Tackling social migration tensions with the architectural and the generic principles and specific applications concepts of public relations

You might have read these last few days of the serious social crisis developed in the southern Italian city of Rosarno in the region of Calabria, where an exasperated local community took to the streets and violently attacked the growing community of African migrants (may of whom illegal, so to say..) and leaving many wounded.

The Government decided to send additional police to bring the situation under control.

The incident sparked off a heated debate in my increasingly racist country, and an op-ed article by a reputed progressive journalist, Antonio Macaluso, published today Saturday January 9 in the politically correct Corriere della Sera, called for an urgent rethink by our leadership of the whole integration issue before the situation runs out of control.
A situation which has now become urgent not only in the north but also in the southern parts of my country, which are plagued by organized crime and the two issues are clearly interrelated, in the sense that it is organized crime who manages the flux of immigrants.

In this framework, I would like to recoup some thinking which has been going on in this blog since its inception, which has to do with the development of effective relationships and the overall issue of dealing with ethnic, cultural, religious and social diversity in contemporary society, and see if some of the interpretative tools we have been discussing could not be usefully adapted to a situation such as Rosarno (but countless others exist just about everywhere else).

You can review some here, and here.

The two traditional and consolidated models of integration relate to the ‘melting pot’ -interpreted as incentivating migrants to adopt values, beliefs and mores which are acceptable by resident communities; and the ‘multicultural model’ -where migrant communities are allowed to maintain their values, beliefs and mores as long as they do not violate the rules of the community which clearly need to adapt.

The first, according to most analysts, was the most successful in the second half of the last century, and found its most explicit scenario in the United States. These same analysts add that in the eighties the melting pot exploded when the more recent migrant communities began to refuse the adoption of existing values, beliefs and mores and demanded to maintain their own.

The second, the anglo/dutch multicultural experience of the nineties and the early years of this century, was considered a highly effective reply to migrant community expectations, to the point that the European Union elaborated and attempted to develop an articulate policy before it also exploded. Here is a post I wrote on this some time ago. This happened in the UK with the first terrorist attacks in Liverpool, then Birmingham and London; while in Holland it exploded with the Van Gogh assassination. In both cases the ‘multicultural’ ideals were quickly repudiated by most of its political and social proponents.

Of course, it is clear that in either of the two models (or in any combination of these) the issue of community relationships is paramount and the starting point.

How does one develop effective relationships?

And when we say ‘effective’ what do we mean? Effective for who?

I would like to reason with you integrating (..) two concepts which visitors of this blog should now be familiar with: that of the public relator as an architect; and that of generic principles and specific applications.

First of all, as often said, we public relators are also responsible for ‘creating’ spaces (real or digital) in which stakeholders are attracted, where they converse amongst themselves and with the convenor organization. The competitive advantage (and therefore our effectiveness) lies in the creation and maintenance of spaces which those stakeholders find more attractive than other spaces.

When an architect creates a space there are many constructive variables to be kept in mind, but one of them is certainly the distinction between a bearing and a curtain wall.

I don’t know about the melting pot model, but in analysing how an unexpected event like a terrorist act in the UK or an assassination in Holland, in only a few days, caused the collapse of an entire social and material construct which had required enormous financial, social and political resources, the first thing that comes to mind is that the architect had probably failed to make that very important distinction.

If one looks at the EU policy I mentioned, it clearly spells out that education, home and work are the three pillars of an effective space, but if one learns how the two governments used the many available funds, one will notice that other priorities were privileged (mostly communication..ie. multicultural hype and..religion..i.e. political correctness).

One could briefly conclude that the collapse of the multicultural model was therefore more the effect of a poorly built space than anything else.

Legitimately one could ask what would have been different had those priorities been correctly followed. If, for example, rather than being obsessed by hyping the positive results of the model or by investing rich funds in creating and protecting places of worship, those resources were allocated to improving education, home and work….

