How do they Integrate? Social Exchange and Reciprocal Integration Among Migrants and Locals

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


Much of the negative discourse surrounding migration today stems from a perception that migrants are a ‘burden’ to receiving societies, ‘getting’ more than they ‘give’. I propose a novel approach to integration by developing a social exchange perspective on the relation among migrants and locals. Social exchange theory emphasizes the implicit cost-benefit analysis in our everyday choices concerning with whom we interact. This paper develops the idea that interactions among migrants and locals can be fruitfully examined with a social exchange lens, and contributes to a better understanding of integration by way of interpersonal relationships and reciprocity. Specifically, I define reciprocal integration as the accumulation of everyday, informal exchange interactions between migrants and locals that are returned in kind or paid forward. In the workplace, for example, these may be the continual exchange of favors, advice, birthday wishes, invitations to dinner, and so forth, among colleagues in acts that are not ‘tit for tat’ or mere professional obligations, but are mutually corresponding over time. The concept of reciprocal integration is the missing piece of a conceptual puzzle relating micro-level migrant-local interactions and the upper-level consequences of migration: the more constituent members of a social unit engage in reciprocal exchange with one another, the more integrated (i.e., socially cohesive) the unit becomes. Exchange processes unfold in the following sequence: (1) exchange opportunity and initiation, (2) exchange transaction (if the initial exchange attempt is reciprocated or offer accepted), and (3) exchange relationship (if transactions are repeated and the partners develop a history of exchange). The aim is to refine a model of reciprocal integration on how factors such as power (i.e., numerical minority/majority group membership), status (i.e., level of development of the countries of origin), and culture (i.e., horizontal and vertical individualism/collectivism) structure the relationship among migrants and locals throughout the exchange process—and about the extent to which the resultant social structure is cohesive. An agent-based model (ABM) can fruitfully formalize the micro-macro structuration interface, exploring the conditions under which repeated bilateral trust games in a network of mutually dependent artificial agents produce a tightly connected social system characterized by reciprocity. ABM allows to study how social cohesion in diverse groups (i.e., complex macro explananda) emerge in populations of migrants and locals (i.e., heterogeneous software agents) interacting locally under plausible heuristics or simple decision rules (i.e., related to power, status, and culture). Artificial agents’ initial ‘investment’ and reciprocity decision rules can be experimentally parameterized (i.e., calibrated using estimate values from trust games). Contributing to publicly available code, we can adapt existing NetLogo models, such as the ‘Game of Trust’, and the ‘Network-Based Trust Games’. Decision rules related to power, status, and culture have remained outside the scope of these and other available models. For each iteration, network cohesion measures such as density and average degree will be of primary interest, but network patterns such as reciprocation and topology such as community structure may be relevant.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event5th European Conference on Social Network - , WWW
Duration: 6 Sep 202110 Sep 2021
Conference number: 5


Conference5th European Conference on Social Network
Internet address

Cite this