Diversity and contact (‘DivCon’)

Project leader: Karen Schönwälder
Researchers: Steven Vertovec
Sören Petermann GESIS Leibniz Institute in Cologne)
Jörg Hüttermann (Bielefeld University)
Thomas Schmitt (Erlangen University)
Mijal Gandelsman-Trier (Hamburg University)
Christian Jacobs
Miles Hewstone (University of Oxford)
Katharina Schmid (University of Oxford)
Dietlind Stolle (McGill University, Montreal)

- completed -

The Diversity and Contact project was concerned with the ways in which the socio-demographic and cultural diversity of societies affects the social interactions and attitudes of the individuals and groups within them. Focusing on Germany, where in some cities more than one third of the population are first- or second-generation immigrants, it examined how this phenomenon impacts on the ways in which urban residents interact, form friendships and come to trust or resent each other. An interdisciplinary team including colleagues from Oxford and Montreal applied a mixed-methods design combining a three-wave panel survey, qualitative fieldwork, area explorations and analysis of official data. A book and a number of high-level journal articles present representative findings on the frequency, contexts and consequences of intergroup interaction and deeper insights into how residents experience different neighbourhood contexts. In particular, it demonstrated that high levels of immigration-related diversity are associated with high levels of interaction and that fears of conflict and disintegration are not justified. Moreover, even rather superficial contact furthers positive attitudes to the other and to diversity.

While it is a common claim that immigration not only changes the immigrants but the receiving societies as a whole, it is surprising how little we know about the actual character and extent of such changes. How are different kinds of diversity experienced in daily life? What are the effects of such encounters? How does the socio-demographic and cultural diversity of societies affect the social interactions of individuals and groups within them? At the centre of this project, the MPI-MMG has conducted a major longitudinal survey in 50 randomly selected urban neighbourhoods with various degrees of immigration-related diversity. Three waves of the survey were conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with 2500 respondents in the first wave. The survey was supplemented by systematic observations in the 50 neighbourhoods and a data base on their socio-demographic features. Targeted ethnographies and in-depth interviews were conducted in 5 selected neighbourhoods to provide further evidence.

Results are of relevance for the development of contact theory, for research on the effects of socio-demographic diversity, on social networks, ethnic boundaries and on neighbourhood effects. Data on the frequency and extent of cross-group interactions show that neighbourhood contact between residents of non-immigrant and immigrant background is common. Higher levels of immigration-related diversity lead to more frequent contact; diversity thus has positive effects. Further, a majority of the urban population in Germany has weak and strong ties across ethnic boundaries. Diversity is increasingly incorporated into views of normal, unspectacular urban life. The DivCon-project provides evidence on e.g. how diversity is now part of neighbourhood narratives, on conditions of more and less frequent intergroup interaction as well as its interpretation. As predicted by contact theory, more interaction goes along with more positive attitudes to immigrants and diversity. Further analysis of the panel data will provide deeper insights into causal mechanisms.

DivCon-results have been presented at several major academic events. They included an international conference in Göttingen in April 2011, conferences of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) in Reykjavik (August 2011), of the European Sociological Association (ESA) in Geneva (September 2011), of the International Sociological Association (ISA Forum) in Buenos Aires (August 2012), the German sociological association (DGS) in Bochum, and the IPSA-conference in Montréal.


Apart from a technical report, a number of articles have been published in social science and social psychology journals.

Sören Petermann and Karen Schönwälder, "Gefährdet Multikulturalität tatsächlich Vertrauen und Solidarität? Eine Replik," Leviathan 40 (4), 482-490 (2012).
Dietlind Stolle, Sören Petermann, Katharina Schmid, Karen Schönwälder, Miles Hewstone, Steven Vertovec, Thomas M. Schmitt, and Joe Heywood, "Immigration-related diversity and trust in German cities: the role of intergroup contact," Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties 23 (3), 279-298 (2013).

Karen Schönwälder and Sören Petermann, "Immigration and social interaction: Do diverse environments matter?," European Societies 16 (4), 500-521 (2014).
Steven Vertovec, Oliver Christ, Katharina Schmid, Simon Lolliot, Hermann Swart, Dietlind Stolle, Nicole Tausch, Ananthi Al Ramiah, Ulrich Wagner, and Miles Hewstone, "Contextual effect of positive intergroup contact on outgroup prejudice," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (11), 3996-4000 (2014).
Karen Schönwälder, Steven Vertovec, Sören Petermann, Jörg Hüttermann, Miles Hewstone, Dietlind Stolle, Katharina Schmid, and Thomas M. Schmitt, Diversity and Contact: Immigration and social interaction in German cities. (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2016).

“Neighborhood diversity and social identity complexity: Implications for intergroup relations”, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(2), 2013 (Schmid/Hewstone/Al Ramiah)

„Vielfalt als alltägliche Normalität: Interaktionen und Einstellungen in deutschen Städten”, in: Frank Gesemann/Roland Roth (Hg.) Handbuch Lokale Integrationspolitik, 2018, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 359-372 (Schönwälder/Petermann)

The comprehensive survey and context data corpus is now available for re-analyses.
The material is anonymised and edited for the scientific community. Data is available via the Data Catalogue (DBK) operated by GESIS Leibniz-Institute for Social Sciences. The study number for the DivCon project is “ZA 6898”.

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