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What is GERME?

GERME is the acronym for the Groupe de recherche sur les Relations Ethniques, les Migrations et l’Egalité (Group for Research on Ethnic Relations, Migration and Equality), a research group at the Institut de Sociologie and the Faculté de Philosophie et Sciences Sociales at the francophone Belgian university Université Libre de Bruxelles.

GERME is a research group of social scientists (predominantly trained in sociology, anthropology and/or political science) studying processes of inclusion and exclusion in the context of diverse societies that are marked by social inequalities. GERME was created by Andrea Rea, full professor in sociology, who is currently Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences at ULB. Dirk Jacobs, full professor in sociology, is now director of GERME. The third tenured academic member of GERME is professor Matteo Gagliolo. He teaches quantitative methodology and has a background in machine learning and computer science, before turning to social sciences.

Although initially mainly focussing its research activities on racism, migration, exclusion and ethnicity, researchers based at GERME are now working on a wide range of topics.

These include – without being exhaustive - citizenship practices, multiculturalism, migrant integration policy, urban policy, policy implementation (street level bureaucracy), gender relations, xenophobia, labour market inclusion, education, culture, religion, political participation, social movements, social networks ('classic' and virtual) and social stratification.

In our research work there is a firm emphasis on processes of ethnicisation and racialisation, on the reproduction of social inequalities and on relations between ethno-cultural minority and majority groups.

GERME aims to investigate not only state responses to ethnic diversity and social inequalities, but also lived experiences of citizens in diverse and class-divided societies and forms of social and political mobilisation (of both marginalised as empowered groups). Although we have a particular interest in the study of Belgian society (Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders), our research projects are not necessarily limited to these geographical boundaries and often have an internationally comparative outlook.

Researchers at GERME do not believe there is a universally best set of technical tools and use both qualitative as quantitative methods and mixed methods approaches. We invest in methodological expertise for handling both ethnographic and case study challenges (qualitative research) as advanced multivariate statistical analysis (quantitative research). 

GERME has a particular research interest for the Brussels metropolis, where it is located, in view of its remarkable characteristics. Indeed,Brussels is one of the richest regions of Europe but a substantial part of its population is at risk of poverty and lives in disfavoured neighbourhoods. In the city, social and ethnic stratification is increasingly intertwined and reflected in spatial segregation. It is an officially bilingual city, located on the intersection of Latin and Germanic cultures and housing some of the main EU institutions. In this socially and ethnically diverse urban environment all kinds of hybrid identities flourish.

Given this context, a key research interest of GERME is the interaction between management of ethno-cultural diversity (linked to the phenomenon of immigration) on the one hand and the power struggle between the dominant linguistic groups in Belgium on the other hand