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Research-Policy Dialogues in the United Kingdom

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Part of the IMISCOE Research Series book series (IMIS)


Inspired by academic and political currents in North America, early research on migrant integration in the United Kingdom contributed to the development of a ‘race relations’ consensus, launching Britain on a trajectory quite distinct from subsequent approaches in neighbouring European countries. Since the 1970s, the diversity of discourse coalitions and actors involved in discussions of migrant integration policy has increased markedly. An interesting feature of the UK case has been policymakers’ long-standing preference for integration dialogues to take place in government-sponsored commissions. Developing the insight that independent commissions are an ideal venue to study science-society dialogues, the authors compare three commissions that reported in the 2000s: the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain in 2000 (CMEB); the Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) in 2001; and the Commission on Integration and Cohesion in 2007 (CIC).


  • Integration Policy
  • Race Relation
  • Religious Diversity
  • Knowledge Utilisation
  • Naturalisation Policy

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

13.1 Introduction

Of the countries featured in this book, Britain has the longest experience of policy interventions aimed at integrating migrants, beginning in the 1960s. The migrants at whom policy was primarily directed had arrived in Britain after World War II as British Commonwealth subjects, particularly from (former) colonies in the Caribbean (e.g. Jamaica, Bahamas and Barbados), and South Asia (India, Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh). Contrasting with the ‘guest-worker’ approach of neighbouring countries like the Netherlands and Germany, Britain’s initial ‘open door’ policy was not primarily conceived as a state-run recruitment campaign to supply industry with cheap labour. Instead it was a diplomatic means by which Britain hoped to maintain favourable economic and political relationships within the Commonwealth (Banton 1985: 34).

A second specificity of the UK case is the long-standing British preference for viewing questions of migrant integration through the conceptual prism of ‘race’. From the late 1950s, the perception grew that ‘coloured’ Commonwealth migrants – to reproduce the language of the period – were settling in Britain, and hence competing with white working class communities for scarce resources such as housing and jobs (Banton 1985: 35). The government action that followed combined immigration control (the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act) with integration measures (the 1965 Race Relations Act). Two subsequent Race Relations Acts (1968 and 1976) steadily built on this initial effort to contain racial discrimination and maintain public order. The 1976 Act, by recognising indirect discrimination against racial groups, in addition to the direct discrimination against individuals which the first two Acts targeted, opened the door to the recognition of group rights which emerged in multiculturalist policies promoting diversity in the 1980s. However, a major break with multicultural race relations occurred after 2000 in response to incidents of rioting and terrorism in which ethnic minorities (and above all Muslims of South Asian heritage) were perceived to be implicated. Instead of promoting diversity, integration policy took a ‘civic integrationist’ turn, emphasising values held in common and promoting cross-community cohesion.

The British preference for conceptualising integration in ethnic terms requires a brief explanation, since in neighbouring countries policy frames have tended to distinguish between ‘citizens’ on the one hand, and ‘migrants’ (or ‘foreigners’) on the other. In Britain, racial terminology did not have the same associations with Nazism as it did in mainland Europe, and was familiar to policymakers due to the legacy of British colonial administration. Furthermore, the citizen-foreigner dichotomy was unusable in Britain given that most inhabitants of the country, Commonwealth migrants and non-migrants alike, shared a (nominal) universal status of citizenship (Joppke 1999). In this sense, integration policy in the UK was never originally migrant integration policy, as the boundary across which integration was supposed to occur (be it as a one-way process or a two-way process) was not framed as a migrant/host boundary but as a racial boundary separating people sharing the same (formal) citizenship status. The arrival of 653,000 Eastern European migrants in the UK between 2004 and 2011 (Vargas-Silva 2013), following the A-8 countries’ accession to the European Union, would come to challenge this consensus. Thus far, however, integration policy – in the sense of integrating new arrivals – continues to be a neglected domain (Spencer 2011).

As will be discussed in greater detail below, social scientific research on integration has had a varied influence on the development of policy in this area, at times making a very considerable impact on broad policy frames and specific policy measures, while at other times having very little influence. This minimal influence is certainly not due to an absence of knowledge production in this area: social scientists have produced research on migrant integration for more than half a century. Equally, the influence of social scientific knowledge on policy is not our only focus since that relationship can also be two-way, with policymakers influencing the production of knowledge in this domain.

13.2 Migrant Integration: Key Issues

The foundation stone of integration policy in the UK was the series of Race Relations Acts passed in the 1960s and 1970s. These were ‘path-breaking’ measures – at least in the European context – aimed at combating discrimination on racial grounds (Spencer 2011: 213) and ensuring that migrants (and their descendants) were treated equally, as their status as citizens required. Rejecting assimilation, Roy Jenkins – the Home Secretary who introduced these policies – defined integration as ‘equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’ (in Rose 1969: 25).

