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Stratified Belonging, Layered Subjectivities

Zong Yao Edison Yap

2. Literature Review

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1In the field of migration studies, the concepts of cosmopolitanism and integration have rarely been placed into conversation with each other, with the exception of Ruth Mandel’s Cosmopolitan Anxieties, which examines the complexities and polysemic nature of belonging and citizenship experienced by Turkish immigrants in Germany, and where she uses her findings to highlight the limits of cosmopolitanism in Berlin (Mandel, 2008).

2To set the stage for subsequent analysis, this chapter examines Hartmut Esser’s integration theory, related concepts such as “assimilation”, “integration”, and “cosmopolitanism”, and the relationship between discrimination and integration through the works of a series of scholars (Berry, 1997; Birman & Trickett, 2001; Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999; Skrobanek, 2009; Uslucan & Yalcin, 2012; Appiah, 2006; Nussbaum, 2019). Finally, through the work of Ruth Mandel, I introduce her findings on Turkish immigrants’ troubled belonging in Berlin and her subsequent commentary on the capital city’s cosmopolitanism.

3With the conceptual elements of this research outlined and defined, I discuss how my research is situated vis-à-vis the works of these scholars.

2.1 Harmut Esser’s Integration Theory

4German sociologist Hartmut Esser distinguishes between two basic components when it comes to integration: system integration and social integration (Esser, 2001, pp. 3–8). Because this research focuses on refugees’ and migrants’ experience with integration in Berlin, I will be focusing on refugees’ and migrants’ social integration.

5According to Esser, social integration can be achieved through four dimensions: culturation, positioning or structural integration, interaction, and identification. Culturation refers to individuals acquiring essential knowledge and skills (i.e. language skills and cultural and behavioural norms) to be able to act and interact in an appropriate and successful manner in the host society – i.e. regular intermingling between migrants and locals in the host society and migrants’ high language proficiencies facilitate understanding and communication with members of the host society. While culturation refers mainly to the migrant population, it does not preclude a two-way process which includes cultural adaptations by the host society (Heckmann, 2015, pp. 72–73).

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6Structural integration or position refers to the occupation of a specific social position by the actor in the social system – this, to Esser, is the most important stage in social integration. Positioning can occur through the conferral of certain rights which citizens of the country of destination are privy to, such as citizenship, the right to vote, the attainment of professional and other positions (usually dependent on one’s education and skillset), and the availability of opportunities (Esser, 2001, p. 304). Additionally, one’s positioning is intricately tied to one’s culturation (e.g. one’s language and cultural competences). To acquire a position requires a degree of acceptance from the host society, yet this can be impeded by the presence of discrimination1 – this however, and importantly in the context of this research, does not mean that migrants do not discriminate against one another. With successful placement or positioning, one can pursue greater levels of economic and social capital; this, in turn, facilitates one’s access to other forms of capital such as institutional and political capital (Esser, 2001, p. 10).

7Interaction refers to a kind of social conduct where individuals mutually orientate themselves based on one another’s knowledge and behaviour. The earlier interaction occurs, the easier it is for one to integrate (Esser, 2001, p. 74). Naturally, to be able to interact necessitates the opportunity of an encounter; this means that interactions are adversely affected by ethnic segregation (e.g. geographic marginalisation of communities) (Esser, 2001, pp. 10–11; 73). Once again, culturation and positioning are crucial facilitators of or impediments to interaction among migrants and locals of the host society.

8Finally, identification refers to an emotional relationship between the migrant and the host society. It can take the form of a collective spirit and is a process of becoming a member of collective structures of the ethnic, local, and national levels of the host country. The other three dimensions are crucial to the formation of this emotional connection, thus highlighting the degree of interdependence among the four elements of integration. As in the case of the other three dimensions, a migrant’s emotional identification with the host society is insufficient for social integration: the host society also needs to be open to – or at least tolerant of – the migrant (Esser, 2001, pp. 12–15).

9Taken together, Esser’s four dimensions of social integration demonstrate the complexity of a refugee’s or migrant’s integration into the host society as it underlines integration’s highly context-specific nature. Not only does successful social integration depend on the setting of the host country or city, but it also depends on the migrant’s initial positionality (e.g. his or her appearance, culture, language ability, religion, etc.) and conditions in the host society (e.g. national identity, culture, and history) (Esser, 2001, pp. 25–28; 74; Heckmann, 2015, pp. 279–282).

