Jeffrey G. Reitz is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, and R.F. Harney Professor Emeritus of Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies at the University of Toronto. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University in 1972, was a full-time faculty member at the University of Toronto from 1970 to 2021, and served as Chair of the Department of Sociology from 1980–1985. In 1999, he was appointed as the R.F. Harney Professor and Director of the Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies Program, subsequently establishing the Harney Program at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. His book Warmth of the Welcome: The Social Causes of Economic Success for Immigrants in Different Nations and Cities (Westview 1998) was recognized by the Thomas and Znaniecki Book Awards of the American Sociological Association. Jeff was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2001, and received the “Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Sociology Award” from the Canadian Sociological Association in 2005. He has held distinguished visiting positions at a number of academic institutions, including as the Mackenzie King Chair in Canadian Studies at Harvard University, at L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, and at the City University of New York Graduate Centre. His institutional affiliations are listed on the Professional Connections page. See also profiles at the Sociology department and Munk School.
My Academic Background and Interests – A Personal View
My academic interests in immigration and ethnic relations developed during my early years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, well after the completion of my formal education, and in response to issues in the community and in Canada, as well as the related research opportunities that presented themselves. The early 1970s were a period of rapid change in immigration and ethnic diversity in Canada, made more fascinating in the context of the dramatic transformation of French-English relations also underway at the time. The academic environment was very conducive to new research initiatives. And yet, the evolution of my commitment to the field of immigration and ethnicity was a slow process unfolding over the first 25 or 30 years of my academic career.
In the next several paragraphs, I would like to give a personal account of how my educational background and experiences working in Toronto led me into academic study of immigration and ethnic diversity, how they affected the approach I took to the subject, and framed the four themes characterizing my research: diversity and social inclusion, employment and racial inequality, cross-national comparison, and policy implications. My work related to each theme is detailed on the respective pages on this website.
Diverse Studies at Columbia. Although academic study of issues of immigration and race were not at all part of my studies at Columbia University, either undergraduate or graduate, my experiences there and in New York generally shaped my diverse interests and approach to the subject. As an undergraduate, my initial goal had been to pursue a career in engineering. Without a specific substantive focus I had majored in applied mathematics, a subject in which I excelled. While completing those studies, however, I found my interests drawn increasingly toward subjects in the social sciences. Two sociology courses were most memorable. One was on political sociology, taught by Allan Silver, and for which I wrote a paper on a landmark study which still resonates with me: The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (1963), written by political scientists Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba. It was based on surveys in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Mexico. Fascinated by the use of social data to compare entire societies, I also took a graduate course (while still an undergrad) called “Comparative Study of National Societies.” This course was taught by Immanuel Wallerstein, of later “World-Systems Theory” fame, and while it was billed as a methods course, it was much more than that.
With encouragement from faculty and students in social sciences, I decided to remain at Columbia and try graduate work in sociology. For me, a major appeal of sociology, distinguishing it from other social science disciplines, was the breadth of its substantive agenda, both historically and in the contemporary world, and the prominent place it gave to complex interconnections among social, economic and political dimensions of life. At Columbia I enjoyed pursuing a range of subjects, on sociology of politics, religion, family, and economic development and modernization; encountering faculty including William Goode, Daniel Bell, Amitai Etzioni, and Thomas O’Dea as well as Wallerstein; and becoming familiar with survey, historical and field methods. There were seminars exploring mathematical modeling in social science, and I even took a course in mathematical economics from Kelvin Lancaster. My science background sparked an interest in the sociology of science, as this field was developed in a stellar group led by Robert K. Merton, and including brothers Stephen and Jonathan Cole among others. My doctoral research on career choice of science developed from this interest, and was supervised by Jon Cole and Harriet Zuckerman, who generously stepped in when Robert Merton became gravely ill (after his recovery we maintained contact over the years). The academic environment was one of considerable theoretical and methodological diversity.
