrast to the international discourse, the Norwegian discourses are based on interviews and fieldwork and less on desktop studies.

5.5 Discussion

The analysis shows that international discourse on parallel societies for the most part addresses ethnic segregation in Germany, which explains why Egge and Solhjell (2018, p. 11) call it ‘the German discourse’ [den tyske debatten]. The source of the German discourse (cf. Egge and Solhjell, 2018), seems to be the conservative politician Jörg Schönbohm, who, after visiting the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg as the city’s senator of the interior in 1998, claimed to have felt ‘not in Germany’, and therefore, in an interview, June 2, 1998, in Berliner Zeitung, spoke of ‘parallel societies’, which he considered a threat to social and cultural cohesion (Schwartz, 2013).

The study has also indicated that the academic discourse on parallel societies tends to be based on desktop studies recirculating understandings of previous studies. Most frequently, parallel societies form part of other greater discourses, the discourse on vulnerable areas of residence, i.e. unorganized societies with bad consequences, or as multicultural societies, i.e. unorganized societies with both good and bad consequences.

Notably, there seems to be a connection between how parallel societies are understood and the use of methodology. Articles understanding parallel societies as multicultural societies are more frequently based on interviews and observation of immigrants than articles understanding parallel societies as vulnerable areas of residence, which tend to be based on desktop studies. This indicates that researchers who have been in contact with immigrants during the research through interviews and observation pursue a more positive understanding on parallel societies than researchers who have based their research on secondary sources. The causality of this observation can be discussed. It nevertheless needs to be considered in future research.

In Norway, the first article was published in 2007. Also, the Norwegian discourses tend to describe parallel societies as vulnerable areas of residence, less frequently, as multicultural societies. Compared to the international discourse, the Norwegian discourse on parallel societies is weaker, as none of the articles mentioned parallel society in the title, the abstract or in the keywords, but in the text. The results of these studies tend, however, to be based on interviews and observations of immigrants rather than desktop studies.

A general observation from this study is that parallel societies are seldom understood as a reality, but as an imagined construction or as a model against which the reality can be understood and measured. A telling example of an article tending to see parallel societies as imagined constructions is written by Ramm (2010, pp. 183–184):

Growing diversification and lifestyles and hybrid identification among Turkish-Germans are reduced to the imagination of a Muslim collective living in ‘parallel societies, attributing social exclusion, educational short comings and forms of patriarchal violence (e.g. forced marriages and ‘honour killings) to the immigrants’ Islamic origin…pushed and enforced by politicians, mass media and academic ‘Islam experts’.

An illustrative example of an article perceiving parallel societies as a model is written by Antons (2014). In this article, which addresses an organization of Ukrainian civilians who found themselves living in Germany after the Second World War, Antons makes an exception from the general body of literature on parallel societies by actually exploring if and how a immigrants society actually meets the criteria of being a parallel society rather than just describing them. To strengthen the discourses’ roots in reality, future research should follow the example of Antons and aim at developing measurable indicators of ethnic segregation. These indicators should not only include ‘the usual suspects’, such as ethnic cultural and ethnic-religious homogeneity, shared language and network outside the majority society, duplication of key institutions like schools and laws and rules, discrimination (Meyer, 2002), but also take housing-related factors, processes and mechanism into account.

5.5.1 Implications for research and policy

Previous attention has indicated that immigrants’ choices and options on the housing market rely on their family situation, economic resources and local housing market possibilities. In addition, immigrants have other choices and options where to live based on their lack of resources (language skills, education, work, social network, religion, etc.), future expectation, preferences to live in neighbourhoods with fellow countrymen, and the majority’s reactions towards them, including discrimination practices (Anderson et al., 2013). The many factors influencing immigrants’ choices and options are, however, not part of the public discourse on parallel societies. Rather, this study confirms the hypothesis of this chapter suggesting that the academic discourses on parallel societies tend to neglect the role of housing markets and policy on ethnic segregation. In so doing, important aspects of why immigrants end up living where they live may be ignored in public debate and housing policy.

