Taking Time Seriously: Biographical Circumstance and Immigrant Labor Integration Experience
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The article offers a re-conceptualization of the labor integration process which takes temporality into account as a relevant feature that, rather than following patterned frames of reference, is actively referenced through narratively and socially constructed formations of understanding. The European policy strategy regarding immigrants has shifted in the past decades from a focus on social integration to a predominant focus on labor market integration, due in part to the relatively high unemployment rates of immigrants entering and migrating within Europe. A personalized approach used throughout Europe to “empower” and move immigrants into the labor market has not been realized in practice. Norway, a “best case scenario” for a more personalized approach through comprehensive labor integration and activation measures, has also had limited success with the sustained labor integration of immigrants. We suggest that a source of the problem lies in the conceptualization of labor integration, which, in contrast to true personalization, follows a patterned notion of the process. We argue that such a conceptualization does not provide the means to explore and untangle potentially significant processes and mechanisms relevant to the labor integration experience. We introduce the concept of biographical circumstance to demonstrate how immigrant participants in a Norwegian labor activation program draw on different references from their personal histories as they make meaning of their labor integration—and how meaning-making is dialectically shaped and delimited by the structural effects of changing policy opportunities, rules, and regulations. We conducted 14 qualitative interviews with immigrants involved in the Norwegian Qualification Program, a national labor activation program. We select four participants to present as illustrative cases of biographical circumstance and meaning making. The four differently make meaning of and respond to their labor integration experiences through active reference to specific personal histories and changing policy encounters over time. The data demonstrate that accounting for biographical circumstance enables us to better understand the actions, rationalizations, and motivations of immigrants participating in labor integration and activation measures.