Irene Bloemraad

Irene Bloemraad (Ph.D. Harvard; M.A. McGill) is Associate Professor of Sociology at Berkeley and a Scholar with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

My research lies at the intersection of immigration studies and political sociology. I study how people become incorporated into political bodies, the processes through which incorporation takes place, and the (potential) tension between democratic civic equality and communal membership based on birthplace, ethnicity, race, or some other seemingly “organic” source of membership.  My research is firmly grounded in sociology, but strongly interdisciplinary (and international) in scope.  I concentrate on immigration since the movement of people across political borders most clearly highlights conflicts and tensions about membership.  My research falls into four broad areas:

(1)  Citizenship & Multiculturalism – The focus is on immigrants’ formal political membership.  In my 2006 book, Becoming a Citizen, I compare immigrants’ acquisition of citizenship and political participation in the United States and Canada, and I show how settlement assistance and an official policy of multiculturalism facilitate immigrant political incorporation much more in Canada than in the United States.  In the context of current U.S. immigration debates, my work suggests that immigration policy must examine not just border control, but also integration and settlement policies. I’ve also published on citizenship in journals such as Social Forces, International Migration Review and Social Science Quarterly.
To see a video profile of some of this research, presented at a CIFAR event, see here.

(2) Immigrant Community Organizations – This is a collaborate project, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, with Professors Karthick Ramakrishnan (UC-Riverside) and Shannon Gleeson (UCSC).  It investigates the role of community organizations in facilitating immigrants’ visibility and influence in local politics and civil society. Early results were published in a volume I co-edited in 2008, Civic Hopes and Political Realities.  I have also published on organizations in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

(3) Political Socialization in Mixed-Status Families – This project, also funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, asks what effect parents’ legal status has on their US-born children’s civic and political incorporation, and investigates whether political socialization can occur from children to parents, in addition to the traditional parent-child dynamic.  To get at these questions, my research team interviewed almost 200 Mexican-, Vietnamese- and Chinese-origin youth and their immigrant parents living in the Bay Area.  I’m currently working on a monograph from this project; some early results are published in American Behavioral Scientist.

(4) Diversity & Democracy –What are the implications of a more diverse population for democracy, civic life and public policies? Some scholars have noted a possible correlation between increasing diversity and decreasing social trust, civic engagement and political participation.  In an article with Christel Kesler (Barnard) published in the _Canadian Journal of Political Science_, we suggest that national institutions and policy environments mediate the relationship between diversity and democracy in systematic ways, and we find that diversity could enhance civic activism.  In new research I’m undertaking with Christel Kesler and Cybelle Fox, we are considering how immigrant non-citizenship might affect the redistribution politics.

I also have interests in national identity, social movements and immigration legislation.  Just recently, my colleague Kim Voss and I published an edited volume on the massive immigration rights protests of 2006, called Rallying for Immigrant Rights.  I also write on comparative research methods for studies of migration, which flows in part from my undergraduate and graduate teaching of research methods.

My interest in immigration stems from personal experience: I was born in Europe, moved to Canada as a young girl, and then migrated to the United States in my early 20s. Given that more than one in eight residents of the United States is foreign-born, and that one in four Californians were born outside the United States, I hope to expand the profile of immigration studies at Berkeley (See the Berkeley NewsCenter article on some of these efforts, and students doing work in this area, here.). I have developed immigration seminars at the graduate and undergraduate levels and I run an informal immigration workshop for those researching immigrant-related topics. I’m also interested in reaching out beyond the walls of the academic ivory tower, and so I regularly present my work to policy makers, academics and the general public.

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