Changing paradigms in the vernacular: from “migrants” to “new minorities”

Tourism Review

ISSN: 1660-5373

Article publication date: 24 August 2012



Medda-Windischer, R. (2012), "Changing paradigms in the vernacular: from “migrants” to “new minorities”", Tourism Review, Vol. 67 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Changing paradigms in the vernacular: from “migrants” to “new minorities”

Article Type: Viewpoint From: Tourism Review, Volume 67, Issue 3

How to maintain and strengthen the bonds of community in ethnically diverse societies and the impacts that this increased diversity has on the economy, including the tourism sector, are among the most salient and vexing questions on the political agenda of many societies. The growing diversity of national communities has generated pressure for the construction of new and more defensible forms of accommodating diversity. But all policies that seek to reconcile social cohesion, unity and diversity are confronted with a veritable minefield of dilemmas. Whatever policy options, or mixes of policy options, one wants to choose, one has to face hard trade-offs and serious policy problems that have been addressed, though in different ways, by moral and political philosophers, political theorists, social scientists, lawyers and by politicians and civil servants.

Considering that the principal cause of the emergence of minorities in the world today is migration, and considering also that in Europe many states have established sound and solid systems of “old” minority rights, but have not yet developed sound policies for the integration of new minority groups originating from migration. Studying the similarities between “old” and “new” minority groups is a new task given that, to date, such topics have only been studied in isolation.

At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that the terms used in this context are intrinsically controversial: the terms “historical”, “traditional”, “autochthonous” minorities – the so-called “old minorities“ – refer to communities whose members have a distinct language and/or culture or religion compared to the rest of the population. Very often, they became minorities as a consequence of a redrawing of international borders and their settlement area changing from the sovereignty of one country to another; or they are ethnic groups which, for various reasons, did not achieve statehood of their own and instead form part of a larger country or several countries.

The new minority groups stemming from migration – the “new minorities” – refers to groups formed by individuals and families, who have left their original homeland and emigrated to another country generally for economic and, sometimes, also for political reasons. They consist, thus, of migrants and refugees and their descendants who are living, on a more than merely transitional basis, in another country than that of their origin. The term “new minorities” is thus broader than the term “migrants”, as it encompasses not only the first generation of migrants, but also their descendants, second and third generations, who are individuals with a migration background often born in the country of “immigration” and who cannot objectively and subjectively be subsumed under the category of “migrants”. The term “new minorities” reflects more correctly the actual situation of most countries of migration – even those with relatively new flows of migration such as Italy – in which most individuals with a migration background have never been “migrants” from a technical viewpoint as they belong to the second or third generation of the original, real migrants.

Moreover, the term “new minorities” allows the diversity dimension of the individuals concerned as well as the individual and collective dimension of their rights to be recognised, whereas the term “migrants” does not provide the same relevance to their diversity and collective dimension. In fact, most international instruments for the protection of migrants, such as the United Nations’ 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families, the Council of Europe’s 1977 Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers or the recent EU Directive on the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents, contain only a vague reference to the protection and promotion of migrants’ identities, or even a potential conflicting requirement of “integration”, whilst the notion of group rights is completely absent.

It has to be acknowledged that accommodating diversity in contemporary society is more problematic and uncertain than some decades ago when the implementation of multiculturalism policies was facilitated by an optimistic attitude towards diversity. Europe is facing much more complex dilemmas than traditional immigration countries – Canada, Australia, the USA – had to face in the 1970s-1980s when they initially adopted multiculturalism policies. In those countries most immigrant groups had European origins and even those stemming from rural and economically backward parts of Europe could eventually integrate because their European origins made them culturally similar to the existing core groups, mainly from some Northern and Western European countries. In contemporary Europe the new minority groups stemming from migration have mostly non-European origins and display a strong distinctiveness in terms of culture, language and especially religious faith. The events starting from 11 September 2001 have amplified this divide, adversely impacting on the image of some minority groups, Muslims in particular, and increasing the danger of racism, xenophobia and intolerance.

Moreover, in Europe, a deteriorated economic, political and social situation is generally not favourable to policies that encourage the promotion of diversity through, for instance, affirmative actions or exemptions from general rules. And indeed, in some countries that have celebrated multiculturalism, such as The Netherlands, this model is experiencing a reverse process even if there are signs that multiculturalism is still a current policy option.