Certainly, the least one could say is that it would have taken more time for the edifice to collapse and for the various stakeholder communities to drastically and abruptly change attitudes, behaviours and therefore spark off the anti-integration published opinion which now prevails, and which has left those societies without any political and social credible guidelines.

Now, it is clear that the Dutch situation is different from the British situation, and that the situation in London is different from that in Birmingham and the latter from Liverpool.
Every territory, as we have often argued here, has a different relationship infrastructure which results from the impact on relationship frameworks of the legal/institutional, political, economic, socio cultural, active citizenship and media systems.

So, these would be the specific applications, while the three basic pillars (school, home and work) would be the generic principles.

To be more specific, in accepting Antonio Macaluso’s appeal for a rethink of the entire migration policy framework, it might be worthwhile to adopt this integrated concept of the public relator as architect together with the generic principles and specific applications paradigm, as the two fundamental guidelines for a new approach to community relationship building.


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10 Replies to “Tackling social migration tensions with the architectural and the generic principles and specific applications concepts of public relations

  1. Thak you Paul. Interesting, yet…it does not say to me that racism is dead as an issue. It says what any even elementary observer knows very well: that being poor is worse than being rich and that if you have a good family upbringing you are more likely to make progress than if you don’t.
    Anyway, I do not equate diversity, if not very slightly, to race much more to culture and mores and I still maintain that the multicultural model of integration failed because it was poorly managed and that a more informed and intelligenti relationship governance process would have possibly avoided its debacle.
    Talking about what unites, which is your favorite line on this issue Paul….I thought of you this morning in Rome as a contemporary historian, discussing the wide and growing diversities between each of the US States, added ‘one of the few remaining unifying features today amongts these States is migration: they all would like to have it because useful, but are not prepared to make any aware and programmed effort to pre-empt its collateral and undesired consequences’.

  2. Below is the link to an editorial in today’s The Times and it says racism is dead as an issue in the UK and that the big differentiator in society is poverty not ethnic origin. The message is one that unifies rather than divides because it highlights commonalities that people share rather than their diversity or multi-culturalism (which would equal division whether groups listen to each other or not) at its core. Moreover, most disadvantaged group, particularly in education, are the whites (but that’s not an ethnic issue either).


  3. In France, this issue currently is very mmuch a PR issue: the government has launched a hugely controversial debate on national identity. My interest in the debate is first and foremost as an immigrant myself, but I find the PR angle interesting as well.

    A few days ago, a group of my neighbours (all French) were over and someone brought the subject up. I think they were rather surprised when I told them as an immigrant I welcome the debate. My reason is simple: as an immigrant in France, I am expected to assimilate, but since French culture is an implicit culture, I don’t know what I am supposed to do to be considered assimilated. I am hoping the public debate will help resolve this conundrum. What are my objectives? In this way, public relations could help this country manage the tension between diversity and national identity.

    However, I see real obstacles.

    First, in France community relations is a non-starter. “Communitarism” is viewed as self-segregation and therefore a violation of the Republican principle of everyone being equal before the Republic.

    Second, the more I get to know la France Profonde, the more I realize that the projected French culture is not a national culture at all. It is the culture emanating from the regions where the royal families used to be based (the Parisian region and the Loire Valley). Beyond this “official” culture, France (liek most countries) is a mosaic of local cultures that have also been defended locally, but rarely celebrated nationally (except in the area of cuisine). One notable exception to this was the recent success of the film “Bienvenue chez les Chtis” which celebrates the quirkiness of French Flanders.

    So it is possible that being assimilated means adhering to a common mythology rather than a common culture or identity. But even if that were the conclusion, it would be helpful to know!

    One problem with these issues (and here I draw a parallel with orgasnizational cultures) is the assumption that the official culture is something “fixed”. However, if the definition of culture is how a group solves problems (a common social science definition), it can’t be fixed forever. Problem-solving techniques evolve as a result of changing context and new knowledge. The very process of immigration gradually changes the main culture, so it’s a moving target.

