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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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Such evaluations of perceived attributes do not result in a ranking on a continuum but 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 805 rather in a juxtaposition of mutually exclusive categories. Particular characteristics are seen as equal or unequal, similar or different, and as qualifying individuals as insiders or outsiders. Classifications of this type are primarily rooted in ascribed attributes such as ethnicity, religion or sex. They are for the most part viewed as unchangeable and nonnegotiable in terms of social value. Categorical classifications appear as pairs of opposites: black or white, man or woman. No common ground is required between the classifier and the classified, and for this reason they lend themselves particularly well to processes in which social communities interpret the inequality and differences of other groups as a sign of their inferiority.

The central role of ethnicity A finding of overwhelming evidence was that negative classifications based on ethnicity predominate in the two neighborhoods. In both Barren-Ost and Iderstadt, ethnic affiliation constitutes what Hughes (1971) calls an individual’s ‘master status’. Mutual perceptions are determined by whether an individual is German or non-German (including Turkish). Other characteristics appear to be secondary or subordinate.

An individual’s ethnicity acts as a kind of filter for other classifications: how certain characteristics are evaluated depends on ethnic affiliation. Nonetheless, many aspects of vertical inequality play an important role in ethnic classifications. In other words, attributes of vertical inequality are evaluated negatively only when they are linked to particular ethnic groups. This can occur, for example, when economically successful Turkish migrants are the victims of stigmatization, or when criticism is leveled at the allegedly ‘demanding’ attitudes of unemployed Turks and Turkish welfare recipients, who are seen as exploiting every last benefit of the welfare state.

It is worth noting here that in both neighborhoods one also encounters negative classifications based solely on vertical inequalities. For instance, the residents of BarrenOst are familiar with the figure of a Sesselpupser, or ‘armchair fart’. This stereotypical description of an office worker hails from the neighborhood’s mining days, when hard physical labor was a source of social respectability and white-collar professions did not enjoy the best reputation. Negative classifications also address welfare recipients and the unemployed, which was entirely expected.

Nonetheless, although ethnic classifications always target specific groups in the neighborhood, classifications involving socially disadvantaged groups mostly remain


and vague. For example, citing reports in the media, German residents repeatedly stated their belief that some welfare recipients received benefits illegally, but corresponding classifications were very rarely linked to concrete persons or groups from neighboring social space — migrants being the only exception. Generally, there was widespread recognition in both areas that precarious social situations today are primarily the result of economic developments.

Interethnic classifications of the gradual type ‘A Turkish-style Protestant work ethic’ In Barren-Ost and Iderstadt, autochthonous individuals repeatedly spoke of the hardworking and self-sacrificing lifestyle of the Turkish population, in which family discipline and frugality were key values. In other words, Germans ascribed to this group a ‘Turkish-style Protestant work ethic’ — to use, and slightly modify, a phrase by Wohlrab-Sahr (1998).

The autochthonous groups view this work ethic as a traditional yet disappearing part of their own history, one that is still present in the Turkish business community, giving it an undeserved competitive edge. According to this logic, successful Turkish business

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proprietors and building owners are backward yet dangerous competitors. Attributes such as work ethic, discipline, frugality and a willingness to defer one’s own needs are not generally judged negatively. These classifications are not categorical evaluations since they can apply to German individuals and businesspeople too. They involve gradations of shared traits, and any negative assessment arises from the fact that the Turkish people are seen as having ‘an excess’ of the described work ethic.

Among the Turkish population, one finds a counterpart to classifications that assign them a ‘Protestant work ethic’. On a cognitive level, the Turkish businesspeople view themselves in the same way that they are described by their German neighbors, but they regard their work ethic in a positive light. Furthermore, they use this standard to disparage the lifestyle and mentality of their German neighbors (see the ‘dissocial German’ classification discussed below).

‘An expansionist desire to take over’ In both areas under study, there are widespread negative classifications that depict Turkish migrants — especially businesspeople and active mosque associations — as making ‘expansionist claims to power’: ‘They want to take over everywhere’ is one way this was expressed by autochthonous individuals.

With such classifications, the German residents not only criticize the ‘takeover’ of what they view as their traditional terrain. They also accuse successful Turkish businesspeople and migrant associations of being driven by a desire to expand and seize space. They frequently project the actions of individual Turkish migrants onto the entire Turkish population pars pro toto. Although the Turks’ ‘desire to take over’ is evaluated negatively, the Germans do in fact admire their business acumen and entrepreneurial risk-taking. Once again, criticism is leveled at an excess — here we have gradations of a non-exclusive attribute. Even so, the semantics of the ‘expansionist desire to takeover’ can shift from the gradual to the categorical, which happens, for instance, when these semantics lead to a clear-cut delineation as friend or enemy.

Sheer ‘mass’ or ‘number’ A third gradual classification pattern criticizes the number of migrants in the neighborhood, particularly the number of ‘Turks’. ‘There are too many Turks’ can often be heard from autochthonous individuals in both areas studied. Classifications like this have evidently little to do with the objective size of the Turkish population. This pattern is an example of a gradual classification, one that focuses on more or less, on a gradual numerical relationship.

At times, this classification pattern cropped up without additional semantic definition;

other times, explanations were added: autochthonous individuals said that they felt ‘like foreigners in their own neighborhood’ or that the high percentage of migrants was harming the neighborhood’s reputation. They also claimed that the migrants’ presence was causing real-estate prices to fall. In this classification pattern, which portrays the Turkish population as ‘too large’, quantity can change to quality and also assume a categorical character — namely, at that point when the Turkish residents are judged to be an undesirable element whose numbers should be reduced by political measures.

