In [Occupations, National Identity and Immigrant Integration], I find that immigrants in the US are more likely to be accepted as members of the American national community when they are employed in occupations that reflect national identity.
However – in general – immigrants in France and Germany do not receive any benefits for being employed in occupations that reflect national identity.
There are many different ways in which immigrants are judged (language fluency, accent, education, skin color, dress, hobbies, friendship networks, etc etc), and lots of research on all the different angles.
My only goal was to show that there is variation across occupations with different symbolic content, and to establish the plausibility for this as a relevant issue for immigrant integration. Getting to a firmer place where we can claim what is absolutely ‘necessary’ for immigrant integration is a lot more difficult, in part because it probably varies over time and is different for different people.
Your research has focused on the politics of minorities in particular those in Western Europe, how did your interest in your specialty develop over time and why did you decide to focus on this region?
I was born and raised in New York City, in a very multicultural environment. We knew that we were living in America, but national identity did not feel very important because our environment was a hodgepodge mixture of so many different influences and it seemed like everyone could construct his/her own cultural meaning from as many different cultural traditions as he/she wanted.
So, when I first traveled to Europe (during college study abroad), I was immediately struck by how seriously many Europeans seemed to take their national identity and their historical customs.
Later, studying minorities in Europe became a way of exploring how European nations are constructed in today’s society, who is let in, who is excluded, what are the terms of that inclusion/exclusion. These are some of the main issues facing Europe today, but they also help me reflect on similarities and differences with the US, my home country.
What would the layman find most interesting about your research, and how are you contributing to the scientific body of Political Science?
At the moment, I have several projects going about immigrants in Europe. One cluster of papers is about the cultural influences present in contemporary Europe, in particular focusing on food in large supermarket chains and in school lunches.
The goal here is to explore how the demographic diversity of Europe is being reflected (or not) in mass culture. This should be of interest to a range of people across a range of disciplines, although I think it is particularly interesting for political scientists to consider how such everyday cultural practices can reflect big social issues (like immigrant integration).
Another project is about why attitudes towards immigrants vary across geography. That is, why attitudes are so much more positive about immigrants and multiculturalism in Europe’s large cities, as opposed to the countryside.
This is part of one of the bigger questions of our time, as the geographic divide between large cities and the countryside has been documented on so many political and social issues. Yet, fewer people are exploring why this divide exists.
Is it because of selection (certain types of people being more likely to move to big cities) or is there a contextual experience of living in big cities that shapes social and political attitudes?
I am in the early days of this analysis, but thus far my results suggest that selection is a much more powerful force. How this relates to issues of societal divisions is something I plan to pursue in the upcoming years.
If you were to give advice to a student thinking of pursuing a PhD in comparative politics what advice would you give them?
I talk to undergraduates and new PhD students all the time about these issues, and I usually try to get them to achieve as much clarity as possible about their career goals.
- Do they love research?
- Do they love teaching?
- Is there another obvious path for them to apply the PhD skills and training?
If you don’t begin the PhD program with some sort of passion, you are unlikely to pick it up later, so it helps to have a sense of where you want to go. While of course leaving yourself open to changes and evolution.
It also helps to know nitty gritty details about the occupation. In my view one of the biggest downsides is the lack of geographic flexibility and the inability to control where you live.
But, there are also many many upsides, most notably the ability to control what you think about and how you structure your intellectual energies.
I also try to get students to identify their own skills, personality traits and temperament. Often students enter PhD programs because they are good at writing and want to keep learning. (I know that was a big part of my motivation) But being good at writing and learning can be applied in a wide range of fields, so you also need to get more specific.
In particular, academics need to be comfortable with long time horizons, spending years going into depth on their project and being able to generate their own self-motivation to keep going.
Dr. Maxwell has written Ethnic Minority Migrants in Britain and France, and edited Immigrant Politics: Race and Representation in Western Europe available on Amazon.com.
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