Migrants must ‘seduce’ Irish, says sociologist

Yale professor Jeffrey Alexander awarded honorary doctorate at UCD

Prof Jeffrey Alexander, who received an honoury doctorate from UCD yesterday. Asked about Ireland’s immigrants, he said change had to come on “both sides” and society would not change automatically. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Prof Jeffrey Alexander, who received an honoury doctorate from UCD yesterday. Asked about Ireland’s immigrants, he said change had to come on “both sides” and society would not change automatically. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Thu, Sep 5, 2013, 01:00

For migrant groups to win a place in society the main culture has to come to “admire” the other culture and possibly “change”, Yale sociologist Professor Jeffrey Alexander said in Dublin yesterday.

The renowned cultural sociologist spoke to The Irish Times as University College Dublin awarded him an honorary doctorate for his “considerable contribution to sociology”.

There has to be a kind of “mutual seduction” and immigrants have to “write novels that are best-sellers” and “open restaurants”.

While Polish migrants have “many of the characteristics that are admired” such as being Catholic, well-mannered and hard-working, migrants such as those from Somalia “seem so utterly different” in being Muslim, in their dress and their traditions.

Noting that Islamic culture was not part of the core of European societies, he said for excluded groups to gain a place within society there had to be “dramatic movements” that “ tell stories” which allow people in the centre of society “to identify with them”.

The black civil rights movement is a “classic example of a marginalised group” which though courage and the ability to tell a story “captured the imagination” and changed the power structure.