2.1.2 Comparing Assimilation with Integration

10Based on the above four dimensions of social integration, four possible outcomes of social integration are possible, according to Esser: (1) multiple integration into both the host country and the country of origin; (2) marginalisation, where one is integrated in neither the country of origin nor the host country; (3) ethnic segmentation where the migrant is integrated either in the country of origin or an ethnic community of the host country; and finally, (4) assimilation as integration into the host country. For Esser, the likelihood of multiple integration occurring is rather low; consequently, social integration can only occur through two outcomes – ethnic segmentation or assimilation. In the context of successful social integration from the perspective of the host country – and in this paper, Berlin or Germany – the likely favourable outcome is thus assimilation (Esser, 2001, pp. 21; 73).

11Before expounding further on the issue of integration, it is important to clarify Esser’s definition of assimilation vis-à-vis other conceptions that distinguish assimilation from integration. Assimilation is often taken to mean a migrants’ individual decision to give up their cultural identity and adopt that of the dominant culture, whereas integration consists of two parts: the migrant who wishes to integrate and take on a meaningful role in the host society, and the host society being open to accept the migrant; this also means that, in integration, some cultural integrity is retained while the migrant seeks to adjust to the norms of the host society (Berry, 1997; Philipp, 2008).

12Contrary to the above definitions of integration and assimilation, Esser sees assimilation not as a complete erasure of migrants’ cultural identity. For him, assimilation is the complete erasure of systematic differences in distribution of resources and opportunities across all individuals of the host society (Esser, 2001, pp. 21–22; 73–74). Put differently, while social inequalities still exist in assimilation, these inequalities should not differ according to one’s ethnic group. In the context of this paper, which examines the relationship between discrimination against refugees and their integration trajectories, both definitions (i.e. “cultural integrity” and Esser’s focus on equity) are highly salient.

13To resolve the aforementioned terminological issue, I will use Friedrich Heckmann’s definition of integration, taking into consideration Heckmann’s understanding of integration as both (i) a dynamic two-way process that could take generations and (ii) an outcome. Integration as a process is where one becomes a member and adjusts to the living conditions in the host country over time; this process occurs bidirectionally, so the society must also show an openness to support the newcomer. As an outcome, integration should mean one’s ability to participate equally in the political, economic, educational, and cultural realms of the host society, regardless of one’s ethnicity or social background (Heckmann, 2015, pp. 82; 288).

2.2 Linking Discrimination to Integration

2.2.1 Discrimination and Re-Ethnicisation

14Studies have investigated the relationship between perceived and actual discrimination and the integration or assimilation of people with migration backgrounds (Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedder, 2006; Birman & Trickett, 2001; Branscombe et al., 1999; Uslucan & Yalcin, 2012; Wakenhut & Forsterhofer, 1998). Uslucan and Yalcin (2012) and Wakenhut and Forsterhofer (1998) found that ethnically based discrimination and the perceived non-permeability of ethnic group boundaries have a direct effect on Turkish immigrants’ sense of group identity and an indirect impact on inter-ethnic behaviour. The more youths perceive their own group as being discriminated against, the more they perceive ethnic group boundaries as impermeable (Uslucan & Yalcin, 2012; Wakenhut & Forsterhofer, 1998). Furthermore, studies have also shown that immigrants who experience discrimination are likely to reject assimilation or integration, and be more oriented to their own (ethnic) group, i.e. increased in-group identification (Berry et al., 2006, p. 326; Birman & Trickett, 2001; Branscombe et al., 1999).

15Discrimination against people with migrant backgrounds can also indirectly affect their integration in the host society by leading to poorer performance in school, reduced access to employment, increased risk of violence, and worse mental and physical health (Uslucan & Yalcin, 2012). For Uslucan and Yalcin (2012, p. 56), mundane, experiences of everyday forms of discrimination such as receiving “uncomfortable” looks from others or having one’s presence ignored by others can be consequential for one’s identification with the host society.

2.3 Linking Integration to Cosmopolitanism

16The studies on integration outlined above have on one hand spanned the fields of social psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and have revolved around the management of immigrants in a host country or society and their reasons for dissociating from the dominant culture or society. On the other hand, works on cosmopolitanism have largely existed within the politico-legal-philosophical spectrum, beginning early on from Diogenes the Cynic’s version of cosmopolitanism, to Kant’s theory of cosmopolitan right, Hegel’s subsequent response to his work, Karl Jasper’s writing on German Guilt during the Nuremberg Trials, and so on (Hegel, 1991; Jaspers, 1961; Kant, 1970, 2001; Nussbaum, 1997).

17While the idea of cosmopolitanism is seemingly a straightforward ideal based on the notion of world citizenship, the term and concept are highly polysemic and complex in nature and an extensive discussion of the multiple strands and nuances therein is beyond the scope of this paper. Here, it suffices to briefly discuss what cosmopolitanism means and how it could be linked to integration. In the concluding chapters of this writing, I take a deeper look at cosmopolitanism as a concept and discuss what that could mean in the context of my findings and of Berlin as a supposedly cosmopolitan city.