Behind these lofty words lay a more pragmatic logic: public order was at risk if such principles were ignored, as a series of ‘race riots’ in the late 1950s had demonstrated (Favell 1998). As such, integration was a prerogative of the Home Office. In order to minimise the potential for public disorder, the 1965 Act banned racial discrimination in ‘places of public resort’ such as theatres, hotels, bars, restaurants, and public transport. A second Act in 1968 extended the reach of protection to other domains, such as employment and housing, after evidence emerged of widespread discrimination in these areas.

The first Race Relations Acts required new bodies with which to implement and police the legislation. At the national level, a newly instituted Race Relations Board (RRB) was the agency charged with enforcing the 1965 and 1968 Acts. The 1976 Act created a new super-agency responsible both for the negative duty of enforcing the anti-discrimination measures and for the positive duty of organising activities with the aim of promoting good race relations. This new body was named the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), and it would continue as such until 2007 when a successor agency, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was created.Footnote 1

One of the most far-reaching consequences of the 1976 Act was its focus on indirect discrimination, ‘creat[ing] a space for the language of group rights’ which in turn helped open the door for the multiculturalist policies of the 1980s (Joppke 1999: 230, 235). A central feature of multiculturalism relates to the prospect of institutional adjustments on the part of the state, insofar as there is an implicit multiculturalist understanding that integration is a two-way process of adaptation, with both newcomers and host institutions adjusting their practices. In the UK, institutional adjustments included the legal recognition of minority ethnic and faith groups, such as in the collection of census data incorporating different group categories (from 1991). Minor changes in law have been made to accommodate cultural or religious practices espoused by different communities, for example in relation to dress codes, children’s education, and ritual slaughter of animals. In 2000, responding to the Macpherson inquiry into police racism in a high-profile murder case, the race relations legislation again evolved, extending the scope of the 1976 Act to impose a duty on all publicly funded bodies, including the police, to eliminate discriminatory practices and to promote race equality.

In the summer of 2001, a series of focusing events prompted a reconsideration of multiculturalism by policymakers. Firstly, major street disturbances occurred in the northern English towns of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, involving ethnic minority youths. The ethnic minorities involved in the ‘milltown riots’ – so-called due to the textile milling past of the three towns – were primarily of South Asian Muslim heritage. The subsequent 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington contributed to a further hardening of the discourse around Muslims as a community experiencing particular integration difficulties. Critiques of multiculturalism did not issue solely from the right of the political spectrum, but also emanated from prominent centre-left opinion makers (Alibhai-Brown 2001; Goodhart 2004). The driving focus of policy henceforth was on measures that placed emphasis on the cohesion of local communities and values that were shared in common, rather than celebrating diversity.

The last decade has witnessed a consolidation of the rhetorical backlash against multiculturalism.Footnote 2 The election of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010 did not result in any major deviations from the previous government’s focus on cohesion and shared values. An overarching theme is to shift responsibility for integration from central to local government. This shift began in 2006 when responsibility for cohesion policy was switched from the Home Office to the newly created Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG). The only integration-related role that the Home Office retains is responsibility for the integration of refugees and naturalisation policy. These changes have led to some observers denouncing an ‘extraordinary lack of coherence across Whitehall and between central and local government’ (Spencer 2011: 233), with new migrants potentially slipping through the resulting cracks. Similarly, the zeal of the government’s localism drive is a cause of some concern (Katwala 2012), given the difficult financial situation many local authorities found themselves in after the 2008 recession. Statements such as ‘government will act only exceptionally’ imply a very minimalist approach, absolving Whitehall of any responsibilities in this area (CLG 2012: 9).

13.3 Historical Overview of Research-Policy Dialogues on Migrant Integration

In order to provide a comprehensive overview of science-society dialogues on migrant integration in the UK, three constitutive components of these dialogues will be studied. The first component refers to knowledge production about migrant integration as a research field. What types of actors (research institutes, experts, etc.) have emerged and what ‘schools of thought’ can be distinguished? Secondly, we recognise that not all researchers are engaged with policymakers, politicians, civil society and the media to the same degree. We use the term dialogue structures to designate the principal actors involved, and the venues where they come together. Finally, we ask how policymakers made use of the body of knowledge produced in Britain on the topic of migrant integration. In order to analyse these patterns of knowledge use, this chapter also follows Boswell’s (see Chap. 2) distinction between instrumental, legitimising and substantiating knowledge utilisation.

Because knowledge production, dialogue structures and knowledge utilisation can be difficult to disentangle empirically, we shall not discuss them separately here but instead focus on their mutual inter-relations in a chronological manner. Table 13.1 provides an overview of four phases.

Table 13.1 Policy frames in British migrant integration policy since the 1960s

13.3.1 1940s to 1960s: The Emergence of the Race Relations Frame

Sociological studies of migrant settlement and integration in the UK first date to the 1940s, some considerable time before any explicit integration policies had been devised by the authorities. Kenneth Little was the first to investigate ‘race relations’ with his work in port cities such as Cardiff, where many sailors from British colonies had settled (Little 1947). This direction of inquiry was continued by Michael Banton, whose early work was supervised by Little at Edinburgh (Banton 1955). In the 1960s, John Rex and Robert Moore undertook a major study of migrant housing in Birmingham, heavily influenced by Robert Park and the Chicago School of sociology (Rex and Moore 1967).