As migration flows continue to increase to an unprecedented high level, the question of social cohesion reveals unequivocal urgency for many countries that consider themselves to be reasonably homogenous and cohesive. As a result, the process of integration of minorities is seen as an important and urgent strategy to be adopted by most countries in order to retain an adequate level of social cohesion and economic prosperity.

In this context, it has to be underlined that diversity is not only an aim for minorities: there is also evidence that general economic benefits emerge from a certain level of heterogeneity within a population. A diverse population can comprise entrepreneurs and employees capable of bridging cultural barriers and dealing with particular markets abroad, in command of a large spectrum of languages, and able to add innovations and ideas from various cultural backgrounds. Although studies from the USA hint at possible drawbacks from diversity in terms of financing public goods, the importance of ethnic and cultural heterogeneity for innovation and creativity should not be underestimated.

The importance of accommodating diversity is confirmed by a study commissioned by the European Commission according to which companies that implement diversity policies – that is, policies that seek to encourage a mix of ethnicity, sexual orientations, religions, physical disabilities, ages and sexes within the workplace – can expect benefits in the short and long terms, such as improved cash flow through resolving labour shortages, opening up new markets, reducing costs and improving performance in existing markets, as well as building a differentiated reputation with key stakeholders and customers, and improving the quality of human capital. In particular, some 69 per cent of companies interviewed for the EU report said that diversity policies had enhanced their corporate reputation. And 62 per cent said that these policies had played a part in helping to attract and retain highly talented personnel. Just under 60 per cent said that diversity in action had improved motivation and efficiency (58 per cent), increased innovation (57 per cent), enhanced service levels and customer satisfaction (57 per cent), and helped overcome labour shortages (57 per cent).

The motivation for introducing diversity policies is clear, according to the European Commission report. There have been major changes in product, labour and capital markets, meaning changes in the attitudes of customers, personnel and investors. In addition, government influence in the form of legislation and wider social values, and in the form of citizens’ expectations of companies, are also changing. Two major “internal” obstacles (i.e. within the company) that limit investment in diversity are:

  1. 1.

    difficulties in changing the culture of a business; and

  2. 2.

    a lack of awareness of workforce diversity policies.

“External” obstacles also remain, and include legal restrictions on holding and processing sensitive information on individuals and social groups in areas such as ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation.

The report of the European Commission recognises that making the case for the positive impact of diversity for business is still in its early stages, due to the limited numbers of what the report calls “pioneering” companies that have taken up this practice. The measurement of the impact of diversity policies in the workplace is still not refined and definitions of “a diverse workplace” remain difficult to pinpoint. Nonetheless, the EU report states that there is already “an emerging business case for diversity”.

Although economic actors and decision-makers generally recognise the useful contribution to the labour force and the positive impact on the demographic structure of a steadily ageing population, the presence of large immigrant communities poses serious problems in the sphere of integration, respect for diversity, protection of individual and group rights, preservation of social cohesion and unity. Accommodating diversity while maintaining unity and social cohesion is, indeed, not without difficulties. It is based on a vision of society in which different communities should interact with each other in a spirit of equality and openness, creating a rich, plural and tolerant society. The process is thus burdensome for both parties. Minorities must learn to negotiate often in an unfamiliar or even hostile environment where their minority statuses make them vulnerable to marginalisation and segregation. The majority group, on the other hand, must cope with diversity in its schools, workplaces, housing, public spaces and neighbourhoods, and must display tolerance and broadness. The vision is not easy to realise and has its own problems. Some groups might not be open and experimental, and others might jealously guard their inherited identities. At the heart of any successful policy lays, in the end, a sincere willingness on both sides – majority and minority – for continuous interaction, mutual adjustments and accommodation.

Roberta Medda-WindischerBased at the Institute for Minority Rights, European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen, Bolzano/Bozen, Italy

About the author

Roberta Medda-Windischer is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Minority Rights of the European Academy of Bozen-Bolzano (EURAC Research), Italy. One of her main fields of research is the topic of “new minorities”. Roberta Medda-Windischer can be contacted at:


Alesina, A. and Glaeser, E. (2004), Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference, Oxford University Press, Oxford

European Commission (2003), Employment and Social Affairs, Diversity in Business – The Costs and Benefits of Diversity, European Commission, Brussels

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