All research needs an adequate conceptual framework. Figure 1 outlines the conceptual
framework that we developed for the Housing New Canadians research project
(and related research projects). The conceptual framework focuses on processes
of differential incorporation, that is, the fact that the housing experiences
of many immigrant and refugee households are negatively affected by many barriers,
some of which are violations of human rights laws.
An explicit conceptual framework is especially important for international
comparative research. Every country has a different set of institutional arrangements.
In many respects, for example, Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands are very
similar. Their housing systems, however, could not be more different. Only
5% of the housing stock in Canada is in the social rented sector and Canada
offers no shelter allowance. In the U.K., 20% of the national housing stock
is in the social rented sector and there is a national universal shelter allowance
(the Housing Benefit). About 40% of the housing stock in the Netherlands is
in the social rented sector and the country offers a shelter allowance.
Nations also have different unemployment rates, language and job training
services, and forms of income support. There are also widely different gaps
between the income and wealth of those at the bottom and those at the top.
A large body of research demonstrates clearly that ethnicity, 'race,' class,
and gender do matter in terms of access to both necessities and rewards in
society. Our task is to find out to what extent and in what way these factors
act as barriers to incorporation into society. An immigrant needs access to
adequate housing, education, employment, and income in order to settle and
become a productive member of society. If there are barriers to any of these,
the settlement process is not smooth or fair, and the result is differential
Differential incorporation occurs at the group level (see Figure 1). It refers
to unequal treatment and unequal access to economic, social, political, and
cultural activities and rewards in society. Incorporation is measured primarily
by deviations from equal access to the basic resources available within a society.
In the context of the housing experience of new Canadians, differential incorporation
means that many groups of new Canadians are likely to find themselves at a
disadvantage in a number of ways.
Institutional barriers are reinforced by the way in which different groups
are perceived on the basis of their ethnicity, 'race,' class, and gender. To
date, most of the literature in this area has focused on income differentials
and educational and employment opportunities. Yet before finding a job, most
immigrants need a place to live. Once they have housing, they and their children
look for educational and training opportunities, jobs, and so on.
While the concept of differential incorporation is used in relation to groups,
the notion of housing trajectory occurs at the level of the individual household.
It refers to social mobility, especially in a housing context, of the individual
or household over its lifetime. Housing trajectory is the first major research
theme of the Housing New Canadians study.