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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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Turkish individuals — or to be more precise, the Turks influenced by Islam — characterize the German population as ‘impure’ in a moral or sexual sense because of their alleged promiscuity. This sexual licentiousness, viewed as ‘unnatural’ from a strict Moslem viewpoint, arouses feelings of disgust and is seen as supporting the idea that the sexual morality defined by Islam is superior to that of the Moslems’ German neighbors. This goes hand in hand with the idea of a morally inferior German population.

‘Kinship’ as a deep symbolic dimension of social inequality It is striking that, of the classification patterns discussed so far, a large number target upwardly mobile Turks, successful Turkish businesspeople and, in Barren-Ost, migrant organizations that are active in local politics (Sutterlüty and Walter, 2005). They are thus directed at a social type that Hüttermann (2000) describes as ‘foreigners on the advance’.

This applies to the following four classification patterns: ‘Turkish-style Protestant work ethic’, ‘expansionist desire to take over’, ‘shady dealings’, and ‘rational parasitism’ in the sense of a strategic participation in district processes, oriented toward personal gain or the gain of one’s own group.

In these cases, the individuals who are stigmatized find themselves at a specific interface between vertical and horizontal inequalities. They combine economic success or political influence with the attribute of their Turkish origin. Members of an ethnic group that was once associated with the idea of a subaltern guest worker are now occupying higher-level positions. This reshuffles old status hierarchies: the autochthonous population does not want to be overtaken by its Turkish neighbors, nor does it want to accept that its lead is diminishing. The partial shift in the old constellation 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 809 of ‘outsider’ and ‘established group’ (Elias and Scotson, 1965) fuels the tendency to deprecate upwardly mobile Turks.

To a certain degree, the frequent negative classifications targeting upwardly mobile Turks can be explained using figuration sociology: the established group wants to safeguard its position from former outsiders. However, a question remains that cannot be answered with figuration sociology alone: why is it the upward mobility of Turkish migrants in particular that is viewed as such a virulent problem? After all, Turkish businesspeople have important attributes other than their ‘newcomer’ status. This fact is not accommodated by the figuration sociologists Elias and Scotson, who argue that the established group wants to defend its privileges from and insist on its superiority over the outsiders — a group that, it is important to keep in mind, does not differ from the outsiders in ethnic terms.

In Barren-Ost and Iderstadt, the idea of ethnic affiliation as a form of kinship plays a crucial role in the stigmatization of the economically successful and politically active groups in the Turkish population. To be more precise, autochthonous individuals are driven by the essentialist idea that they are ‘related’ to their own ethnic group and ‘not related’ to the Turkish population. We call this a deep symbolic dimension of social inequality. It is ‘deep’ insofar as the groups are not aware that they perceive interethnic inequality relations through the lens of kinship. It occurs behind their backs, as it were, and is not knowledge they have conscious access to.

We were made aware of this dimension of social inequality by two blood drives initiated by the congregation of a Turkish mosque in Barren-Ost and conducted by the German Red Cross. The drives ended in an affront to the mosque congregation: a Red Cross doctor informed the mosque that the blood from the first drive was ‘poured down the drain’. As can be imagined, this brought an abrupt end to the drives. An analysis of this complicated incident revealed a number of reasons for the rejection of ‘Turkish blood’, as it was referred to several times (for full details see Sutterlüty, 2006). We would like to discuss these briefly here.

The rejection of the blood was based on fears that members of the mosque congregation wanted to enter into a symbolic ‘kinship’ with the autochthonous population, acquiring full membership in the local society through an exchange of blood.

On the one hand, these fears were rooted in the idea of a biological blood relationship among the members of the autochthonous group, and on the other, in the idea that an acceptance of ‘Turkish blood’ would encourage reciprocal exchange relations between both groups. The blood transfer would have strengthened the idea that Turks and Germans are responsible for each other regardless of ethnic affiliation. The exchange between equals was foiled so that the solidarity shown quasi-relatives would be reserved for the autochthonous group.

This quasi-family system of morality, based on the idea of reciprocity between relatives, is the driving force behind negative classifications of the upwardly mobile parts of the Turkish population. This was made apparent, for example, by a statement we heard at a meeting in Barren-Ost that addressed the demands of the Foreigners’ Advisory Board and the mosque associations in connection with the above-mentioned district revitalization program. A German woman living in Barren-Ost said: ‘They want our German money!’. Her statement conveys the implicit conviction that the money must remain in our family; we are not responsible for theirs.





The extremely effective ‘kinship’ model of ethnicity, grounded in a ‘belief in blood relationship’ (Weber, 1978 [1922]: 393), provokes individuals to fight any ethnically neutral distribution of material goods. According to the logic of this model, solidarity must first be reserved for a person’s own ethnic group, which is conceived as an alliance of relatives and associated with ‘primordial sentiments’ of affiliation (Geertz, 1963).

Equal participation by migrants does not fit into this particularistic picture. Because of such ideas, the upwardly mobile section of the Turkish population raises the specific problem of interethnic exchange, which guides the search for behavioral features worthy of criticism and produces the negative classifications of upwardly mobile Turks

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described above. The deep symbolic structure of the kinship model is one of the most important generative principles of these classifications.

