Immigrant agency in labour market integration in Sweden and Canada

  • Author / Creator
    Hellstrom, Mikael R
  • Why do immigrants seemingly have an easier time entering the labour market in Canada, a selective liberal welfare state, than they do in Sweden, a social democratic welfare state? Welfare state theory, as formulated in the now classic work by Gosta Esping-Andersen would give reason to expect the order to be other way around; that unemployment rates would be lower and labour force participation would be higher in Sweden. The purpose of this thesis is to explore an often overlooked variable that may have great relevance for explaining this discrepancy: the presence of immigrant agency in the opportunity structure of the field. Immigrant agency consists of the potential for immigrant communities to mobilize and take action to address social issues that affect them negatively. The extent to which governing bodies at municipal, regional or national levels obstruct or facilitate such mobilization and such action will, this thesis argues, have significance for how smoothly integration in the labour market will occur. The thesis uses two primary theories. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice is powerful for identifying agency as interplay between the structures of social space on the one hand and resources of social, cultural and economic capital on the other. Christopher Hood’s application of Grid/Group Cultural Theory is potent for categorizing public management models. The two theories are employed together to examine the space for immigrant agency in the labour market policy community of Canada and Sweden. They reveal much about how immigrant community actors are positioned in the policy community in relation to public agencies, and how the choice of organizational model impacts their potential for agency. Thirty six strategically placed respondents from immigrant community agencies, the public administration and other service delivery actors were interviewed for this thesis during 2009 and 2010. They were drawn from Toronto and Vancouver in Canada and Stockholm and Malmö in Sweden. All interviewees have been involved in the field of finding pathways to bridge immigrants into the labour market in different ways, either as frontline service delivery agents or public funders. The thesis shows how public management practices in Canada and Sweden from the end of World War Two continue to be relevant for present day practices and argues that the top-down style policy models employed in Sweden have disempowered immigrant community actors there. In the centralized policy community, municipal and state actors have historically been the dominant service deliverers, constraining the opportunities for immigrant community actors to secure funding. This order is reflected in the organizational culture of the public agencies. Civil servants view themselves as guardians of the common good, while community activists are seen as incompetent dilettantes who risk the common good by pursuing self-interest. Canada has some similarities with Sweden. Both countries adopted similar disempowering top-down policy methods during the 1990s, particularly the regime of onerous accountability methods that came with New Public Management. Even so, the bottom-up management models introduced in Canada during the 1970s and 1980s opened up opportunities for immigrant community actors to take social action. Consequently, their organizations have been able to secure funding, entering the field and remaining there even after the reforms. Moreover, this legacy is reflected in the organizational culture of the Canadian public agencies, as civil servants view immigrant activists as experts on their communities. Their initiatives have been thus harnessed and the organizations have played a constructive role in settlement on the Canadian field.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2015
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.