    Coming back to a PR perspective, I think it’s dangerous to focus on a few extreme cases and to assume that they represent all immigrants or children of immigration. In my view, on this sticky subject, the best PR is not community relations, but personal relations. We should be focusing on the individuals and not the groups. (Hmm…maybe I’m becoming more French than I thought…)

  4. Toni, you’ve made me chuckle respectfully with your response. But I never said your article was divisive but rather that multi-culturalism and the celebration of diversity were divisive (dangerous even). The old model collapsed because it was built on the wrong premises – the ones set out by the likes of the Trieste conference.

    Moreover, I still say that immigration policy is more a matter of politics than PR – smash all immigration controls? Put up more barriers? Send them back to where they came from? British jobs for British workers? Let’s have a pogrom? They are political issues and ones for democracy, not PR.

    Though that said, there’s a sense in which the discussion of immigration policy and racism have become separated – that, I accept, supports your position about the importance of PR’s role in playing a positive role in the whole messy affair.

    BTW…you are not old, neither am I! Worn out? Toni, I don’t believe either of us are worn. Moreover, taking ideas seriously is not childish. Let the verve continue.

  5. But Paul,

    having just read Phillips’ 2004 article which supposedly supports your idea that my post is too political and divisive, I believe that you forgot that I initially said that multiculturalist policy makers invested more in curtain (hype..) than in bearing walls…and this is why the whole model collapsed!
    Had they done proper homework in deciding their generic principles and learning from the specific applications (relationship infrastructure of a territory), this mistake would probably not have happened..
    I entirely agree with the article you bring in support of an argument I disagree with…
    funny..or only (we are both old and probably sufficiently worn out..) childish?

  6. Toni, we disagree, but we both share the same objectives.

    I read the PDF from the Trieste conference. In opposition to its conclusions, here’s an article by Trevor Phillips from 2004 that kicked off the new strategy that rejects multi-culturalisn and the celebration of diversity:


    The debate has gone further and more full-on since, but I’ve always treasured how brave Phillips was to say what he did, given that he was chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality at the time.

  7. Paul,

    your reply tells me we have overcome the first ‘obstacle’ (on whether the issue I address is ro not should or not be…political) and that we are now dealing with the time and the interest to read about what we are conversing about (indirectly related to catherine arrow’s most recent post in this blog).
    Not much point, Paul, in blaming a conference for not having discussed something if one doesn’t make the effort to either participate to the conference (clearly impossible after five years)or read its proceedings (which I suggested, but you clearly did not do).
    Of course, we did discuss the contents of what unites the concept of diversity in public relations!
    For three full days we did that.
    But…beyond the point.

    I am convinced that one encourages,as you say, friction and conflict only when not listening carefully (a three pronged process composed of collecting, understanding and interpreting) to contribute to improve a relationship, ethnical, professional, personal or otherwise.

    And this relates to my initial concept of applying the architectural and the generic principlesd and specific applications paradigm.

    By the way, the NYT today has finally caught up to the Rosarno story here http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/world/europe/11italy.html?scp=1&sq=rosarno&st=cse

  8. The Trieste conference ignored the most important rule of good public relations between different stakeholder groups – focusing on what unites. Instead, the conference’s focus on diversity was a recipe for encouraging friction and conflict – the celebration of what divides (which actually helps articulate division, by magnifying and mobilising it to a degree that would not otherwise have been so).

    That was how multi-culturalism ended in tears (suicide bombers and all) and why there is now a major re-appraisal of its value by the likes of Trevor Phillips and other leaders in the race relations field.

    Last, even the term different stakeholder groups is divisive when it comes to race relations. From health to education in Dagenham, where I’m from, there is really only one interest group that really really matters – the local population with a shared life experience. Unfortunately, that’s not how it is. The Asian kids I was brought up with who never defined themselves by religion now do – and their children do so more than their parents do – thanks to multi-culturalism. As for the white’s they’re voting BNP and for their clan by turn…

    Call me old-fashioned, call me even nationalistic or whatever, but that’s how I see it – we are citizens and what unites us matters first, foremost and should shape how we address and interact with each other…that has respect at its core.

