Are Immigrants Socially Isolated? An Assessment of Neighbors and Neighboring in Canadian Cities

  • Brian RayEmail author
  • Valerie Preston


Recently, the media have expressed concern about the apparent concentration and social isolation of immigrants in central and inner suburban neighborhoods in large Canadian cities. This paper compares and contrasts the frequency and nature of neighborhood-based social contacts among three cohorts of immigrants distinguished by their period of arrival in Canada and Canadian-born individuals. We begin by outlining the family, friend, and acquaintance relationships that immigrants build and argue that their networks are culturally diverse and dominated by acquaintances. In this context, intense friendships rarely develop between neighbors, even for recent newcomers. Rather, neighboring consists mainly of casual interactions between individuals that often involve the provision of mundane forms of assistance. Despite their fleeting and routine qualities, social relations with neighbors lead the vast majority of people to express strong levels of belonging to their neighborhoods. As a consequence, we argue that the neighborhood is an underestimated locale for understanding social inclusion.


Immigrants Neighboring Neighbors Networks Inclusion Diversity 


Ces derniers temps, les médias ont révélé des préoccupations quant à la concentration apparente et l’isolation sociale des immigrants dans les quartiers centraux et ceux des banlieues proches des grandes villes canadiennes. Cet article établit une comparaison de la fréquence et la nature des contacts sociaux basés dans le quartier parmi trois cohortes d’immigrants (classées selon la date de leur arrivée au Canada) et celles des personnes nées au Canada. Nous commençons en dressant un portrait des rapports que tissent les immigrants avec leur famille, leurs amis et leurs connaissances, et soutenons que leurs réseaux sont diversifiés sur le plan culturel et que les connaissances y jouent un rôle prépondérant. Dans ce contexte, il est rare que les amitiés intenses se développent entre voisins, même pour les nouveaux arrivants. Les contacts entre voisins consistent principalement en des interactions occasionnelles entre des individus qui, souvent, se rendent un service banal. Malgré la qualité fugace et routinière de ces relations sociales entre voisins, la grande majorité des gens expriment un fort sentiment d’appartenance à leurs quartiers. Ainsi, nous proposons que l’on sous-estime le potentiel du quartier comme lieu pour comprendre l’inclusion sociale.

Mots clés

immigrants voisinage voisins réseaux inclusion diversité 



An early version of this paper was presented at the International Metropolis meeting, October 18–21, 2005, Toronto, Canada. We are grateful to Yvonne Riano, Eleonore Kofman, and Pila Riano-Alcala who organized the workshop entitled “Social and Cultural Capital of Immigrants in Cities, and Policy Responses”. This research was completed while the second author was a visiting professor at INRS-Urbanisation, Culture et Société. We thank Sara McLafferty, Damaris Rose, two reviewers, and the editor for their helpful comments, Ann Marie Murnaghan for superb research assistance, and York University for funding the research. Any errors remain our responsibility.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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