This paper discusses measurements of immigrant integration in the Netherlands as a form of ‘social imagination’. Social imagination here refers to the routinized and professionalized ways in which social life is rendered visible. With the growth of reflexive risk awareness and a general lack of but increased need for forms of oversight, regulation and surveillance, social imagination has become vital for the sustained plausibility of bounded concepts of ‘society’. A range of monitoring agencies has emerged in a variety of fields,
and flows of goods, capital and persons have become increasingly subject to monitoring. This paper deals with the monitoring of flows of people, specifically with the measurement of immigrant integration as an example of the many ways in which social life is reflexively measured, monitored and visualized. The research presented in this paper is based on the idea that society is constituted in and through a work of social imagination. As Castoriadis (1987) has argued, society involves an imaginary institution. Likewise, Anderson (1991) has argued that modern nation states are, by virtue of their size, complexity and their concomitant need to be mediated, ‘imaginary communities’. This chimes with the work of social philosophers such as Ricoeur (1997) and Taylor (2004), who argue that social imaginaries are of pivotal importance in social life. These social imaginaries have come to be mediated increasingly by specialized and professionalized monitoring agencies, as oversight and surveillance have significantly gained in importance (cf. Giddens 1987; Willke 1997). In the European Research Council project Monitoring Modernity, of which the research in this paper is a part, such monitoring agencies are considered as ocular centres of social life in which society is visualized by means of measuring, charting, monitoring and conceptualizing. For lack of an encompassing view of society in an era of normalized reflexivity (Beck et al. 1994) and second-order observation (Luhmann 2006), a range of ocular centres function as sites of observation that produce the images that feed larger social imaginaries such as a national society. Such ocular centres perform practices of what James Scott (1998) has called rendering social life ‘legible’. Social imagination therefore concerns ‘ways of understanding the social that become social entities themselves, mediating collective life’ (Gaonkar 2002, p. 4). Because it is so intertwinedwith images of what the national society is
and who belongs to it, immigrant integration constitutes an exemplary case to study such social imagination. Many Western European countries have specialized institutions for the measurement and/or monitoring of immigrant integration (cf. Favell 2003). This paper takes the Dutch case as an example, partly because the Dutch measurement of immigrant integration has existed much longer than in some other countries, such as France, where lack of census data on issues such as religion and ethnicity have meant that immigrant integration could be less systematicallymonitored (cf. Amiraux and Simon 2006). This paper therefore approaches the issue of immigrant integration by taking a step back: it is not concerned with measuring immigrant integration, but with the fact that immigrant integration is measured. It springs from an interest in what happens when social life is rendered observable in terms of integration by agencies specialized in such forms of observation.