At this time, there was little instrumental use of academic research in policymaking (Banton 1985). Where academics were most influential was in initially framing questions of integration in terms of ‘race relations’, with academic output inspiring ‘policy learning’ by politicians, civil servants, and the media (Bleich 2011). However, even here Bleich argues that ‘[s]ocial research (…) contributed directly to the formulation of eventual dominant frames in Britain, but it was one of a number of influences rather than constituting an overwhelming element’ (Bleich 2011: 62). This situation corresponds most closely to what Weiss (1986) calls the ‘enlightenment’ function of knowledge.

In this earlier period, examples of specific policy adjustments in which use of integration research was central were more likely to be inspired by applied research conducted outside academia, in what would now be termed think-tanks. In this regard, an early and highly influential pioneer was the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), originally founded in order to study race relations in colonial and Commonwealth countries. By the early 1960s, however, its focus had shifted to race relations in Britain itself, strongly influenced by academic and political currents in the United States (Banton 2011a). In 1963 a major 5-year survey was launched by the IRR, led by Jim Rose. This survey was later written up in the influential report, Colour and Citizenship (Rose 1969). Another organisation, Political and Economic Planning (PEP; later the Policy Studies Institute), also had a great influence on policy, providing persuasive and incontrovertible evidence of discrimination.

However, such data was not used in an instrumental manner, to rationally adjust policy, but rather used to substantiate an already-taken policy position (Boswell 2009). The passage of the 1968 Act is a paradigmatic example of this, as Banton relates with regard to the commissioning of an influential PEP study in 1967. In Banton’s view this study was ‘a set-up’ devised by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, his friend (and chairman of the Race Relations Board) Mark Bonham Carter, and their contacts at PEP. Indeed Bonham Carter ‘made it a condition of his appointment [to the Race Relations Board] that he should be able to put the case [for review of the 1965 Act] after only a year’s operation’ (Lester 2000: 28). As Banton recounts, ‘The ’68 Act was an aspiration and it became a reality thanks to the [PEP] research (…). The government wanted to get a bill through the House of Commons and it did’ (interview with Banton). Such remarks confirm Joppke’s depiction of an ‘elite-crafted’ race relations paradigm (1999: 225). This elite was constituted by London-based political, media and legal figures, rather than academics at provincial universities.

13.3.2 1970s: Fragmentation and Politicisation

Two principal features of migrant integration research in the UK become apparent from 1970: simultaneously, the expansion of knowledge production in this area, and the politicisation of the research field, resulting in competing schools of thought. Academics such as Ambalavaner Sivanandan, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy and Robert Miles emerged who combined a Marxist perspective with a commitment to combating racism politically through their academic work (Favell 2001: 356). Their focus on racism (as opposed to race) put them at odds with sociologists such as Banton and Rex who maintained that the term race could be deployed as a neutral concept. The growing importance of the ‘critical race studies’ schoolFootnote 3 is revealed by the ‘capture’ of the IRR by Sivanandan and his supporters in 1972. Another locus for this new paradigm was the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham.

Given the anti-system tendencies of academics in the ‘critical race studies’ school, it is no surprise that their writings were of little use to policymakers. One might have expected more synergy between academia and policy in the official venues created for dialogue. However, the first academic centre sponsored by the Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC),Footnote 4 led initially by Banton at Bristol (1970–1978), was set up explicitly for the purposes of generating fundamental sociological knowledge, not policy-relevant knowledge (Banton 2011b). Another attempt to initiate dialogue was the creation of a Home Office Advisory Committee on Race Relations Research (ACRRR) in 1969. The terms of reference for the committee were: ‘To advise the Secretary of State on a programme of research likely to be relevant to the formulation of policy concerning the relations between people of colour, race or ethnic or national origins settled in Great Britain’ (ACRRR 1975: iii). Despite its easy access to channels of power, this Committee was far from successful in influencing the policy agenda. The initiative failed, largely because policymakers were reacting to short-term problems rather than developing long-term visions for policy:

That was an attempt to set up a place for exchange, and it failed, I think, completely (…). The trouble was that the Home Office people were having to respond to ministers … And ministers only wanted something when there was a problem (interview with committee member).

13.3.3 1980s and 1990s: The Rise of Multiculturalist Thinkers

Despite the differences of opinion between the orthodox ‘race relations’ scholars and the activist-academics of the critical school, common ground existed between them in two important respects. The first was the shared tendency to frame British experiences of ethnic diversity in relation to North American precedents. To this ‘Atlanto-centrism’, Tariq Modood (2012) adds a second ‘secularist’ bias. His contention is that earlier researchers neglected the religious identities and practices of post-Commonwealth immigrant communities in the UK, especially South Asian communities. With the exception of some anthropological work on the religious practices of South Asian migrants in Britain (Helweg 1979; Jeffery 1976; Werbner 1990), up until the 1990s there was little attention given to the influence of religion in processes of settlement and integration. It was only after the Rushdie Affair of 1989 that questions of accommodation of ethnic minority religions began to generate sustained academic interest. In opposition to the secularist bias of earlier research, multiculturalist thinkers emerged such as Modood, firstly at the Policy Studies Institute and latterly at Bristol, and Bhikhu Parekh at Hull.