Integrative and disintegrative consequences of negative classifications To evaluate the exclusionary impact of negative classifications, one must first distinguish between symbolic and social exclusion. Whereas classifications are by definition situated on the symbolic level, that is, on the level of interpretation and evaluation, social exclusion takes place on the level of action and consequence. Three factors determine whether negative classifications can have an exclusionary effect on the social level: their formal structure, that is, their categorical or gradual nature; the ways in which classification struggles are fought; and the functionally differentiated sub-area of society on which they are mainly based.

Social exclusion and the formal structure of negative classifications It stands to reason that categorical classifications are especially well suited to excluding the targeted persons and groups from social participation since they inherently follow an exclusionary logic. Our study largely confirmed this.

Gradual classifications tend not to exclude. For example, the attribution of a ‘Turkishstyle Protestant ethic’ does not prevent Turkish migrants from buying buildings or running businesses. Categorical classifications, however, clearly tend to have socially exclusionary effects. An example of the ‘dissocial German’ classification was provided by the Turkish owner of an electronics wholesale business in Iderstadt, who in principle refuses to hire German employees since he believes that they lack the necessary work ethic: according to him, they are only concerned with vacations and want immediate payment for overtime. Incidents described by a Turkish landlord in Barren-Ost show that the ‘shady dealings’ classification also has an exclusionary impact. In his experience, German apartment seekers do not want to have a ‘criminal’ or ‘underhanded’ Turk as a landlord. Because of these ascribed traits, Turkish property owners in BarrenOst have a difficult time attracting tenants from the German majority. These incriminating classifications clearly preclude interethnic integration and foster tendencies of separation.

The effects of different types of classification struggles Barren-Ost and Iderstadt present us with two contrasting examples of interethnic classification struggles. In both city districts the population engages in classification struggles in very different ways.

In Barren-Ost there is a high degree of responsiveness between the autochthonous and the Turkish populations. The Turkish migrants promote their interests quite vehemently, fighting for political and material participation in local society. The actions of the Foreigners’ Advisory Board and the Turkish Islamic associations are in many ways characteristic of struggles that have the normative claim to a positive recognition of cultural and religious differences. These groups fight for social recognition of their lifestyle — even its Islamic orientation — in response to related experiences of disrespect. On the other hand, the autochthonous population and its decision-makers in the neighborhood are prompted to define their own positions on the Turkish population’s concerns and demands. For this reason, it is not surprising that in Barren-Ost the Turkish and autochthonous populations engage in classification struggles in a relatively open manner. They are quite direct when making their negative classifications of opposing groups. In this case, ‘public transcripts’ (Scott 1990) predominate.

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 811 A conflict-mediated mode of integration would seem predestined for this constellation. According to Simmel, conflict is itself a ‘form of sociation’ (Vergesellschaftung) because it produces ‘interaction’ between the parties to a conflict (Simmel, 1971 [1908]: 70; see also Dubiel, 1995). According to this view, conflicts can promote permanent exchange relations between these parties. The various conflicts in Barren-Ost that unfolded publicly between the mosque associations and the Foreigners’ Advisory Board on the one hand, and the autochthonous population and its decisionmakers on the other, reveal the integrative force of classification struggles. Above all, these examples show three things.

First, the opponents remain relevant to each other. They cannot afford to be indifferent as long as they are involved in a conflict. Second, such conflicts offer the opportunity of at least a partial correction of negative classifications. And third, the mediating influence of universalistic norms can only come into play and mitigate the consequences of interethnic classifications if there is a conflict between ethnic groups. Only then does the less powerful group, in particular, have the opportunity to make effective use of inclusive norms that stand above ethnic boundaries, including norms associated with equal opportunity.

The constellation in Iderstadt is more complex, but one certainly observes a low degree of responsiveness in the relationship between the autochthonous and Turkish populations. In this neighborhood there were no migrant groups or migrant representatives to respond to concrete examples of stigmatization. As a consequence, there was no noticeable reaction among migrants to the above-mentioned attacks by the Iderstadt initiative. Such behavior would have been inconceivable in Barren-Ost. Even the large group of Turkish migrants in Iderstadt does not seek to promote its interests with district authorities, and it hardly participates in local political processes at all. The mosque congregations have withdrawn from the public arena and are not fighting for recognition of their lifestyle. In this district, classification struggles are being fought at a distance, and conflict-avoidance strategies shape the process. ‘Hidden transcripts’ (Scott, 1990) predominate in Iderstadt — negative classifications between the ethnic groups are mostly communicated internally within each group.

At a cursory glance, one might be tempted to see Iderstadt as an example of a very modern mode of integration, one that Häußermann and Siebel (2004: 11) describe as the ‘integrative mode of urban indifference’. In this mode, integration is solely performed by individuals whose interaction is confined to specific roles: these groups encounter one another as customers and sales clerks in shops, as parents in school, and so on. A requirement for this mode of integration is a respect for foreignness; there is less of an emphasis on the recognition of concrete difference, that is, on the recognition of particular cultural orientations and lifestyles. This respect for foreignness does indeed exist in individual cases in Iderstadt. It is reflected in the area’s image as a colorful, tolerant, multicultural neighborhood. But there are a large number of negative classifications of both the Turkish and German populations in Iderstadt that are not at all compatible with any such respect for foreignness. Since reciprocal classifications remain ‘hidden transcripts’ in Iderstadt, there is no conflict-mediated correction of negative classifications. As a result of the derogatory images, any social interaction beyond what is absolutely necessary is limited to a person’s own ethnic group. The negative classifications undermine the tolerance and respect for foreignness essential for the ‘integrative mode of urban indifference’.



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