My initial advisor at Columbia was the renowned survey research pioneer, methodologist, and general sociologist Paul F. Lazarsfeld, regarded by many as the founder of modern empirical sociology. While he was not a thesis supervisor, his influence on me was considerable and long-lasting. Lazarsfeld himself had a mathematics background, and he helped me bridge the gap between my earlier technical training and the work of sociology. His organizational innovation, the Bureau of Applied Social Research on 115th Street, fit perfectly with my “applied” orientation, reflected in my earlier interest in engineering. One of Lazarsfeld’s pre-occupations at the time, elaborating “The Uses of Sociology,” was the theme for the American Sociological Association meetings the year he was President (1962), energized by a polemic with his critic and erstwhile Columbia colleague, C. Wright Mills. I served as RA for his edited book flowing from sessions he sponsored at the ASA meetings. And then, eager to elaborate further his ideas about research application in policy, Lazarsfeld recruited me to collaborate on a monograph eventually entitled An Introduction to Applied Sociology (Elsevier, 1975). Our examples of policy uses of sociology ranged across diverse fields of politics, media, urban social problems, criminology, labour relations, organizational behavior, and of course including race relations and immigration. Explicating the thinking when social research transforms policy direction was for me a crash course in the essential ideas of each subfield.
Developing Interests in Immigration and Ethnicity. My later interests in immigration and race relations were of course heavily influenced by experiences living in New York City during the tumultuous 1960s, and even earlier growing up in the US Midwest. The Civil Rights movement, and growing urban unrest, showed clearly the damage done by America’s troubling failure to confront and address its racist history. But such issues became academic interests only after my move to Toronto. I was impressed by the scale of immigration in Canada, and particularly in Toronto, and by the positive tone of immigration politics in the context of a dramatic transformation of relations between French and English linguistic communities in the country. In my second year, I was unexpectedly invited to join a research group formed by the newly-established Multiculturalism Program, tasked with designing and testing a questionnaire for a national survey on minority language groups. Even more surprising, I became co-author of the resulting government research publication Non-Official Languages: A Study in Canadian Multiculturalism (1976). After this experience, I was intrigued with the potential of the data resource we had generated, and I used it to prepare a research monograph addressing questions of ethnic community formation arising from Canada’s immigration history. This book, The Survival of Ethnic Groups (MrGraw-Hill, 1980), enabled me to frame issues of immigration history in terms of sociological theories, drawing especially from the formulations of Max Weber, and to develop an analysis of the significance of ethnic employment enclaves in maintaining the social boundaries of ethnic communities.
Focus on Employment and Inequality. Subsequently I joined an ethnic relations research group formed in the Department of Sociology under the leadership of Raymond Breton, with whom I would collaborate extensively in the future, and including Wsevolod Isajiw, ultimately my predecessor as the first Harney Professor, and Warren Kalbach. We received funding from SSHRC, and conducted a major survey of inter-ethnic relations in Toronto. Our Toronto survey included two minority groups of non-European origins which were rapidly growing in the late 1970s and early 1980s –- West Indian Blacks, and Chinese. For this project, I again focused on ethnic employment enclaves, but using better data, showing their impact on progress toward equality in the Italian community in particular, and suggesting the likely future impact on the Chinese community, and the lack thereof for the Black community. This was eventually published in our joint book Ethnic Identity and Equality: Varieties of Experience in a Canadian City (Breton et al., 1990).
Through this period of the later 1970 and 1980s, the rapidly increasing racial diversity of the Canadian population, particularly in Toronto, raised broader issues that really captured my interest. Would these groups face significant discrimination in employment and housing? Was the Canadian context for relations between racial groups fundamentally different from the American context I had experienced, and if so, in what ways, to what extent, and why? Was Canadian multiculturalism – an idea developed in the context of European-based diversity — shaping Canadian race relations in a new way? To me these were fascinating questions, and I felt strongly motived to find the answers, whatever they might be.
