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2007 SPSSI/EAESP Conference

Perceptions, Interactions, and Transformations

A small international conference entitled, Immigrants and Hosts: Perceptions, Interactions, and Transformations, was held in Toronto from May 31st to June 2nd 2007. The conference was cosponsored by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology (EAESP), as a part of the continuing collaborative arrangements between these two organizations.  The organizing team included members of both organizations:  Professors Vicki Esses (University of Western Ontario, Canada), Kay Deaux (Graduate Center of the City University of New York, USA), Ulrich Wagner (Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany), Rupert Brown (University of Sussex, UK), and Richard Lalonde (York University, Canada). This small group meeting was dedicated to the late Kenneth Dion, an active member of both SPSSI and EAESP and a pioneer in research on immigration (as well as many other areas of social psychology).

Interest in the conference was substantial, and we were overwhelmed with the number of excellent people that wanted to participate (a total of 62 proposals were submitted from investigators all over the world). On the one hand, this level of interest was encouraging as it testifies to the growing interest on the part of psychologists in the topic of immigration.  At the same time, we needed to limit the number of participants, for practical and logistic reasons (e.g., the size of our budget and the size of the selected hotel) and for intellectual reasons (to foster the kind of interchange and discussion that only a small group meeting can provide).  In selecting papers for the conference, we tried to strike a balance between perspectives (host societies and immigrants), experience (seasoned and junior researchers), and the country in which the research was done. After much deliberation and sometime painful choices, we settled on a group of 26 presenters from 10 different countries representing Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. In addition to the conference presenters, a limited number of graduate students who were working with the conference organizers were invited to attend, with a commitment on their part to help things run smoothly.

The conference was held during a balmy Toronto spring in the Madison Manor Boutique Hotel, a small and charming hotel in the centre of Toronto. Imagine a conference being held in an old Victorian style pub and you will have captured the image of our setting. The meeting room was in fact a room that served as a conference room by day and a pub by night. Most of the conference participants stayed in the Victorian guest house that is part of the manor and those with south facing windows can attest to the festive atmosphere that abounds by the manor by night (it was a time when ice hockey playoffs were in full swing). Rest assured that the bar in our pub was closed during conference hours, but that quite a few discussions took place over pints at other times.

The conference began with a session that described a Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey in which Ken Dion had been deeply involved.  Several of his collaborators on this project, including Karen Kisiel Dion, Jeffrey Reitz, Mai Phan, and Ray Breton, reported on varied aspects of this extensive and highly relevant project.  Throughout the remainder of that day and over the course of the next day, a stimulating set of papers were presented, using a format in which sessions consisted of two papers and some discussion time followed by a break to allow more interactive opportunities.  Topics for the subsequent sessions included “Immigrant families and community experiences,” “Acculturation attitudes,” “Attitudes toward immigrants and asylum seekers,” “National and ethnic identity,” and “Perceptions of threat.”

From a research perspective, one of the goals of this conference was to bring together researchers from a number of countries in order to establish some multinational research initiatives. In that respect we can say that the conference was a success, as the seeds of many future collaborations appear to have been sown.  Another goal of the conference was to give some attention to the policy implications of our research and to encourage communication and collaboration between researchers and policy-makers.  To this end, the program included two round table discussions that featured two representatives from the Canadian federal government, both of whom have considerable experience working on matters of policy. For some of us, the relatively close link between policy makers and the academic community that seems to exist in Canada was a source of envy.  For all, the questions that translations between research and policy pose were the basis of lively discussion.

Additional funding for the conference came from Metropolis Canada (a network of researchers and immigration policy makers, supported by federal departments), and from the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario, and York University.  We are grateful to all of these funders, whose generosity contributed to the overall success of this conference.  Judging from the quality of the presentations and the comments that we received before and after the conference, we believe that this small group meeting was a significant occasion for the continuing development of immigration research in the social psychological community. The organizers of the conference, however, are not resting on their laurels and they are now in the process of proposing a volume of the Journal of Social Issues that would be based on a number of the presentations from the conference.  We hope that this issue will be accepted so that some portion of the conference can be shared with a larger audience.

 Reported by Richard Lalonde, York University