Providing Integration: An Examination of Street-Level Youth Worker Strategy in Galway City
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Unprecedented 'Celtic Tiger' in-flows of economic migrants and asylum-seekers have created an increasingly multicultural Ireland. This transformation has spawned significant academic and policy-making attention to the country's emerging 'integration' agenda. As this agenda develops, neoliberal decentralisations of social service provision are increasingly devolving responsibility for operationalising integration directives to local agencies and service providers. Inadequate national integration policy support and severe under-resourcing require these workers to employ autonomy and discretion (with which they are imbued as 'street-level bureaucrats') to develop feasible and pragmatic integration practice. This study focuses on local service providers 'delivering integration' (and other services) to youth (ages 13-25) in Galway City. Though significant research attention has focused on service users, these workers are under-researched in an Irish context and in the migration literature more generally. The objectives of this research are: (1) to illuminate the ways in which local youth service providers imagine 'integration', (2) to elaborate the ways in which these imaginings, along with resourcing constraints, circumscribe the boundaries for 'doing integration' at the street level, and (3) to examine the 'spaces of integration' that are constructed (or not) through everyday service provision practice. Research findings are based on a thematic analysis of in-depth interview data as well as on participant observations of local youth programming and youth service provider knowledge transfer events. 'Spaces of integration' (re) produced by the street-level service provider practice illuminated can be characterised as 'caring spaces' in view of broader theoretical understandings of 'care' and in light of differentiated roles for 'tolerant hosts' and 'needy migrants' set out in national integration policy. These spaces can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive and are frequently ephemeral in nature. Their sustainability is challenged by a myriad of factors including under-resourcing; lack of staff training and experience; and insufficient networking. Practice emerging within these 'spaces of care' can be imagined as a typology of responses to diversity-related challenges. These 'response repertoires' include both assimilative strategies and strategies centring on cultural performance. Various approaches to improving the sustainability and function of local 'spaces of integration' are advanced.