Other important research centres were emerging at this time. The directorship of the government-funded SSRC unit transferred from Banton at Bristol to John Rex, first at Aston and then to the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations (CRER) at Warwick. This centre became a launchpad for many researchers who have since gone on to influential positions, such as John Solomos (editor of the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies). This transfer of leadership also coincided with a shift from the SSRC’s original emphasis on fundamental sociological research, moving to a ‘greater emphasis [on] policy relevant research and politically relevant research’ (Banton 2011b: 9). However, the pervading impression given by key informants and literature on the topic is that CRER had difficulties fulfilling its new mission. While CRER produced policy-relevant research (Favell 2001), the fact remains that this material was not widely drawn on by policymakers. Peter Ratcliffe, who was affiliated with CRER, admits that ‘the overall impact in terms both of minority empowerment and in policy transformation was probably rather slight’ (Ratcliffe 2001: 130).

One can speculate that CRER might have been more successful if successive Conservative governments had shown any interest in the race relations agenda. According to a senior civil servant at the Home Office who covered the race relations brief at the Home Office in 1978–1981 and then during the 1990s prior to retirement, there was very little proactive dialogue on integration matters during the years of Conservative rule (1979–1997). The race relations agenda was effectively ‘frozen’ at this time:

Direct systematic routine contact between academics to my memory did not exist at my level. (…) We had no political impetus behind us to search people out. (…) Thatcher set the tone … It was a failure of imagination, a failure to see what the country – simply through demographics – was likely to become … Whatever the reasons, it did take the political sea change of 1997 to bring it back into its right scale of importance (interview with a former senior Home Office official).

13.3.4 1997 and After: The Quest for Policy Impact

The election of a Labour government in 1997 signalled a more proactive approach (at least initially) to questions of race and integration (Ratcliffe 2001), evident in the amendments in 2000 to the Race Relations Act, which introduced a new duty on all public authorities to promote equal opportunities. New Labour’s election win also had implications for the use of expert knowledge, with calls from ministers for evidence-based policymaking.Footnote 5 This technocratic turn is observable in immigration policy more generally (Boswell 2009), but in the integration field academics such as Parekh and Modood were also quite influential at this time, ‘shaping that early New Labour multiculturalism’ (interview with university researcher). However, this pro-diversity discourse was turned on its head by two focusing events in summer 2001: the ‘milltown riots’ in northern England, followed by 9/11. It is at this point that multiculturalist scholars begin to be sidelined. For example, while New Labour politicians continued to solicit policy advice from Modood on some topics after 2001,Footnote 6 Modood himself acknowledged that policymakers have taken other policy directions that he was not willing to follow:

I’ve become less central or have been marginalised over the last decade (…) People in Whitehall … think I’m not sufficiently addressing the most important issues which are to do with terrorism, extremism, and so on, segregation, ghettoisation, separate communities (interview with Modood).

However, other features of research-policy dialogues in earlier periods continued in the 2000s. The key role played by think-tanks in dialogue structures on integration has already been flagged, and in the 2000s more and more such organisations became interested in this field. In addition to the Runnymede Trust and PSI, which have long focused on race issues, left-of-centre think-tanks such as IPPR, Demos and Policy Network, as well as Civitas and Policy Exchange on the right, have all undertaken research in this area. Think-tanks provide a platform for academics to broadcast their ideas in a way which is more likely to catch policymakers’ attention. Think-tanks also act as bridge between academia and advisory positions within government, as the career paths of a number of prominent actors show.Footnote 7

In terms of knowledge utilisation, the trend observed in the earlier period continues into the current timeframe. Once again there are not many examples of instrumental knowledge use. This would be less surprising were it not for a significant cultural change in academia, with a new willingness on the part of academics to work on applied policy problems. Favell sees this as a dramatic shift:

In reading the citizenship and multicultural theorists of the present day, we need constant reminding that they are not speaking from the same social location as the politicians, judges, and bureaucrats who actually make decisions and implement policies. (…) One by one, prominent academic voices have been incorporated into the wider, state-sponsored production of practical knowledge (Favell 2001: 354–5).

One recent factor reinforcing this desire of academics to seek influence through applied policy research is the clear shift that can be observed in the political economy of university research funding. Since 2008, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have required applicants for funding to demonstrate the likely socio-economic benefits of any proposed research. The same applies to the current nation-wide evaluation of university research, the Research Excellence Framework (2008–2014). Informants viewed this ‘chase’ after policy ‘impact’ as a key constraint. Furthermore, this trend is not limited to public funding, since the various charitable trusts that fund research in the UK, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Trust, also encourage researchers to seek demonstrable policy impacts.

