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«Bashing the Migrant Climbers: Interethnic Classification Struggles in German City Neighborhoods FERDINAND SUTTERLÜTY and SIGHARD NECKEL Abstract ...»

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The question of whether empirical classification struggles represent an instrumental and rational pursuit of group interests or whether they are norm-oriented recognition struggles cannot be settled in advance with a selection of this or that action theory. This is why Bourdieu’s set of analytic tools needs to be expanded if one wants to understand classification struggles that follow a ‘moral grammar’ (Honneth, 1996 [1992]). Such struggles emerge from experiences of disrespect and, from the viewpoint of the individuals involved, justify a legitimate claim to social recognition (ibid.: 160). On the other hand, this does not mean that social struggles which emerge from the experience of disrespect always promote emancipatory processes or are positive per se. They can, after all, take on a violent form of problem resolution (Sutterlüty, 2002).

Independent of this issue, though, we must identify where social classifications are primarily generated in modern societies and in what arenas classification struggles are fought. Institutions, in particular, are constantly — though often invisibly — involved in classifying the phenomena in their fields of activity. Douglas (1986) has impressively shown the performative effects of the institutional ‘work of classifying’. With the rise of institutions in the early nineteenth century, ‘new kinds of people spontaneously came forward in hordes to accept the labels and to live accordingly’ (ibid.: 100).

Classifications created by institutions also play an important role in life-world (Lebenswelt) exchanges between different social groups. Classifications are not only reinterpreted here, but become part of struggles over social recognition. They are also used in political distribution conflicts. Distinctions between work and non-work (Conrad et al., 2000), between handicapped and non-handicapped persons (Powell, 2003), and between the needy or non-needy citizens of the welfare state (Neckel, 1996) are paradigmatic examples of the ways the historical evolution of institutionally created categorizations is transferred to life-world discourse.

Yet institutions are just one social arena where one witnesses the production of classifications that then spread to the whole of society and contribute to creating social inequalities. The ‘power of classification’ (Neckel, 2003) also manifests itself in media constructs of reality and in political interpretations, producing symbols of public recognition or stigmatization. A prime example of this in Germany is the regularly recurring debate on the so-called ‘social welfare cushion’, the ‘do-nothings’ and the ‘lazy unemployed’ (Uske, 1995; Oschmiansky, 2003), in which political strategies and the media practice of scandalizing victims join in a dubious alliance.

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Below the institutional, media and political levels, recognition and disrespect are primarily negotiated in the local interaction among social groups. Here the use of graphic labels gives concrete form to the symbolic order of social space. Examples of this include the characterizations of opposing groups as ‘vermin’, ‘losers’, ‘bankruptcy artists’ and ‘corporate crooks’. The range of interpretations offered by both the media and the world of politics perpetuates such classifications without entirely explaining their emergence, form or receptiveness. Official descriptions, media messages and institutional classifications are constantly interpreted in very specific ways in the immediate interaction among social players. They become a resource for local classification struggles that in part follow a semantics and conflictual logic all their own.

We would now like to turn our attention to these classification processes in neighboring social space.

In what follows, we will present the key results of our research project ‘Negative classifications’. We will proceed in three steps. First, we will briefly explain the goals and empirical basis of our study, which we carried out in two socially disadvantaged city neighborhoods.2 In the second and most extensive section, we will examine the predominant semantic patterns of negative classification, particularly those drawing on ethnic attributes. Based on these classifications we will analyze the idea of ethnic ‘kinship’ as one of their major but widely hidden sources. Finally, in the third section, we will discuss the integrative consequences of negative classifications and the related classification struggles.

The ‘negative classifications’ research project The research project focused on the semantics and social uses of derogatory designations or ‘negative classifications’ by different social groups who encounter one another as neighbors in socially disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. It pursued three objectives.

First of all, we aimed to reconstruct the structural patterns of negative classifications.

For this purpose, we studied the material content of currently dominant forms of derogatory labels. The goal was to understand the stigmatizing semantics that shape the interaction among neighboring groups. ‘Who classifies whom and in what manner?’ This was our central question. We wanted to find out whether current negative classifications are based on attributes of vertical inequality (occupation, income, education) or attributes of horizontal inequality (especially ethnicity). In other words, we identified the negative classifications that determine the symbolic order of social inequality in disadvantaged city neighborhoods. One of our focuses was the inner logic that individual classification patterns follow. Are they ‘only’ disparaging, or do they also serve to symbolically exclude the classified persons from full-fledged membership in local society?





2 The term ‘disadvantaged’ refers to the fact that the populations of the two city neighborhoods do not have access to the average opportunities of other city residents. As we will show later, these neighborhoods have higher unemployment rates and a larger number of welfare recipients than other districts in the two cities; in Germany, neighborhoods of this type tend to be inhabited by migrants. The study was conducted in disadvantaged neighborhoods because social integration, which was its focus, is a much more pressing issue here than in other areas. We are not suggesting that rich and ethnically homogeneous districts are necessarily more integrated. Rather, ‘integration’ is frequently seen as a problem in disadvantaged areas by both the residents and by political decision makers. Indeed, privileged and highly mobile people are not dependent on social contacts and integration at the neighborhood level. For socially disadvantaged population groups, however, the neighborhood is the most important arena of integration and acquisition of social capital (Keupp, 1987: 39). This was the most important reason we examined socially disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The two concrete areas were chosen because they differ largely in terms of the size of the migrant population and because they exhibit opposing modes of interethnic conflict regulation.