As the discourse on parallel societies tend to foster a negative view on immigration, the solution is not to change the discourse, rather to start using more constructive concepts providing a less biased and more nuanced picture of immigrants’ settlement patterns. Although previous studies provide important insights, knowledge gaps in previous studies in immigrants’ settlement patterns can be identified. For example, more research is needed to understand immigrants’ knowledge about the host country’s housing market and the policy instruments accessible. The housing market is not easily understood for natives who want to buy or rent a residence for the first time—and even more so for immigrants who are raised in societies with housing systems. More research is also needed to understand how religious practices affect the availability of housing market services. For most people homeownership includes loans with interest. For some people practicing Islam, interest is considered Haram [prohibited]. To what extent are these practices performed among Norwegian Muslims? What alternatives do they have to conventional loans and with what consequences for the household finances?

Overall, there is a need to research how current housing policy instruments affect immigrant groups. In Norway, homeownership is the high road to a housing career (Søholt and Wessel, 2010). As mentioned in section 2, most housing policy instruments regulating people’s access to and availability of housing services in Norway require loans with interest. If immigrants can’t take up loans, the rental market can be their only option due to the low share of social housing. A study by Andersson et al. (2012) indicates that ethnic discrimination is the most prevalent form of discrimination on the Norwegian rental market. Since the liberalization of the housing market in the mid-1980s, the share of rented houses has been reduced and made a bad situation even worse for the low-income and discriminated groups (Arbaci and Malheiros, 2009).

In previous literature, several policy instruments have been suggested to combat ethnic segregation. Amongst others, Anderson et al., (2010) suggest increasing public budgets to municipalities hosting refugees; urban renewal; poverty and segregation-fighting strategies; housing and social mix policy (e.g. to avoid homogeneous neighbourhoods and get a more even and stable demand for social security). They also suggest rolling out school reforms decreasing the tendency for middle-class students to avoid schools in neighbourhoods with bad reputations, as well as the accessibility to religious schools.

As here indicated, combating ethnic segregation requires a multi-actor approach involving stakeholders from different sectors at all levels in society. Anderson et al. (2010) also call for a more experimental design in policies and research developing and measuring the effect of policy instruments. Top-down approaches, including substantial changes in the physical environment, are according to Phillips and Harrison (2010), less effective, and should, if used, be well informed. Most preferably, policy instruments should include practices that immigrants already perform. They also need to take underlying causes into consideration, such as global development, economic restructuring, and welfare state arrangements (Anderson et al., 2010). Before decisions are made, some questions need to be raised: Who, ultimately, is the desired beneficiary of the policy? Minority groups, majority groups, or the society? (Galster, 2010) Moreover, the ‘orthodox association’ between residential desegregation and social inclusion needs to be discussed, as desegregation to date has resulted in development of new middle-class suburban areas and gentrification of central and peri-central areas, promoting the exclusion of immigrants from central municipal areas and increasing their peripheralisation (Arbaci and Malheiros, 2009, p. 227).

5.6 Conclusion

This research suggests that the discourse on parallel societies is based on a recirculation of desktop studies addressing ethnic segregation in Germany. Its spokespersons are for the most part social scientists and humanists echoing the worries of a right-wing politician after he had visited a city district in Berlin with a high density of Turkish immigrants in 1998. Since the discourse tends to emphasize negative consequences for society, researchers should be careful about using the term in texts also considering positive consequence of immigration.

The research also shows that the discourse of parallel societies tends to ignore the role of the housing market and policy in ethnic segregation. A review of previous research on ethnic segregation, housing market and policy reviews shows gaps in current knowledge about why immigrants end up living where they live. If these questions remain unanswered, housing policy implementation may cause more harm than good—for immigrant groups, for majority groups, and/or for the society at large.


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