Funding from European Union sources has also acted as a significant influence in this field. Not only has it driven engagement with new policymaking audiences in the European institutions, it has also stimulated the growing internationalisation of knowledge production. More internationally oriented (and comparativist) scholars have begun to expose the deficiencies of analyses based on ‘national models’ of integration. The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at Oxford (COMPAS) in particular has become the premier centre for migrant integration research in the UK following this shift to internationalisation, supplanting the now defunct CRER at Warwick.

Given this funding-driven growth in applied research, it is hardly surprising that political actors tend to take primacy in coordinating research-policy dialogues on migrant integration. One respondent commented: ‘I don't think there is much deference to the status of academics, at all, from policymakers. It's certainly not the case that people listen when a distinguished professor [speaks]’ (interview with university researcher). The idea that it was normal for policymakers to be ‘on top’ and academic experts to be ‘on tap’ (Scholten 2011: 51) was made very clear in the comments of Home Office officials, who decried the lack of policy-relevant research on migration and integration. Their position was that researchers should be willing to listen to policymakers in order to produce research which ‘[is] playing to the themes which ministers, and often the public, feel are important’ (interview with Home Office official).

A final feature of science-society dialogues on integration in the UK case is the marked preference of policymakers to facilitate dialogues via one particular venue, namely independent commissions. This venue preference has been noted by a number of authors (Favell 2001; Scholten 2011). Ratcliffe finds commissions to be especially prevalent in the UK following focusing events such as ‘race riots’ (Ratcliffe 2001). Commissions engage a wider set of actors beyond those normally involved in policymaking, usually involving some combination of academics, practitioners, and representatives of civil society. As such, commissions are an ideal venue in which to study science-society dialogues, as we elaborate in the next section.

13.4 Key Topics in Research-Policy Dialogues

We chose to focus on three government-sponsored or -endorsed commissions reporting after 1999 that made recommendations across the three topics covered by the DIAMINT project – naturalisation, religious diversity, and primary and secondary education. The three commissions are: the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain in 2000 (CMEB); the Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) in 2001; and the Commission on Integration and Cohesion in 2007 (CIC). In what follows, we will consider the three integration topics in turn. For each topic we will briefly discuss the context of that policy area, before analysing one of the commissions in greater depth.

13.4.1 Naturalisation

In the second half of the twentieth century, British citizenship policy was not designed to address the integration of migrants already in the UK but was instead a means of immigration control, by limiting the categories of Commonwealth citizens permitted access to the colonial metropole (Karatani 2002). Furthermore, the process of acquiring British citizenship through naturalisation was marked by a laissez-faire and bureaucratic nature. During his time as Home Secretary (2001–2004), David Blunkett moved to change this, taking the view that the ‘prize’ of citizenship should be (i) something to commemorate symbolically, and (ii) used as a lever to encourage integration.

External policy advice was a key driver in this reinvention of UK naturalisation policy, with the recommendations of experts on the Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) being particularly influential. One of the two headline findings of the CCRT – established following the 2001 ‘milltown riots’– was the need to ‘establish a greater sense of citizenship, based on (a few) common values which are shared and observed by all’ (CCRT 2001: 9). The values deemed important by the CCRT included ‘a universal acceptance of the English language’, support for women’s rights, and respect for people of diverse faiths and beliefs (CCRT 2001: 19). It was also suggested that in relation to naturalisation procedures, ‘a clearer statement of allegiance, perhaps along the lines of the Canadian model, should be considered’ (CCRT 2001: 20). These proposals were enthusiastically backed by ministers, both in the immediate response to Cantle’s report (Home Office 2001) and in the government’s white paperFootnote 8 Secure Borders, Safe Haven (Home Office 2002). Naturalisation policy was re-conceived as a lever for integration, particularly with the requirement that new citizens should demonstrate knowledge of English language and British institutions (Home Office 2002: 32). Citizenship ceremonies, incorporating an updated oath of allegiance to ‘reflect a commitment to citizenship, cohesion and community’, were also legislated for (ibid: 34).

Intriguingly, Cantle and his team were not the first policy advisors to suggest that naturalisation should be reinvented as a means to promote a sense of belonging among newcomers. One year earlier, the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain (CMEB) had stressed the importance of renewing the British model of citizenship. One measure proposed by the CMEB in this regard was to institute citizenship ceremonies, transforming the process of gaining British citizenship from a dull administrative process to a more symbolic ‘ceremonious form of welcome for new British citizens which might help everyone to reflect on the value of citizenship and to appreciate diversity’ (CMEB 2000: 55). These proposals did not receive the same welcome from ministers as was accorded to the CCRT: in fact, the CMEB’s recommendations were unceremoniously dropped. A closer analysis of the CMEB shows why this was the case.

The CMEB was conceived by its sponsor the Runnymede Trust as a wide-ranging state-of-the-nation sequel to the influential Colour and Citizenship report (Rose 1969), one of the founding texts of the British race relations paradigm. Chaired by the eminent political philosopher Bhikhu Parekh, the Commission included some of the leading academics in the race relations field,Footnote 9 as well as expert practitioners in the fields of law, health, local government, education, and journalism. Although formally independent of government, the Commission had close ties to leading figures in the ruling Labour Party and received strong backing from the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who presided at the launches of the Commission (January 1998) and its report (October 2000).

