What is cohesion and integration?

What do we mean by cohesion and integration? They are terms generally used in a policy or political context, to describe how people from different backgrounds mix, interact and get along with each other. The difference referred to is usually one of ethnicity or faith, and sometimes both. But is is also about much more than that.

The work of cohesion and integration is about developing neighbourhoods, workplaces, institutions and social spaces where difference is welcomed and celebrated. Creating places where empathy and curiosity is encouraged towards others. And where we move beyond narratives of ‘us’ and ‘them’ towards ideas of kindness, trust and social cohesion between groups. It is about understanding how other differences (for example, age, social class, gender) may impact integration and cohesion within and between different groups. It is about people feeling skilled and capable of negotiating tensions and differences without harming underlying social bonds. It is about being proud of the place where we live and celebrating all people and their contributions.

Many activities and programmes have an impact on cohesion and integration. Arts and cultural events, sports and physical activities, social action, volunteering, youth, community and intergenerational work can all help in building a kinder more resilient society. As do schemes which tackle wellbeing, loneliness and social mobility. Many people and organisations are doing work on a daily basis that improves cohesion and integration.

Other issues also determine how much or how little we mix with others. For example, if we are wary of, or fear people from different backgrounds to our own then we are less likely to attempt to get to know them. Segregation can play a part denying the opportunity for daily interactions across difference. Tackling segregation, prejudice and underlying drivers such as inequality is a vital part of cohesion and integration work.

Another way of thinking about cohesion and integration is that it is the ‘social glue’ in the places we live, work and socialise. Its presence means that we get on with and trust our neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances. We feel safe and connected to others –  a sense of belonging. We often only notice this vital ‘social glue’ by its absence.