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 803 The second level of analysis dealt with the manner in which classification struggles are fought — that is, negative classification as a process. We studied how pejorative designations become part of the interaction among various population groups and examined which contextual conditions are responsible for the different types of classification struggles. Of special interest was whether these struggles unfold openly or are hidden from view.

The third level of our study was devoted to the consequences for integration — that is, the impact that negative classifications and their attendant classification struggles have on the opportunities for integration among the affected individuals and social groups.

Empirical basis The study has an ethnographic orientation, and its methodological approach is based on grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987; Strauss and Corbin, 1990).

We examined two urban neighborhoods and, as it turned out, we observed similar classification patterns, yet entirely different types of classification struggles in both.

The first neighborhood is located in Barren,3 a city in Germany’s Ruhr region. BarrenOst, the specific area under study, is a traditional working-class neighborhood with roughly 13,000 inhabitants, and it faces structural problems typical of the Ruhr region since the decline in coal mining. In May 2004, it had an unemployment rate of 16.9%, with 9.9% of the resident population on welfare. At this time, non-German nationals made up 10.6% of the population, which was only slightly above the average for the entire city. Barren-Ost is perceived as a neighborhood where Turkish migrants have an exceptionally strong influence. The main reason for this perception, which cannot be inferred directly from the statistical data, is that there are a larger number of mosques than in other city districts and Turks own businesses at prominent locations.

The second area under study, Iderstadt, is situated in the large city of Raisfurth in the south of Germany and is also a former working-class neighborhood. Its 19,000 inhabitants include a high percentage of socially disadvantaged groups. In June 2004, the jobless rate in Iderstadt was 13.8%, which was high for the region, and in the month before there were also a large number of welfare recipients, coming in at 11.8%. The district has a very heterogeneous ethnic makeup: in May 2004, non-German nationals represented 42.7% of the population. In terms of the objective figures, this substantially higher percentage of migrants is Iderstadt’s largest difference from Barren-Ost. Iderstadt is the subject of two overlapping descriptions: on the one hand, both residents and nonresidents often portray it as a colorful ‘multicultural’ neighborhood or, with a touch of social romanticism, as the ‘Raisfurther Bronx’. At the same time, it is generally believed to be a hotbed of social problems, an area whose social equilibrium is jeopardized by the high percentage of socially disadvantaged groups and the ethnically heterogeneous population (Table 1).

In terms of ethnic affiliation, we primarily concentrated on the autochthonous and Turkish populations.4 It was not only pragmatic research reasons that motivated us to 3 We have changed the names of places and proper nouns used in this article to preserve anonymity.

4 The terms ‘autochthonous’ and ‘Turkish’ are self-assessments by the persons under study.

‘Autochthonous’ individuals are those who define themselves as Germans. They sometimes include people with non-German ancestry — in Barren-Ost, for instance, the large group of locals known by the Polish names of their forefathers who came to the coal mines of the Ruhr region one century ago. ‘Turkish’ also relates to a person’s self-definition, which is not always identical with nationality.

German nationals of Turkish descent usually define themselves as Turks and as members of a Turkish community. This is also true of the second and third generation of Turkish migrants. It is to a large extent the outcome of the persistent ethnic classification practices among the autochthonous population.

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focus on the group of Turkish migrants: in both areas, Turkish migrants were very frequently stigmatized, and in both they constitute by far the largest group with a nonGerman nationality. As of May 2004, 47% of all non-Germans in Barren-Ost were Turkish nationals, and in Iderstadt the figure was 44%.

The data pool was acquired by ‘theoretical sampling’ (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) and can be described as follows: as in traditional field research, from September 2002 to May 2004 we continually observed ‘natural’ situations in which members of various social groups communicated directly with one another or spoke collectively about others — such as meetings held by a district initiative in Iderstadt and blood drives in BarrenOst organized by a mosque association. In addition, during the period from October 2002 to August 2004 we conducted 45 individual interviews and six group discussions, the latter involving unemployed persons, church congregation members, and sports and migrants’ associations. We had two criteria for selecting interviewees: first, we chose individuals who had taken part in the situations directly observed by us, that is, individuals who were involved in classification processes and were able to provide additional information and perspectives. Second, since it was important for us to achieve variance across the levels of vertical and horizontal inequality, we talked to individuals from different social classes (from middle-class businesspeople to welfare recipients) and of different ethnic affiliations, ages and sex. Finally, we supplemented these data by collecting and analyzing written documents such as articles and ‘letters to the editor’ in local newspapers. All these materials have been analyzed using the interpretive procedures of grounded theory and its three-phase coding paradigm (Strauss and Corbin, 1990).

The semantics of negative classifications The predominant patterns of negative classifications in both areas can be divided into two types. This distinction — namely, between gradual and categorical classifications (Neckel and Sutterlüty, 2005; see also Berger, 1989) — is essential for understanding the integrative consequences of the observed classificatory patterns.

Gradual classifications evaluate persons and groups in terms of quantitative differences. Perceived characteristics are judged on the basis of comparative standards and positioned along a continuous scale. The traits and particular characteristics of people are compared using a common measure of more or less, higher or lower, better or worse. Classifications of the gradual type are primarily associated with acquired attributes such as income, education and professional status, and these attributes are most often seen not only as changeable but also as negotiable in terms of social value.

What is crucial in this process is that the classifier and the classified are assumed to share the evaluated characteristic.

Categorical classifications, on the other hand, are qualitative judgments of otherness.



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