Immigrants and Social Justice in Western Europe since the 1960s

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Democracy in Western Europe, even after 1945, was not a regime of equality. As recent work has strongly emphasised, lineages of inequality were inherent to the post-war regimes of Western Europe. This chapter seeks to explain one element of this inequality by focusing on the treatment of the immigrant communities who moved across borders in Western Europe, or indeed arrived from beyond the frontiers of Europe. In doing so, it will focus on how attitudes to immigrants – and the conception of them within a broader framework of social justice – evolved. One of the many significant ways that the ‘long 1968’ challenged the complacency of post-war Western Europe was to present the cause of immigrants as a cause of social justice: immigrants were an oppressed and exploited group of workers whose rights any movement committed to social justice should seek to enhance. By contrast, in Europe today, immigrants are often depicted as antithetical to social justice. What some have dubbed ‘Schrödinger's Immigrant’ simultaneously steals your job and is too lazy to work. Consequently, many commentators have attempted to argue that a fundamental tension exists between ethnic diversity and social equality, and depict mass migration as undermining of social justice. But where did such ‘welfare chauvinism’ originate from, and how did these ideas manage to entrench themselves within public discourse? In other words, how did we get from social justice for immigrants to immigrants as the antithesis of social justice?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Justice in Twentieth Century Europe
EditorsMartin Conway, Camilo Erlichman
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic) 978-1-009-37086-8
ISBN (Print)978-1-009-37085-1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2024


  • immigration
  • integration
  • social justice


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