Ministers’ attitudes changed however once it became apparent that media coverage of the report was overwhelmingly hostile. Journalists focused on one short passage in the 417-page text: ‘Britishness … has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations’ (CMEB 2000: 38). Mis-construing the word ‘racial’ for ‘racist’, the Daily Telegraph led with a front-page story accusing commissioners of committing a racist slur against the British people, a criticism which was subsequently taken up by mass media across the ideological spectrum. The report quickly became a ‘politically untouchable document’ (McLaughlin and Neal 2004: 156), and Jack Straw was forced to publicly distance the government from endorsing the Commission’s findings. The CCRT by contrast did have the support of government, and their recommendations on naturalisation were put into practice. Nonetheless, it appears clear that the government’s initial inspiration to legislate in this area came from the CMEB: the language of the Secure Borders, Safe Haven white paper closely resembles the text of the CMEB report.Footnote 10

13.4.2 School Reception Policies

School-age education is considered to be a key arena of integration policy, applying both to young migrants and second-generation children born in Britain. In British statistical data, these two populations are collapsed into the category of black and minority ethnic (BME) pupils. Over the decades, the educational attainment of BME school-leavers has advanced significantly: overall BME pupils are close to attaining parity with, or even overtaking, their white counterparts on the standard measure of percentage of pupils attaining five passes at GCSE levelFootnote 11 (A-C grades). The national average is 76 %, compared with 80 % for Asian pupils.Footnote 12 74 % of black pupils achieve such grades.

Given these generally positive outcomes, socio-economic disadvantage and differential school attainment among ethnic groups have been less prominent in recent UK policy debates than in other countries studied in this volume. Instead, the integration focus in schools has primarily been on socio-cultural aspects, particularly educational segregation and the lack of contact between pupils of different ethnic backgrounds. In 2001, the influential Cantle report identified ‘separate educational arrangements’, such as faith schools or mono-ethnic schools, as a major factor behind the CCRT’s diagnosis of ‘parallel lives’, since it was primarily young people who participated in the 2001 disturbances (CCRT 2001: 9).

In response, the CCRT recommended a number of measures in schools to promote cross-cultural bridging. A legal duty on schools was proposed to ‘promote respect for, and understanding of, the cultures in the school and neighbouring areas’ (ibid: 36). This recommendation was eventually implemented in the duty on schools to promote community cohesion, as legislated for in the Education and Inspection Act of 2006. ‘School-twinning’ initiatives enabling pupils from different schools (and ethnic backgrounds) to participate in shared lessons and sports activities were given enthusiastic backing by the Review Team, and extra funding was made available by government for this (Home Office 2001: 24).

What factors led to the CCRT being such a productive research-policy dialogue? Compared with the CMEB, its remit was far narrower, even to the point of stipulating who should be consulted: commissioners were asked ‘to obtain the views of local communities, including young people, local authorities and faith organisations … on the issues that need to be addressed in developing confident, active communities and social cohesion’ (CCRT 2001: 5). Ted Cantle, a senior local government leader, was asked to chair the Review. His previous role at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities meant that several Labour ministers knew him as ‘a “safe officer” type person, who was capable of writing a report and presenting findings’ (interview with Cantle).

The choice of the trusted Cantle as chair, the narrow terms of reference, and the appointment of practically minded commissioners with grassroots experience in local government and community organisations, indicate that ministers were keen for the Review to produce pragmatic and politically savvy recommendations which could be taken up by policymakers. In particular, a number of observers have contended that the CCRT was primarily a government-controlled vehicle to substantiate a shift in policy from multiculturalism to community cohesion (Robinson 2008: 17–19). Yet interviews conducted for the DIAMINT project suggest a more nuanced reading. With a ‘safe pair of hands’ as chair, ministers did not need to intervene:

It wasn't a nurse-maiding approach. There was certainly nothing about no-go areas, or nothing about ‘you’ve got to do so-and-so.’ I can imagine that does happen in other types of reviews, but in this one, I think we just struck lucky with Ted (interview with minister).

Furthermore, the CCRT went beyond merely supporting pre-given policies, with a number of detailed proposals which drew on members’ knowledge of local government practices and which were subsequently taken up by national policymakers. Thus, the CCRT appears to have served both substantiating and instrumental functions. The report’s largely positive reception in both right- and left-wing media, and praise for Blunkett’s straight talking on the issue from right-of-centre journalists, signalled to government that there was an appetite for policy change among the public. Cantle’s subsequent career shift to academia at the Institute for Community Cohesion, which enabled him to closely monitor implementation of the CCRT proposals, is a striking example of ‘role swap’ among knowledge users and producers (Caponio et al. forthcoming).

