Our Research

‘The scientific output of the programme is notable for its impact both in academia and in society more generally.’

– QANU Research Review

ERCOMER (European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations) has an interdisciplinary research programme on international migration, ethnic relations and cultural diversity, drawing on social psychological, sociological, political science, and anthropological approaches to issues that have strong and immediate societal relevance. Our research is theory driven, using state-of-the-art (comparative) analytical techniques.

Our research themes

International migration

Questions related to the motivations and factors that drive migration remain at the forefront of public attention. An understanding of the forces that drive migration decisions can inform research on immigrant integration and identity, as well as policy making on migration, settlement and integration. Some of our recent work has focused on explanations of return migration intentions among recent immigrants and refugees.

Researchers: Mérove Gijsberts | Özge Bilgili | Borja Martinovic | GB Dielissen

Structural integration

Immigrants’ structural integration, and structural inequalities between ethnic and cultural groups in society, is one of the key social problems that is addressed by research at Ercomer. Recent studies have for instance investigated female labour market participation among a range of cultural groups, as well as ethnic discrimination in selection and hiring procedures.

Researchers: Mérove Gijsberts | Özge Bilgili | Floris Peters | Meta van der Linden | Kaja Warnke | Sara Marcora | Simon Löbl | Stefanie Sprong | Valentina Di Stasio

Socio-cultural integration

Whether and how immigrants and their offspring engage in intergroup contact, and how cultural values, political orientations and religious beliefs develop in host societies, are crucial aspects of the integration of immigrants. We study these topics among a variety of ethnic and religious immigrant groups, as well as the European-born second generation.

Researchers: Maykel Verkuyten | Mérove Gijsberts | Meta van der Linden | Marcel LubbersBorja Martinovic

Ethnic relations in the school context

Increasing cultural diversity has transformed the faces of our schools. In the context of interethnic schools, Ercomer researchers study issues such as (lack of) interethnic contact and friendship networks in schools, peer victimization and interethnic bullying, and children’s interethnic attitudes and helping behavior.

Researchers: Maykel Verkuyten | Jochem Thijs | Tobias Stark | Sauro Civitillo | Lian van Vemde | Daudi van Veen | Lexin ChenAngelos DimosiarisIris Boer

Attitudes towards minority rights

A key issue in the incorporation of immigrants is the willingness to extend rights and privileges to newcomers. This research line focuses on issues such as (reactions to) the political representation of ethnic minority groups and exclusive attitudes with regard to minorities’ entitlement to welfare arrangements.

Researchers: Maykel Verkuyten | Edwin Poppe | Anouk Smeekes | Verena Seibel | Eduardo Campbell Bethancourt

Ethnic, religious, and national identities

The focus area ethnic, religious and national identities aims to identify the psychological mechanisms that explain social identification processes, to identify causes that hamper or stimulate the development of these social identities, and to identify their consequences, for instance in terms of intergroup attitudes. Recent studies have for instance investigated the role of historical national symbols and feelings of collective nostalgia in stimulating identification processes. Other studies examine so-called dual identities and how these relate to collective action.

Researchers: Maykel Verkuyten | Marcel Lubbers | Edwin Poppe | Anouk Smeekes | Borja Martinovic | Daudi van VeenTom Nijs | Anniek Schlette | Angelos Dimosiaris | Tobias Stark

Cultural diversity ideologies

A broad range of policy questions can be brought back to the question how to deal with cultural diversity. We investigate how people think about cultural diversity and about citizenship in a multicultural society. Our studies have for instance focused on the endorsement of diversity ideologies and its consequences for intergroup relations, voting for parties that focus on these issues and on the effects of multicultural citizenship education.

Researchers: Marcel LubbersMaykel Verkuyten | Anouk Smeekes | Jochem ThijsBorja Martinovic | Daudi van Veen | Tom Nijs | Eduardo Campbell Bethancourt

Research projects

ERCOMER members are currently working on (or have recently completed) several research projects:

Integrating literature from sociology, social psychology, organization and sociolegal studies, we develop and test a novel, multi-actor and dynamic theoretical framework to examine what makes people targets of ethnic discrimination. Both conceptually and empirically, we define and operationalize discrimination claims as, inherently, relational: claims need to be validated by other actors to be seen as legitimate. At the macro level, we map how structures and practices, such as anti-discrimination laws and diversity management policies, can confer or deny legitimacy to discrimination claims, in the workplace and courtroom. We then zoom in on the micro-foundations of the claims-making process. Using factorial survey experiment, we study discrimination in its multidimensional essence and capture the discrimination attributions made by multiple actors (targets, perpetrators, allies and bystanders) all simultaneously experiencing the same situation and calculate the level of (dis-)agreement between the actors involved. Furthermore, using daily diaries, we collect real-time longitudinal data on the job search strategies that ethnic minorities adopt to avoid becoming targets.

The project is funded by an ERC Starting grant awarded to Valentina Di Stasio.

ERCOMER members involved: Valentina Di Stasio | Kaja Warnke | Simon Löbl

This project will test a new theory: that interethnic prejudice can be reduced by minority members who identify with both their ethnic group and the national majority group, because these dual identifiers can create social bridges between communities. However, not all dual identifiers are recognized as such by others, and misperception may undermine the bridging that dual identifiers can accomplish. The expectation is that dual identifiers’ relationships with members of both groups are signals of their dual belonging, but that the degree to which these signals are picked up depends on people’s perception of the structure of their social networks. Moreover, recognizing dual identifiers might reduce prejudice but, again, this depends on people’s perceptions of dual identifiers’ positions in a network. To test these expectations, this project will develop a new method to measure perceptions of people’s ethnicity and their relationships in social networks. A combination of methodological approaches from qualitative in-depth interviews and GPS tracking to novel statistical social network models will be employed to analyze people’s perceptions of their social networks.