Broader Institutional Analyses. Although my academic interests continued to include various other subjects, I believe that these were not entirely competing, and ultimately enhanced my work on immigration and race issues. My main teaching through at least the late 1980s evolved from my initial assignments to teach political sociology, history of social theory, and research methods, to focus on areas of social inequality and industrial sociology (for a time also “Science and Modern Society,” and applied sociology or policy research). I was very interested in, for example, competing claims about the implications of technological change for social inequalities, and had planned a book synthesizing research on a number of aspects of the issue. As well, the issue of growing economic and income inequality in western societies was gaining salience, sparking a debate over the importance of market forces as opposed to social institutions as causes, and I actually signed a book contract to review and assess these trends. The organization of my courses on these subjects, including in the Department of Sociology and also at the interdisciplinary Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, where I was also affiliated, was directed toward developing both of these projects. While (sadly for me) neither was ever completed, I feel certain that this dimension of my work and teaching contributed to my analyses of immigration and minority group employment. It rooted these analyses in theories of the institutional and organizational context of labour market processes, and their interconnections with educational systems and the welfare state. This helped raise questions about how these processes could produce change over time.
Community Engagement and Policy. At this time, I also wanted to engage more actively with the world outside the university. I became involved with the Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto, and participated in a number of its research activities. I also chaired a research group on racial minority employment, with one of the projects being the employment field trials conducted by Frances Henry and Effie Ginsberg (“Who Gets the Work?”, 1985). Becoming chair of the Department of Sociology also created opportunities for external engagement. After completing my term as chair, I intensified my connection with the Center for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, a unit which was thoroughly permeated with policy concerns and community connections that I felt were extremely helpful in the work I wanted to do. In the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to contribute to the prosecution of cases related to minority employment before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and to participate as a member of the Toronto Mayor’s Committee on Community and Race Relations, both of which were very rewarding experiences.
Opportunities for Cross-national Comparative Research on Immigration. My interest in the distinctiveness of Canadian experience with immigration and diversity, and the underlying reasons for it, eventually led to proposals for cross-national comparative research. There were serious obstacles to this in the 1970s, and I failed in my initial effort to find funding for Canada-U.S. comparisons of employment inequality for racial minorities. For one reason, SSHRC regulations at the time prohibited funding for data collection in the United States. As well, a proposal to a non-governmental policy research organization was rejected for the reason (so I was told) that U.S. racism was so much more extreme that there was nothing Canada could learn from such a comparison.
A personal turning point was the race-related unrest beginning to appear in the cities of Britain in 1981, in Brixton, Bristol, Nottingham and elsewhere, eventually leading to an official investigation and publication of the “Scarman Report” (1981). These events prompted much interest in Canada, and even alarm. If immigration in the U.K. was similar to what was occurring in Canada, and if the British approach to race relations perhaps also similar, then could Canada have similar experiences in the future? I have a vivid memory of participating on a panel discussion for the public affairs television program “The Shulman File,” hosted by a former politician Morton Shulman, discussing exactly this question. I decided to try shifting my comparative focus from the U.S to Britain, and found funding (from SSHRC) more readily available.
This research on Britain was pursued during a leave year in 1983, and again after completing my term as chair in 1985, through visiting positions held at the Universities of Bristol and London. I found this research — mostly qualitative fieldwork based on data availability — to be an immensely enjoyable and satisfying adventure, challenging but extremely exciting and rewarding. An article appeared in International Migration Review in 1988, making the point that despite institutional differences in immigration history between Canada and Britain, underlying racial attitudes in society, and the potential for racial discrimination in employment and housing, were similar. A spin-off on policy appeared the same year in Canadian Public Policy (“Less racial discrimination in Canada, or simply less racial conflict?: implications of comparisons with Britain”). These two publications attracted a modest amount of scholarly interest, judging from citations, but the latter was successful also in being reprinted in four undergraduate readers: one on social inequality, one on sociology of work, and two introductory sociology readers.
By this time, I was becoming hooked on the subjects of immigration and ethnicity, and on the potential for research on these subjects, especially comparative research, to be enjoyable, academically innovative and policy relevant. My next project, comparing immigrant employment in Canada, the U.S., and Australia, was eventually funded by the federal government’s Multiculturalism Program, and led to the book Warmth of the Welcome: the Social Causes of Economic Success for Immigrants in Different Nations and Cities (1998). Inspired by the work of the economist George Borjas, who showed that census data for these three countries could be compared usefully, but who lacked the sociological framework needed for what I thought was a proper analysis and interpretation, the book was largely quantitative but had been built from a substantial amount of qualitative fieldwork in Toronto, New York, and Sydney.