Interethnic classifications of the categorical type ‘The dissocial German’ Among residents of Turkish origin in both Barren-Ost and Iderstadt, there exists a cluster of negative classifications that portray parts of the German population as ‘dissocial’ in various ways, or that criticize ‘German mentality’ generally as ‘dissocial’. Such 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 807 classifications are based on a categorically different lifestyle and ascribe an inferior or even debased mentality to the ‘Germans’. Three versions of this classification pattern can be identified.

The first is primarily used by upwardly mobile Turks and Turkish businesspeople who explain the precarious economic situation of many German residents as resulting from their constant visits to bars, their consumer-oriented lifestyle, as well as their sexual mores, which tear families apart and ultimately lead to financial ruin. The German lower classes are portrayed as dull, uneducated, unkempt and prone to alcoholism. They are thus placed in direct proximity to the ‘asocial’. Here, the dissocial traits assigned to them are linked to the idea of slovenliness and a lack of discipline.

A second version of dissocial classification focuses on the German population’s poor work ethic, laziness and unwillingness to do without luxury. This is the counterpart to the ‘Turkish-style Protestant work ethic’ mentioned above. The dissociality that is ascribed to the German population centers on the belief that Germans are soft and spoiled.

The third version portrays the German population as cold and accuses it of having a

possessive, individualist mentality. This classification is primarily focused on the family:

for example, it is claimed that German parents are egotistic and assume no responsibility for their children, that they prefer to sit their kids down ‘in front of the TV’ and leave them to their own devices. Adolescents in German families, say the Turks, make no scruple of asking their parents for large allowances, and Germans do not take care of older family members but abandon them to the Social Services Department. In this case, dissociality is related to inconsiderateness in the family.

‘Rational parasitism’ The next classification pattern brings us back to the ways the autochthonous residents describe particular groups in the Turkish population. It comprises classifications that converge in what Zilian and Moser (1989) describe as ‘rational parasitism’. When people are classified as ‘parasites’, they are symbolically excluded from respectable society.

The parasite is the antithesis to the upright individual who only lays claim to what he is entitled to. Hence, this is a categorical classification, of which there are two patterns.

The first, briefly mentioned above, was encountered in both areas under study and is based on the Turkish residents’ interaction with what autochthonous individuals several times referred to as the ‘German’ or ‘our’ welfare system, which — so runs the argument — the Turkish residents are particularly clever at taking advantage of.

The second pattern of parasite semantics was only found in Barren-Ost. It involves politically active migrant groups, particularly the local mosque associations and the Barren Foreigners’ Advisory Board, which, among other things, wanted to have a say in awarding funds from Soziale Stadt Nordrhein-Westfalen, a district revitalization program that includes the area of Barren-Ost. The suggestions from the Foreigners’ Advisory Board and the mosque associations, once they were made public, became the target of harsh criticism. Opponents argued that the Turkish population had previously shown no interest in the district, and only now, when there was ‘something to be had’, did the Turks dare to make ‘impudent demands’. During these conflicts, explicit mention was made of ‘parasites’ on several occasions. This pattern of ‘rational parasite’ classification is lacking in Iderstadt because there are no comparable efforts by Turkish groups to participate in local processes (see the related section below).

‘Shady dealings’ A third classification pattern of the categorical type targets businesspeople and property owners of Turkish origin whom the German residents accuse of making money by illegal means. Since it is based on a categorical distinction between legitimate and illegitimate

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competitors, the ‘shady dealings’ classification aims to symbolically exclude these individuals from economic competition.

In Iderstadt, for example, there were widespread efforts to criminalize Turkish businesses by a local initiative and its supporters, who sometimes suggestively and sometimes quite openly linked noise, dirt and crime to migrants, particularly to the Turkish population. Activists in this initiative called Turkish businesses ‘meeting places for thieves and fences’ and accused Turkish family-run businesses of illegally pocketing funds from public business development programs that the activists regarded as being closed to German businesspeople. Aside from this initiative, one repeatedly hears talk of dubious Turkish businesses or ‘money laundering’. Similar categorizations can be observed among the autochthonous population in Barren-Ost, where, in contrast to Iderstadt, local groups portrayed not only Turkish businesses but Turkish property owners and landlords as criminals.

The ‘unclean’ Classifications that distinguish between the ‘clean’ and the ‘unclean’ play an important role in both city neighborhoods. These classifications symbolically ostracize anyone perceived as ‘unclean’ from the arena of possible social contact, since they evoke the idea that the ‘clean’ will be sullied by any such contact. This is therefore a categorical classification pattern.

This pattern appears in two entirely different forms in the autochthonous and Turkish populations. German residents stigmatize Turkish individuals as being ‘dirty’ in a literal sense, claiming they lack sufficient hygiene. This reveals a perception of Turkish inferiority originating in the idea of a less advanced culture. A particularly dehumanizing ideology of inferiority was revealed by the owner of an Iderstadt photo shop, who described a nearby Turkish bakery as disorderly and dirty — as a place where the ‘fourlegged rats’ that can be seen on the neighborhood streets at night nest and breed. This man let on that there was such a thing as ‘two-legged’ rats for him too.

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