  9. Paul,

    the issues are public relations issues -if and when we agree that we are in the business of improving -on behalf of public, private and social organizations- effective relationships with their stakeholders.

    The point I make is that, in these recent years, our professional global body of knowledge has made significant strides forward, and that it makes a lot of sense to apply this to issues which the organizations we work for confront day in and day out, and which are fundamentally based on relationship building. Otherwise, what would be the operational scope of a body of knowledge?
    It is as simple as that.

    In June 2005, under the umbrella of the global alliance and ferpi, the public relations community in Trieste (600 representatives from forty countries)agreed that:

    °diversity is a societal value in itself and that organizations need to communicate for diversity;

    °diversity is a professional tool in itself and therefore organizations need to communicate diversily with each of their stakeholders;

    °diversity is an operational process in itself and therefore organizations need to communicate specifically related to each objective and issue they address.

    Communicating for, with and in diversity was the title of the event, and, if interested, you may read an excellent summary of that conference here http://www.instituteforpr.org/research_single/2nd_world_pr_festival/.
    The òroceedings of the full conference was instead published in a special issue of the Journal of Communication Management in december 2005.

    Since then, we have also made significant steps forward in elaborating the generic principles and specific applications paradigm applied to relationships; we have elaborated the concept of the public relator as a architect; and we have rationalised, more than any other discipline, the stakeholder relationship governance process.

    I am simply suggesting that, when confronted with the migration issue as in this case, which -as you say- is certainly political.. just as much as any other issue which involves global, national, local private, social and public organizations… these should consider and make use of such body of knowledge.
    And it is our role to advocate, argue and con-vince them that the approach is more effective than what they have been doing sofar.
    If we believe it, of course.
    Which I do, as much as I am aware that a lot of conceptualization and processualization still needs to be done.

    If I may indulge in a personal memory, I consulted the EU commissioner for migration before, during and after the Trieste World Public Relations Festival and succeeded in ensuring that the EU migration policy draft at the time include many of the outlined concepts.
    Unfortunately at the time I had not yet caught on with the generic principles and specific applications concept (i.e. that, mutatis mutandis, each specific territory had its own immaterial relationship infrastructure); nor the public relations as an architect one; and of course not with the stakeholder relationship governance process work which we have come up with much more recently.

    I can’t help asking myself how things might have developed differently if we had these concepts and processes in place…

  10. Toni, the issues you address are not really PR ones. They are political. However, I’ll stick my nose out.

    Multicultural policies were a dead end. But worse than that they divided communities. The sense of difference that multiculturalism generated created at its most extreme our very own home-grown terrorists.

    The sometimes booze-drinking lightly-religious ethnic minorities I was brought up with in London’s East End were encouraged to articulate their so-called old values, beliefs and mores by multi-culturalism’s advocates. They were told by the state to see themselves institutionally as existing apart from the rest of us (their kids are more alienated than their fathers – my old mates – were as a consequence). The knock-on impact on whites was to seek their own spokespeople and identity as a separate group with a separate agenda and complaints – that equaled great danger (not least where I came from in Dagenham and Barking).

    I’m a life-long anti-racialist and campaigner – but the race relations industry has a lot to answer for(Trevor Phillips as head honcho of race relations issues in the UK now agrees with me, I think). But, sorry, we are now both speaking outside of our PR expertise and addressing issues which are way beyond our core purpose.

    In my view, PRs shouldn’t let their political and personal views influence achieving objectives set by clients. To make it clear: as a professional I could comfortably advocate virtually any position or line on behalf of any client because it is not about ME but about THEM. That’s whether they be religious or not, left or right, or oligarch or not, monopolist or wannabe monopolist, or big tobacco or its opponents, or any developing country with graft and democracy issues, or an English chocolate manufacturer out to show the world it produces a better product than the Swiss do or vice versa…..we apply the same professional code of ethics to all of them…just like lawyers and accountants do).

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