This paper discusses a logic of seeing in official assessments of the ‘integration of immigrants’ in West European societies and interprets these as arrival narratives. In postcolonial and diasporic literature, the arrival narrative is not concerned with the actual date of arrival but with the question ‘how much has someone really arrived?’ (Quayson, A. 2013. Postcolonialism and the diasporic imaginary. Lecture series: New directions in literary postcolonial studies. Utrecht University, 7 Oct.). The official, state-initiated monitoring of immigrant integration is based upon measurements of the degree to which the population classified as ‘immigrant’ is ‘integrated’ in a ‘host society’. In literary terms, this can be interpreted as a narrative in which a personage – classified in highly specific, contingent ways, as ‘immigrant’ – is portrayed as being in a mode of arriving but without having arrived and without ever really arriving. The way in which this narrative of postponed arrival is shaped involves a specific way of seeing in the routinized work of quantitatively assessing immigrant integration. With the narratological concept of focalization we analyse a logic of seeing present in the reports and images of immigrant integration monitoring practices in the Netherlands. Moreover, we discuss the workings of a societal gaze, instituted on the basis of particular societal norms reproduced at the ‘place of arrival’, that is, the place imagined as ‘society’. This societal gaze operates as a performative practice distributing a way of seeing, thereby enacting the reproduction of existing power asymmetries between ‘members of society’ and ‘immigrants’. As such, we conclude, the hope for ‘arrival’ constitutes a form of ‘cruel optimism’ (Berlant, L., 2011. Cruel optimism. Durham: Duke University Press).

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Keywords Arrival, cruel optimism, focalization, immigrant integration, mobility, ‘society’
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Journal Cultural Studies
Boersma, S, & Schinkel, W. (2017). Imaginaries of postponed arrival: on seeing ‘society’ and its ‘immigrants’. Cultural Studies, 1–18. doi:10.1080/09502386.2017.1354047