Mounting cross-national comparative research seems to require a substantial commitment of time. Each of my comparative studies required sabbatical leaves at some stage. The British study required two periods of leave (at Universities of Bristol and London), and the Canada-US-Australia project was launched based on a sabbatical leave year at UCLA and the University of Sydney. Follow-up comparisons across cohorts and in the second generation also required two further periods of study in Australia. My study in Germany was completed during a sabbatical year, and my most recent comparison of Canada and France was supported by a two-year salary grant from the European Commission, held at L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, and supplemented by a partial sabbatical leave. These experiences have multiple benefits, of course, and one these is when academic hosts become good friends: for me especially Ivan Light at UCLA, and Christine Inglis and Jock Collins in Sydney.
Harney Professorship and the Munk School. The success of Warmth of the Welcome finally cemented my dedication to the field of immigration and ethnic relations, 30 years into my academic career. Fortunately for me, I had time for another 20 years as a professor at the University of Toronto. After my appointment as Harney Professor of Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies in 1999, and a year at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Studies as the Mackenzie King Professor of Canadian Studies, I concluded that the Toronto’s Munk School for Global Affairs and Public Policy — parallel to the Harvard’s Weatherhead Center — was the most appropriate venue for a program on immigration and diversity, and I worked to establish this connection. The subject of immigration and diversity is global, the School’s academic climate truly interdisciplinary, and policy relevance is a central value. From this point, all my teaching has been in the areas of immigration and ethnicity: an undergraduate course in “Immigration and Race Relations in Canada,” with a term focused on “Immigration and Employment,” and a seminar on “Ethnic Relations Theory, Research and Policy,” required for the Harney Program’s Collaborative Graduate Specialization in Ethnic and Pluralism Studies.
My Debt to Collaborators. I would like to thank the many wonderful collaborators with whom I have been fortunate to work over the course of my career, and from whom I have learned much. The first of these is of course Paul Lazarsfeld. Our work together continued for my first five years in Toronto, ended only by his untimely death in 1976, and I remain his student even today. At the University of Toronto, Raymond Breton provided my introduction to the sociology of race and ethnic relations, and I could have had no one better. Our frequent collaboration and deepening friendship over the years has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. These collaborations often involved others as well: Warren Kalbach and Wsevolod Isajiw, as I mentioned, also earlier work with anthropologist Victor Valentine, and a later joint project with psychologists Ken and Karen Dion, involving collaboration from Rupa Banerjee with whom I would work frequently in subsequent years. I was proud to be in a position to edit a collection of Ray’s work, Ethnic Relations in Canada: Institutional Dynamics (2005). At the Center for Industrial Relations, I learned much about the field of labour relations through collaboration with Anil Verma, and during this period I also was able to advance an analysis of second generation immigrants in a collaboration with Kara Somerville. My comparative study of Germany and Canada could not have been completed without the collaboration of the late Joachim Frick at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), and also Tony Calabrase. Later work with economist Phil Oreopoulos was also very rewarding. A comparative study of the second generation in Canada, the U.S. and Australia was advanced by a fruitful collaboration with Heather Zhang and Naoko Hawkins. Among my most recent collaborators, Rupa Banerjee has become the most frequent, and we continue with projects currently. For my ongoing research comparing the integration of Muslim and other minorities in France and Canada, I will be eternally grateful for the collaboration of Patrick Simon, of INED (Institut national d’études démographiques) in Paris, and Emily Laxer, who began while completing her own doctoral research, and is now on the faculty at Glendon College, York University. The project has also involved collaboration with Alexandra Kassir, then studying at EHESS, now on the faculty at American University of Beirut, Marie-Pier Joly, now at Concordia, and Jessica Stallone, a doctoral student in Toronto. Earlier, Patrick and I collaborated on a theoretical paper with Richard Alba, and recently Richard and I teamed up again during my visit to CUNY Graduate Center in 2018. My most recent new collaborator is Melissa Jasso, a graduate in international relations at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), who has a Fulbright Scholarship and has begun doctoral studies in sociology at Harvard in fall, 2022.