13.4.3 Religious Diversity

Migratory flows to the UK have long been characterised by religious diversity. After World War II, Caribbean migrants brought with them more evangelical forms of Christianity, while Hindu, Muslim and Sikh beliefs travelled with South Asian migrants. Until recently, accommodation of this migration-driven religious diversity was perceived by policymakers to be relatively unproblematic (e.g. provision of halal food, planning permission for places of worship, and dress-code exceptions for public sector workers), with accommodations being made primarily on the basis of race relations legislation (Abbas 2009). However, since the 1990s religion has been recognised as a group identity which requires firmer legal protection, in the wake of South Asian communities making claims on the basis of religious identity rather than race. This trend gained momentum following the controversy over British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses in 1989 (Asad 1990). However, the protection of religious ‘difference’ has been subject to critique in recent years. After 2000 the government felt that more actions should be taken to bring different faith groups together rather than encouraging single group identities. This was first proposed in Cantle’s report following the 2001 ‘milltown riots’, and was given considerable attention subsequently by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (CIC) sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) in 2006–2007.

While the experts on the CIC acknowledged that ‘religious faith is profoundly important to those whose lives it shapes and is potentially a unifying force within society’, they also noted its potential to be ‘a factor that separates people from the wider community – for example, in many of the areas where ‘parallel lives’ are most in evidence’ (CIC 2007: 86). One recommendation which aimed at reducing the divisive force of religion was the presumption against single group funding, (including of faith groups), in preference to awarding funds to promote inter-faith activities (CIC 2007: 137 and Annex D). This proposal was inspired by academic work on social capital, and in particular Robert Putnam’s distinction between ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ types (Putnam 2000).

However, in CLG’s response to the CIC, it was clear that policymakers had reservations about prohibiting single-group funding, noting that ‘the thinking behind it has in some areas been misunderstood’ (CLG 2008: 30). CLG also acknowledged fears from voluntary organisations that their funding would be cut, such as Muslim organisations engaged in preventing violent extremism. Eventually, the CIC’s recommendation against single-group funding was watered down to leaving matters to the discretion of Local Authorities. More broadly, the Commission can be viewed as a failed attempt to shift the paradigm away from cohesion of established ethnic communities towards recognition of Britain as ‘super-diverse’, and the need for integration of new migrant communities. It is worth elaborating briefly on the reasons behind this failure.

The origins of the CIC lie in the government’s initial response to the 7/7 London terrorist attacks in 2005. A commission to review the role of religion in Britain was announced by the Home Office in September 2005. However, a reorganisation of Whitehall in May 2006 led to the newly created Department for Communities and Local Government taking over the commission. Simultaneously, its remit shifted from religious diversity to an interest in ‘how local areas can play a role in forging cohesive and resilient communities’ (CIC 2007: 17). The lack of urgency and focus that characterised the commission’s genesis indicates that it was designed as a ‘delaying tactic’ by ministers, a knowledge use function we term ‘legitimising’. This is confirmed by the way the CIC report was disseminated and received by policymakers, with the substance of the report being less important than publicly signalling that a rigorous and authoritative review had taken place:

All of the news coverage of the report is on the day before the report, which talks about what’s in the report without the report ever having been available. And it is not that it is a pack of lies, but it picks certain things and gives them high profile, forgets most of the report, in a very selective manner. And of course, by the time the report is out, the news is dead… the news cycle has moved on. So nobody’s that interested in reading the report, paradoxically (interview with commissioner).

Once the brief flurry of media interest had abated, the Commission disappeared from the policy agenda quite quickly. In contrast to the government’s rapid response to the Cantle and Parekh reports, eight months had elapsed before CLG fully assessed the report and revealed which recommendations it planned to take forward (CLG 2008). While the government’s rhetoric was broadly supportive, few of the headline recommendations were implemented in practice: for example, the flagship proposal for a centrally funded Integration Agency was rejected following a feasibility study. This leads us to conclude that the CIC’s policy advice primarily served a legitimising function for the commission’s sponsors in government.

13.5 Conclusions

The early production of social scientific knowledge on the question of migrant integration in Britain was characterised by consensus, with an agreement that the approach to the question should focus on the concept of ‘race relations’. In looking to North American concepts of race, British scholarship on integration was launched on a trajectory quite distinct from approaches in neighbouring European countries. Furthermore, scholarship on integration, broadly defined, appears to have emerged in Britain some years before academics in neighbouring countries began to study such issues. Nonetheless, in this early period there was little proactive dialogue between research and policy, with academics preferring to engage in fundamental rather than applied research. Academic research did however have an indirect influence on policymaking, with the ‘race relations’ frame gaining acceptance among politicians, journalists and civil servants (Bleich 2011). This boundary configuration can be characterised as one of ‘enlightenment’ (Scholten 2011). By contrast, research produced by think-tanks (but strongly influenced by ministers) fed directly into policymaking at certain important junctures, such as the passage of the 1968 Race Relations Act, indicating an intermittent ‘engineering’ boundary configuration (Scholten 2011).

The 1970s and 1980s were marked by a growing politicisation and fragmentation of the field, leading to the emergence of rival schools of thought. The ‘critical race studies’ school was characterised by its politicised anti-racist perspective, set against the value-free position of earlier sociologists who sought to deploy race as a neutral concept. In the 1980s and 1990s, multiculturalism came to the fore, with its critique that earlier research had neglected the religious identities and practices of migrant communities, especially from South Asia. The impact of these emerging schools of thought on policy was limited, however, partly due to the anti-system tendencies of the Marxist scholars in the ‘critical race’ school, and partly due to the inactivity of successive Conservative governments regarding migrant integration.

