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Briefly Asked… – Jasper Tjaden, Professor for Applied Social Research and Public Policy

Crowd of People in the Sun
Research on migration changes with its subject matter, but also with the technological possibilities available to it.

You are doing research on migration and integration. What interests you about it?

I am interested in the complexity of the phenomena of migration and integration, their social relevance, and the gaps in research. Migration and integration involve extremely complex processes. Social, economic, political, and legal factors play a role and that makes the research field very interdisciplinary and dynamic. Compared to the social discourse on the subject, however, many questions remain relatively unresolved empirically. These are perfect conditions for applied social sciences.

You also focus on quantitative research methods. What data do you collect and how do you use it in your work?

When it comes to the data source, I’m agnostic. As long as the data can answer my questions, I try to get my hands on it. Traditionally, these have been survey data and official statistics. Recently, however, I’ve also been working a lot with digital data, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, WhatsApp, and Wikipedia. Computer-aided methods such as web scraping or access to company data on social internet platforms, for example, offer completely new opportunities for empirical research.

Where and how should the results of your research become effective?

Of course, the research is primarily intended to expand our knowledge on the topic. In my view, the best way to do this is to publish peer-reviewed scientific articles. However, I am also very actively interested in social transfer. The topic of migration evokes strong emotions, decides elections, and is covered by the media every day. I therefore try to contribute a factual, unemotional perspective. And who knows, maybe some politicians also read my studies when new laws are being formulated.

What and how can sociology contribute to alleviating people’s fear of migration or migrants?

The fear of migration and of the “foreigner” is probably as old as migration itself. Newcomers to a group initially raise many questions and directly affect very deep aspects of collective identity, the social model, etc. Migration research might be able to reduce fears to some extent if it takes the pace out of the debate and emphasizes simple truths. Migration is normal in (almost) all societies and plays a central role in social and economic development. Immigrants integrate over the course of generations and, in retrospect, many fears turn out to be exaggerated. In the US, the classic country of immigration, nobody gets upset about the Irish, Greeks, Italians, Poles, or Swedes. They are all Americans. Initially, however, there was very strong rejection of European migration in the USA. We are now seeing the same process with Latin Americans and Africans. The forces of integration in society are greater in the long term than many people realize. You just have to be patient. The faster integration happens, the lower the heat in the migration debate. Applied social research can also help here by evaluating integration programs, policies, and projects. Germany was asleep when it came to integrating guest workers. A lot has happened since then. Yet many questions remain unanswered as to how Germany can better shape integration. This is where I would like to contribute.

The Researcher

Prof. Dr. Jasper Tjaden has been Professor for Applied Social Research and Public Policy at the University of Potsdam since 2021.
Email: socrespolicyuni-potsdamde


This text was published in the university magazine Portal Wissen - Eins 2024 „Bildung:digital“ (PDF).