«Bashing the Migrant Climbers: Interethnic Classification Struggles in German City Neighborhoods FERDINAND SUTTERLÜTY and SIGHARD NECKEL Abstract ...»
Volume 30.4 December 2006 798–815 International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Bashing the Migrant Climbers:
Interethnic Classification Struggles
in German City Neighborhoods
FERDINAND SUTTERLÜTY and SIGHARD NECKEL
This article examines the symbolic order of the relationships between various social
groups in disadvantaged neighborhoods and shows that ethnicity is the main reference point of derogatory designations or ‘negative classiﬁcations’. Using two districts in German cities as examples, the semantic patterns of mutual negative classiﬁcations among autochthonous individuals and their Turkish neighbors are reconstructed. Upwardly mobile individuals of Turkish origin are the most frequent targets of stigmatization. This fact is explained by the existence of a deep symbolic dimension of social inequality that conceives of ethnicity in terms of kinship relations. The socially inclusive or exclusive effects of negative interethnic classiﬁcations and the related classiﬁcation struggles depend on three factors: the internal, i.e. gradual or categorical logic of the classiﬁcation patterns;
the form and process of conﬂict resolution; and the social contexts in which negative classiﬁcations are used. While the disintegrating effects of negative classiﬁcations are curbed by institutionalized norms in local politics and economic life, there only exist informal performative norms of interaction in the life-world, and here these classiﬁcations can more easily lead to social exclusion and ethnic separation.
The social structure of modern societies represents an order of objective inequalities among social classes, professions, ethnic groups and the sexes. Differences in social structure always give rise to interpretations and evaluations that not only shape the social exchanges among various groups, even in their most minor everyday life interactions, but that also determine the ‘daily class struggle’ (Bourdieu, 1990 : 134). Social structure can thus be said to form a symbolic order that is based on mutual classiﬁcations among different social groups — that is, on categorizing labels and evaluations.
Symbolic orders that are produced in the daily interaction among different social groups grant recognition and show disrespect in various ways. The corresponding classiﬁcations inﬂuence the groups’ opportunities to acquire material and cultural assets and have a direct impact not only on the objective structure of social inequalities, but also on the respective groups’ potential to integrate. ‘Negative’ (meaning pejorative or discriminatory) classiﬁcations are especially relevant to integration, since classiﬁcations can exclude certain social groups from participating in society.
In an ethnographic research project conducted in two disadvantaged urban neighborhoods between 2002 and 2005,1 we studied the exclusionary and, at times, integrative effects of negative classiﬁcations. However, before we present the main goals Translated from the German by Adam Blauhut.
1 The project was entitled ‘Negative Klassifikationen: Ideologien der Ungleichwertigkeit in den symbolischen Ordnungen gegenwärtiger Sozialgruppen’ [Negative Classifications: Ideologies of © 2006 The Authors. Journal Compilation © 2006 Joint Editors and Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published by Blackwell Publishing. 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main St, Malden, MA 02148, USA Interethnic classification struggles in German city neighborhoods 799 and central results of this research project, we would like to systematically examine the concepts of social classiﬁcation and of classiﬁcation struggles.
Social classifications Social classiﬁcations and their positive or negative evaluations are universal human phenomena. As scholars from different disciplines have shown, they structure the social environment and provide a foundation for guiding the actions of people and groups.
Furthermore, classiﬁcations are orientation systems that allow individuals and groups to deﬁne their place in society (see, in particular, Douglas, 1973; Tajfel, 1981; Bowker and Star, 2002). In sociology, the concept of classiﬁcation is inextricably linked to the name Durkheim and his thesis of a ‘social constitution of the categories’ (Durkheim and Mauss, 1963 ; Durkheim, 1976 ). Taking ‘primitive classiﬁcation’ in totemic societies as an example, Durkheim endeavored to show that such fundamental concepts as space and time, force and causality, as well as the rules of logical association reﬂect the inner structure and operation of their respective societies and are even causally determined by them. Durkheim derives entire cosmologies from social order — that is, from the morphological and organizational properties of the societies he studied.
According to Durkheim, the complex division of these societies into tribes, phratries and clans on the one hand, and marriage classes on the other, determines the categories to which natural phenomena are assigned as well as their relations to one another (as is well known, the key mechanism linking nature and society is the system of totems, which assigns particular trees, animals and celestial bodies to the tribes, phratries, clans and marriage classes).
Durkheim’s great accomplishment was to identify classiﬁcation as an important aspect of culture and to incorporate it as a theoretical concept into sociological analysis. Durkheim also emphasized the collective nature of the categories that form the basis of social and cosmic orders and that control the perceptions of social groups.
In doing so, Durkheim demonstrated that social categorizations are ‘collective representations’ (Durkheim, 1976 : 435) — ideas that do not emerge from the mental states of the individual but which lie deep within social structures and precede individual thought. This implies that classiﬁcation systems are as variegated as all historical forms of society and that they vary according to historical, social and cultural contexts. In this sense, each and every society is ‘an individuality itself, which has its own personal physiognomy and its idiosyncrasies’ (ibid.: 444).
That being said, the speciﬁc formulation and derivation of these fundamental insights in Durkheim’s work have been criticized by many. In addition to raising serious empirical, logical and methodological objections to the notion of a direct parallelism between social structures and classiﬁcation systems, scholars have rejected Durkheim’s basic evolutionary assumption that all later classiﬁcation systems have their original form in totemic society. Further, the causal interpretation of the connection between the organization of society and the ideas prevalent in it has proved untenable (Lukes, 1985: 435). Nonetheless, it can be a very productive undertaking to study the connection Durkheim postulated between symbolic classiﬁcation and social structure (cf. Needham, 1969: xxxvi; Allen, 1994: 62). With an eye toward the classiﬁcations that predominate in current symbolic orders of social inequality, one must emphasize that Durkheim’s theory is tailored primarily to structural aspects: to the inner structure of classiﬁcation and knowledge systems and to their relationship with the properties of social structures.
