|Alba Wins Guggenheim Fellowship
By Greta Petry
Sociologist Richard D. Alba has been awarded a Guggenheim
Fellowship to study second generations in immigration societies, for the
academic year beginning in September.
The prestigious one-year fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim
Memorial Foundation carries a stipend of $34,000.
Glenna Spitze, chair of the Department of
Sociology, said, “We are extremely proud of our colleague, Richard Alba,
who is one of only two sociologists in the country to receive a Guggenheim
Fellowship for the coming year, as well as being vice president-elect of
the American Sociological Association. He has a distinguished international
reputation for his work on race/ethnicity and migration.”
Alba said, “Half of the year I will be associate
research director at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique
in Paris, where I will be working with Dr. Roxanne Silberman, who does
work on the children of immigrants in France.” Alba joined the faculty
of the Department of Sociology in 1980. In 1981 he became founding director
of the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis, and in 1985, he was
named a professor in the Department of Public Affairs and Policy.
Alba will be examining how the children of
immigrants fare in different countries that have received a great deal
of immigration since 1950. The countries will include the U.S., Canada,
Australia, France, Germany (where Alba had two previous Fulbright fellowships),
and the United Kingdom. Alba notes that he has made good use of language
instruction at the University, studying advanced German with professor
Silke VanNess, and also improving his French with faculty member Cynthia
“One motivation for the project is that Americans
have been very focused on immigration for a long time, but we only think
about immigration in American society. We assume the U.S. is unique in
its capacity to absorb immigrants,” said Alba, who earned his Ph.D. from
Columbia University. “I plan to test this assumption of exceptionalism
by looking at how the children of immigrants do in other countries. Immigration
is a worldwide phenomenon and we can learn from the experience of other
This idea that the degree of integration of
immigrants is unique in the U.S. stops us from looking further.
“Thus, we are unable to fix with any certainty
the ways in which integration in other societies may resemble or vary from
that in the U.S. . . .Without a wide-ranging comparative analysis, it is
impossible to imagine that we can fully grasp the prospects for, and the
conditions supporting, a persistent and fluent bilingualism,” Alba
notes in his proposal.
Indeed, Alba believes that tremendous gains
can be made by moving away from country-specific studies, and studying
trends within a common analytical framework.
“Realizing these gains is all the more pressing
because very large questions hover over the trajectories of the second
generations in contemporary immigration societies,” Alba notes in his proposal.
Some of the questions he is asking include the following:
Alba plans to examine several key dimensions,
including language as a way to measure how well the mainstream culture
has been absorbed; socioeconomic positioning, or, how second generation
children fare economically as compared with their parents and with natives
of the society; and the social integration of second generations through
Is assimilation, once prevalent among the children
of past immigrants to the U.S. and France, still applicable to contemporary
immigrations? And does assimilation occur mainly in countries which have
national ideologies to actively promote it?
Will transnational connections on a scale never before
seen in human history forestall assimilation and engender ethnic pluralism
to a new extent?
Finally, does the phenomenon of ‘segmented’
assimilation, or assimilation into disadvantaged-minority status, only
occur among certain groups deemed black by North American standards, or
does this occur on a broader scale, for example, to North African groups
By the end of the year, Alba expects to complete
a comparative paper on bilingualism and language assimilation, and at least
two others on aspects of socioeconomic incorporation.