Conveying Values as Part of Integration Work in Germany: Thoughts on Starting Fieldwork

In Germany’s state-regulated integration courses for immigrants, attention has recently shifted to values and value transmission. Franziska Böhm describes NoVaMigra’s ongoing fieldwork on how values are incorporated into course material and conveyed in the classroom.

Franziska Böhm, Malmö University


The changing narratives of immigration in the German society and how immigration is viewed overall has an influence on the measures taken to integrate newly arrived migrants and refugees. One aspect of integration, besides many others not discussed here, is the association of a society with certain norms and values. It can be argued that it is central to adhere to a common set of norms and values in order to live together in peace. However, how norms and values are defined and who has to adhere to whose understanding of them is widely contested. One thing which is certain is that norms and values play a role within the discourse surrounding immigration in Germany. One might fear to loose one’s own values, fear the ‘other’ or ‘unknown’ values, or see the need to reevaluate the interpretation and implementation of the fundamental values of the European Union in its member states: ‘respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law’.


Overview: Integration in a changing Germany


In any case, norms and values provide a perspective to investigate immigration in Germany. In particular, value transmission as part of integration practices provides a unique opportunity to investigate how integration is formally driven within a European state, in this case Germany. The development of integration courses is rooted in the broader development of immigration and integration policies and debates in Germany. The timeline below (graph 1) gives an exemplary overview of how perceptions of immigration and immigration policies have changed between 1960 and 2016. It does not include all waves of migration, nor does it show all relevant policy changes, but it serves to highlight a shift in Germany’s self-perception and how this is reflected in policy. Explicitly referring to itself as “not an immigration country” until the late 1990s, Germany accepted a need for integration in the early 2000s and has since moved on to see the advantages of migration.



Figure 1: Development of Integration/Immigration Regulations in Germany between 1960s and 2016.


The study of norms and values presents a pathway toward understanding expressions of national or European self-images (‘what norms and values do you need to know of/adopt in order to become like us, one of us?’). Values and norms are an essential part of integration courses provided by the state in Germany. These courses, especially the curriculum and teaching materials, provide insights into how these values are defined. However, it remains a question how these often-abstract concepts are translated and put into practice.

In this blog entry, the aim is to provide an insight into our ongoing fieldwork on value transmission practices in immigrant integration courses in Germany, which is part of NoVaMigra’s research on practices of value transmission to immigrants in different EU member states. The aim is to map out the position of values within the formal integration process in Germany. The central focus is the integration and orientation course provided by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, or short: BAMF).


Fieldwork on integration practices: Focus on course teachers


In our fieldwork, we are concerned with teachers’ experiences of and reflections on value transmission in the integration and orientation courses. Our interest lies in how teachers understand their everyday task of conveying a specific set of values and norms to immigrants. On the one hand, we are interested in how these teachers translate and interpret the often-abstract norms and values they are to convey into practical, workable pieces of information – often to participants who are (supposedly) used to a different value frame. On the other hand, we are interested in the experiences of the class room encounters in relation to value transmission, and the teachers’ personal reflections regarding them.

We investigated policy documents, curricula, and course material which provide knowledge about which values and norms are included in these courses, which actors propose which values/norms and why, and how these are translated in the course. Furthermore, we gain insights into what leeway teachers have in adding their own understanding in their teaching encounters. The main part of the study consists of interviews with teachers, which we have defined as ‘value agents.’

We argue that the teachers play a central role as value agents that needs to be investigated because they are the ones conveying the material. It is central to look into teaching practices and the teachers’ experiences and perceptions to evaluate the role they play, for example how much freedom they have to design the course and in which way teachers manifest or challenge values. Furthermore, we argue that boundaries are created but also deconstructed within these courses through the topic of values and norms. It is important to understand the teachers’ expectation of otherness and sameness and their perception of values. Do they assume European or national values to be a homogenous system of values or do they rather understand it in the context of cultural difference and diversity? How does this shape their daily task of providing integration courses? At last, we look into which values are conveyed implicitly in addition to those that are an explicit part of classroom discussions.


Layout of the integration courses


The first task was to define the most relevant courses in Germany in which values are transmitted to immigrants as a specific target group. This inherently presents us with important value agents. In Germany, we focus on two formats, funded, and coordinated by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF): the initial orientation course and the general integration course. Both courses target a different audience, determined through the status of residence. Both consist of a language course and an orientation part, whereas the general integration course provides more hours. The orientation course can be seen as civic/citizenship education, which, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, aims to provide knowledge on the legal system as well as society in order to ensure equal opportunities and social participation, as well as providing a base to identify with the new culture.


First impressions from the field


Throughout the interviews, it was consistently emphasized that the teachers have a lot of room for interpretation on how to convey their topics, which provides an interesting starting point for the focus of the field study. Even though a centralized curriculum and centralized qualification courses exist, the final implementation is left to the teacher (with smaller and bigger room for own interpretations). Which norms and values are considered most important, what do they entail, how are they conveyed? How do the teachers’ different backgrounds play a role in their way of engaging with immigrants?


The concept of expectations


One interesting concept that will be explored throughout the study is ‘expectations,’ in particular with regard to expectations of reciprocity and expected commonalities or contradictions regarding the existing values and norms. We ask: In which way do expectations shape behavior and exchange between ‘value agents’ and migrants? Do expectations about the group of participants change the emphasis placed within the course material, and if so, how? How do the (often assumed) characteristics of the ‘value receivers’ – such as gender, religious beliefs, level of education, place of origin – change the teacher’s expectations of a group and hence their behavior as a value agent? What role does the course material play – does it lead to animosity because of the expectations it inherently raises? Are there discrepancies between what values are taught to ‘outsiders’ and how they are lived in reality?


Question of boundaries and boundary (un-)making


Boundaries can be seen as a social and political concept. They are drawn as part of a process of constituting social identities in distinction to ‘others’ on the grounds of ethnicity, race, nationality, and gender. Othering is related to the concept of expectations. Othering may be rooted in specific expectations of what one assumes the group of participants to be like and what their supposed norms and values are. We examine the boundaries that are drawn, undrawn, and redrawn in everyday life, and in the class room. Boundaries in this scenario can be understood in terms of identities. One’s own understanding of identity, in relation to a nation or culture may be enforced through interaction with perceived otherness. We explore how teachers experience their own identity and if they perceive their identity as challenged or, rather, reinforced in the classroom situation. How are the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ defined, manifested, but also crossed or lifted within the realm of value transmission? How is this perceived by teachers who have themselves experienced migration? In what way is the idea of the nation manifested in value transmission?

These (and other) questions will be pursued during the interviews and will guide the analysis to shed light on the role value transmission plays in German integration and how this is interrelated with the making of boundaries and borders. In order to shed light on the role of norms and values in European migration, we zoom in on the practical experiences and everyday life encounters of those who act as value agents.

Franziska Böhm is a Research Assistant at Malmö University, Sweden. She can be contacted at


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