Inequality in the Symbolic Orders of Current Social Groups]. It was affiliated with both the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt am Main and the research association ‘Desintegrationsprozesse — Stärkung von Integrationspotentialen einer modernen Gesellschaft’, which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The research team included Ina Walter in addition to the two authors.
Classification struggles The strengths of Durkheim’s structural theory result in grave ﬂaws from the perspective of a theory of action. Durkheim lacks a set of conceptual instruments to accommodate a basic feature of social classiﬁcations, namely, the fact that they are generated and perpetuated by concrete practices of social action. Worsley (1956) rightly criticizes the mechanical view of societies and collective knowledge structures in Durkheim’s late work on the sociology of religion (1976 ), in which, as Worsley points out, social action plays a negligible role. This criticism, which excludes Durkheim’s description of collective rituals (Joas, 1987: 282), is particularly applicable to the essay on classiﬁcation that Durkheim co-authored with Mauss (Durkheim and Mauss, 1963 ). Naturally, classiﬁcation patterns are not generated anew with each single action but already form its basis. They guide it as long as they do not become problematic themselves. But this does not change the fact that classiﬁcation systems are crystallizations of past classiﬁcation acts.
In response to Durkheim’s extensive blindness to action theory, one must ﬁrst object that classiﬁcations, rather than being mere static phenomena, are an objectiﬁcation of a process known as ‘classifying’ (cf. Ellen, 1979: 27). Further, it must be pointed out that within individual societies there exists a variety of classiﬁcation systems that may come into conﬂict with each other. One reason Durkheim overlooked this point is that his studies focused principally on the social makeup of the categories used by societies to
grasp their natural environment. Here one encounters a one-sided classiﬁcation process:
plants, animals and stars are not able to protest against their assignment to the order of things or engage in the act of categorizing themselves. By contrast, classiﬁcations of the social environment are embedded in a two-way process (Starr, 1992: 157). They touch upon the identities of individuals and groups, who can in turn confront the classiﬁers with their self-image and challenge the legitimacy of the ‘foreign’ image being imposed on them. As Starr (ibid.) emphasizes, this is particularly true of modern democratic societies.
By focusing on a structural homology between society and categorical world disclosure (Welterschließung), Durkheim also loses sight of the content of the social classiﬁcations that he uses as models for cosmologies and basic categories of human thought. When separated from content, however, the ‘social’ aspect of classiﬁcation systems is ‘a label on an empty jar’ (Worsley, 1956: 53). The cognitive identiﬁcation of groups, to which positive or negative evaluations subsequently become attached, is itself a classiﬁcation that is often fought over. But Durkheim attaches as little importance to this as to the diverse meanings that individual classiﬁcations can take on in social use. Their use not only performs a denotative descriptive function, but is also characterized by manifold connotations and by various links to different semantic ﬁelds. For instance, the person who calls welfare recipients ‘social parasites’ not only places them in the category of individuals who make illegitimate demands on the welfare state. He also triggers associations with the disagreeable parasites from the animal kingdom and methods of dealing with them. These different levels of meaning typically manifest themselves in symbolic struggles between different social groups.
It was above all Bourdieu (1984 ; 1990 ) who shed light on the evaluative, relational and conﬂictual properties of social classiﬁcations. These properties are extremely important in modern societies since they do not, at least in principle, grant social recognition or show contempt according to the asymmetrical patterns of inherited group privilege. In such societies, hierarchies of economic and cultural capital that are based on the availability of both material resources and utilizable knowledge are not entirely self-perpetuating. Rather, the value of status positions must be constantly renegotiated. This is the source of evaluative social struggles in which the symbolic capital of social recognition is the prize. The resulting ‘hierarchy of values granted to individuals and groups’ (Bourdieu, 1990 : 135) creates the symbolic order of a International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30.4 © 2006 The Authors. Journal Compilation © 2006 Joint Editors and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Interethnic classification struggles in German city neighborhoods 801 society which is organized along the lines of ‘the logic of difference, of a differential variation’ (ibid.: 133; see also Neckel, 1991: 231).
Against this backdrop, Bourdieu regards classiﬁcation conﬂicts as ‘symbolic struggles for the power to produce and to impose a vision of the legitimate world’ (1990 : 134; cf. Bourdieu, 1984 : 479). What distinguishes symbolic power from the other forms of power that are based on physical, economic and social capital is the fact that the enforcement of a world-view depends on recognition by others (Bourdieu, 1998 : 47). Bourdieu largely views recognition of a world-view and the corresponding social demarcations as tacit approval of the conditions of an established order — an order that seeks to camouﬂage its arbitrary foundations in the aura of the natural. However, Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic power only assumes a speciﬁc meaning when he sufﬁciently emphasizes the dependence of symbolic power on recognition by others and thereby gives reasons for the relative autonomy of symbolic capital in relation to other forms (cf. Schwingel, 1993: 103).
In consequence, the symbolic sphere is never secure and particularly prone to struggles among social groups. According to Bourdieu, the ‘classiﬁcatory systems’ that groups struggle to enforce or overturn on a daily basis are ‘overtly or covertly aimed at satisfying the interests of a group’ (1984 : 477). Even if opposing formulations can be found in Bourdieu’s work, this theory would suggest that the criteria of utility can be understood as being ultimately deﬁnitive for ‘collective representations’. In symbolic struggles, however, normative reasons for action can also be relevant because they articulate the moral concepts, lifestyles and collective identities of social groups.