The project is funded by an ERC Consolidator grant awarded to Tobias Stark.

ERCOMER members involved: Tobias Stark | Tom Nijs | Anniek Schlette | Lexin Chen | Evangelos Dimosiaris

Ethnic, racial and religious minorities experience discriminatory behaviour and prejudicial attitudes in multiple life domains, which accumulates across the life course. This continuous exposure perpetuates minorities’ subordinate position across generations. The main contribution of EqualStrength is to investigate cumulative and structural forms of discrimination, outgroup prejudice and hate crimes against ethnic, racial and religious minorities from a cross-setting and intersectional perspective. This project deploys innovative, targetted and effective methods, which include field experiments, population-level secondary survey data, meso-level policy analysis and targeted data collection to include the perspective of minority groups who directly confront discrimination.

The team at Utrecht University is leading the work package that aims to measure cumulative and structural discrimination with a set of linked field experiments (sometimes referred to as correspondence testing in specialised literature) within the domains of employment, housing, and access to childcare in all nine EqualStrength countries. This will result in the first cross-national and cross-setting dataset on cumulative discrimination.

EqualStrength is a Horizon Europe project funded by the European Union and is led by a consortium of ten European research institutions. Funding was awarded to Valentina di Stasio.

See the project’s website for more information.

ERCOMER members involved: Valentina Di Stasio | Stefanie Sprong

RAISE aims to understand better to what extent European citizens draw boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and to what extent they are willing to acknowledge that inequalities are rooted in structural injustice.

RAISE draws on the assumption that to reduce structural racism, people (and the institutions they operate in) have to be aware of the underlying boundary making processes that reproduce structural racism and the role it has in lasting inequalities. Recognition and acknowledgment of these forms of injustice will contribute to social action for equality. The project will be the first in Europe to study empirically the awareness of boundary making processes in reproducing structural racism and what collective actions contribute to break through such boundary making processes.

RAISE is a project funded by the European Union in the Horizon Europe program. It is led by Marcel Lubbers in a consortium of nine European partners.

See the project’s website for more information.

ERCOMER members involved: Marcel Lubbers | Özge Bilgili | Eduardo Campbell Bethancourt

The CONCILIARE project (running from 2024-2027) has been awarded funding under Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Action (RIA). A consortium of researchers from six European countries, together with societal partners such as museums of colonial history, are investigating changes in colonial cultural heritage in Europe across four domains: textbooks, public spaces, museums, and products and traditions. The aim is to develop evidence-based methods that promote confidence and intergroup dialogue related to these changes. ERCOMER is leading a work package on cultural products and traditions associated with the colonial history (e.g., the tradition of Black Pete in the Netherlands) to examine how Europeans – both ethnic majority members and minorities originating from former colonies –  think about recent changes in products and traditions and the effect this has on their sense of belonging and intergroup cohesion in Europe.

ERCOMER members involved: Borja Martinovic | Anouk Smeekes

The project examines collective psychological ownership (CPO) – a sense that a territory belongs to one’s ethnic group. Statements like ‘we were here first’ or ‘we built this country’ are increasingly used by right-wing politicians in immigration countries to claim ownership on historical basis for the dominant ethnic group, and to exclude newcomers, and there are also contexts where two established groups disagree about territorial ownership, such as Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. While CPO might strengthen solidarity within groups, it might worsen intergroup relations, thus threatening social cohesion. It is therefore important to establish where a sense of CPO comes from, and how it shapes intergroup relations, so that interventions could be implemented.

The project is funded by an ERC Starting grant awarded to Borja Martinovic.

See the project’s website for more information.

ERCOMER members involved: Borja Martinovic | Maykel Verkuyten | Tom Nijs

Increasingly our societies are becoming more diverse and how to live with this diversity is one of the most pressing questions of our time. In Europe, intergroup tolerance has been proposed as a key aspect of living harmoniously and productively with diversity; it is critical because objection and disagreement about what is good and right are inevitable. A diverse, egalitarian, and peaceful society does not require that we all like each other, but it does require that people at least tolerate one another. Yet, there has been very little by way of social psychological theorizing and systematic empirical research on intergroup toleration.

This research will advance the state of the art in the social sciences by moving beyond intergroup stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination, and focusing on the social psychology of intergroup toleration in which differences are endured. This new line of research will unravel the interrelated aspects of toleration. We will elucidate: (1) the underlying psychological aspects of tolerance (the objection component), 2) the psychological processes underlying tolerance (the acceptance component), 3) the limits of tolerance (the rejection component), and 4) the social psychological consequences of being tolerated. This program has a coherent theoretical framework and empirically toleration will be examined by using a combination of survey data, framing experiments, and lab experiments involving EEG. The research will provide key insights into the social psychological dynamics of intergroup toleration. This can form the basis for developing and implementing initiatives and approaches that contribute to a more tolerant society. Given the contested nature of cultural diversity and the absence of systematic social psychological investigations, the proposed research is both ground-breaking and timely.

The project is funded by an ERC Advanced grant awarded to Maykel Verkuyten.

ERCOMER members involved: Maykel Verkuyten | Tobias Stark

Research assessment ERCOMER

In 2019, the Utrecht research programme of ERCOMER was evaluated by an international evaluation committee, as part of a national comparative evaluation of the sociology and social science research programmes in the Netherlands. ERCOMER takes part in the programme ‘Social Networks, Solidarity, and Inequality’ of the Department of Sociology of Utrecht University. In this research evaluation this programme was evaluated very positive on the criteria quality (international recognition and innovative potential), productivity (scientific output), and viability (flexibility, management, and leadership), as well as on relevance (scientific and socio-economic impact).