In sum, the range of discourse coalitions and actors involved in UK science-society dialogues has increased markedly. British academia has also opened up internationally. In part, the catalyst for this internationalisation has been the emerging political economy of research in the UK, and importantly also in the Europe Union, in which international recognition and collaboration is an indicator of esteem. In addition, an interesting feature of the UK case has been policymakers’ long-standing preference for integration dialogues to take place in government-sponsored commissions. Since the 1980s, such commissions have tended to be launched after significant focusing events, usually an outbreak of disorder or violence, be it race riots, racist murders, or acts of terrorism.

We developed this insight by suggesting that independent commissions are an ideal venue to study science-society dialogues, since they involve a wider set of actors than is normally included in policymaking, usually a combination of academics, practitioners, and representatives of civil society (see also Chap. 5 for a comparison between similar commissions in Germany and the Netherlands). Furthermore, evidence-gathering about complex social problems is a primary activity of commissions, and commissions therefore often draw upon social science data and deploy social research methods. Accordingly, we compared three commissions which reported in the 2000s: the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain in 2000 (CMEB); the Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) in 2001; and the Commission on Integration and Cohesion in 2007 (CIC).

The findings of the CCRT – most subject to government influence of the three – were used for both instrumental and substantiating purposes. The choice of the trusted Cantle as chair, the narrow terms of reference, and the stress on ‘making things happen’, all indicate it was geared towardss substantiating the new policy paradigm of community cohesion. However, the commissioners drew up a number of detailed policy proposals, which exceeded policymakers’ expectations, and these proposals subsequently contributed to policymaking in an instrumental fashion. The CIC, by contrast, is judged to fit most closely to what we term the ‘legitimising’ function of knowledge use. Its drawn-out launch and proceedings, its broad remit, and the lack of interest paid to its findings, meant that the commission’s output was not used to rationally adjust policy instruments. Instead, the manner in which findings were disseminated via the media indicates that policymakers were anxious to signal to the public that action was being taken to address what was perceived to be an urgent problem, highlighted by the London bombings.

Interestingly, we also found that the amount and duration of media coverage is more important than whether such coverage is favourable or not. This is demonstrated by the history of the CMEB, which was launched not by government but by the Runnymede Trust think-tank (although with close backing from senior government politicians). The CMEB’s composition and workings indicate a partly instrumental and partly legitimising role. On the one hand, its sponsors and supporters intended and expected that it would influence policy. Yet Runnymede’s trustees and the commission’s Labour backers also appear to be motivated by a desire to signal the commission’s authority and significance. Interestingly, the initial media reaction to the CMEB report was extremely unfavourable. Yet the long-running controversy that the CMEB report generated in the media meant that its various proposals were debated at length. Thus, the CMEB remained in the public spotlight, and therefore on the policymaking agenda. In time, many of its findings and recommendations were in fact implemented, corresponding to what Carole Weiss terms the ‘enlightenment’ function of knowledge.


  1. 1.

    The CRE was active also in promoting academic research on race relations. The Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, now one of the leading international academic journals in the field, began life in 1971 as the CRE publication New Community.

  2. 2.

    However, several academic observers argue that the substantive content of policy and discourse continues as before, just under a different heading, i.e. ‘diversity.’ See Meer and Modood (2009) and Vertovec and Wessendorf (2010).

  3. 3.

    Other authors refer to a ‘cultural studies school’ (see Favell 2001).

  4. 4.

    After 1983 the SSRC becomes the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

  5. 5.

    Speech by Secretary of State for Education and Employment David Blunkett to the ESRC, 2 February 2000. ‘Influence or Irrelevance: can social science improve government?’

  6. 6.

    See Martínez 2013; also Government Equalities Office 2010.

  7. 7.

    E.g. Sarah Spencer and Shamit Saggar.

  8. 8.

    In UK policymaking, a ‘white paper’ is a document produced by the Government setting out proposed changes to policy in a particular area.

  9. 9.

    Academics on the commission included: Tariq Modood, Stuart Hall, Sarah Spencer, Sally Tomlinson and Muhammad Anwar.

  10. 10.

    Compare paragraphs 2.12 and 2.20 of Secure Borders, Safe Haven (Home Office 2002: 32, 34) with paragraphs 4.33 and 4.34 of The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain (CMEB 2000: 55).

  11. 11.

    GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. It is not possible to leave school before sitting these exams, usually at age 15–16.

  12. 12.

    All the statistics given in this paragraph are drawn from a special report Race in Britain 2012 which appeared in the Independent on Sunday on 8 January 2012.


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Hunter, A., Boswell, C. (2015). Research-Policy Dialogues in the United Kingdom. In: Scholten, P., Entzinger, H., Penninx, R., Verbeek, S. (eds) Integrating Immigrants in Europe. IMISCOE Research Series. Springer, Cham.

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