2.3.1 Cosmopolitanism According to Appiah

18Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) offers a good sense of what cosmopolitanism is. According to Appiah, cosmopolitanism comprises two interlocking strands: the first is that “we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship”, and the second is “that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance” (Appiah, 2006, p. xv). As a cosmopolitan, one should interact “on terms of respect with those who see the world differently” because there is something to be learned from these differences (Appiah, 2006, pp. 144–146).

19Importantly, this also means that as a cosmopolitan one should not simultaneously claim to respect human diversity and yet demand that everyone be cosmopolitan. As Appiah puts it, “the obligations of those who wish to exercise their legitimate freedom to associate with their own kind … are only the same as the basic obligations we all have: to do for others what morality requires” (Appiah, 2006, p. xx). This also relates to the conundrum that cosmopolitanism is universality plus difference: some values are and should be universal, just as others are and must be local; it is not possible for us to reach a final consensus on which values ought to belong to each category, but it is possible for us to have an exchange, or as Appiah calls a “conversation”, with those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Consequently, we discover the common interests and values we share, and we learn from the differences in our thinking, feeling, and acting (Appiah, 2006, p. 97).

20Extrapolating the preceding discussion on cosmopolitanism to the issue of integration, integration would then mean that the host society not only respects the peculiarities and differences that migrants bring with them, but also respect that migrants themselves might not want to adopt such a cosmopolitan worldview. In the context of a cosmopolitan Berlin, the above would require, for example, that a Muslim migrant respect the alcohol and pork consumption lifestyle of a German local even though that might contravene his or her Islamic beliefs and practices; or that a Berlin resident respect a refugee’s decision to wear the headscarf or any Islamic dressing, even though he or she perceives that practice to be a “patriarchal oppression of Muslim women”. The latter example is useful to underscore why a conversation (in Appiah’s sense) is valuable, for if a German who is against the wearing of the headscarf engages in an open and respectful conversation with a Muslim migrant, he or she might learn the multiple subjectivities of her doing so. It might be that the Muslim woman’s husband had demanded her to do so, but it also might be that she had done so out of her own volition without pressure from any male figure whatsoever. Engaging with those who hold very different beliefs and worldviews will also help the dominant society and its residents see the incredible heterogeneity that belies the reductive, essentialised images they harbour of migrants and their cultures; and it also helps them see the multitude of parallelisms between German society and non-German societies, undermining undermining the assumption that people might have of an impermeability or incompatibility between specific cultures and societies.

2.3.2 Ruth Mandel on the Turkish Struggle with Belonging(-ness) in Berlin

21In Cosmopolitan Anxieties, Ruth Mandel (2008, pp. 2–4) examines the complexities and polysemic nature of belonging and citizenship experienced by Turkish diaspora communities in Germany, who sometimes feel neither here nor there, and at other times feel trapped between deracination from their homeland and a troubled rootedness.

22Drawing on two decades of ethnographic study, Mandel observed the strategies used by Germany’s residents to define themselves, their relationships vis-à-vis one another, and their positionalities in Germany and in their homeland. By unpacking these heterogeneities and documenting the nebulousness of shifting identities, Mandel challenges the fixity of belonging and shows how a resident’s “fitting in” transcends the traditional confines of one’s origins, language, religion, ethnicity, and so on. These processes of “fitting in” sometimes adopt ready-made models already defined by Germans, while at other times they re-appropriate and refashion such models.

23Mandel gave the example of “Kanak Sprak” as an example of such a re-appropriation. The German word Kanake is an extremely derogatory word used in the 1970s to refer to non-German foreigners – especially the Turks. Although the term is considered a slur, it was appropriated by minority Germans in the late 1980s in hip hop circles and is similar in connotation to US rappers’ use of “niggah”. In 1995, Turkish-German author Feridun Zaimoğlu came up with the ethnolect, Kanak Sprak, through his book, and by the late 1990s, Kanak Sprak had become part of German mainstream pop culture and had permeated the lexicon of Germans without an immigration background. With respect to this, Mandel says that Zaimoğlu managed to avoid the “cultural reproduction of dominant and dominated, as well as the conventional tropes of abjection, speechless, and exploitation” (Loentz, 2006; Mandel, 2008, pp. 201–203).

24In another example, Mandel cites how Turkish-Germans who left the “land of the infidels” (i.e. Germany) and felt at ease to return to the Balkans were initially treated there as “esteemed, long-lost relatives”; but that excitement soon morphed into something more disappointing as their time in Germany had “fundamentally changed” or “tainted” them, thus rendering them impure (Mandel, 2008, pp. 241–245). Lastly, in her chapter “Veiling Modernities” Mandel examines how the headscarf has become a polysemic article and site of contesting moral visions of Germany and Turkey. Instead of reinforcing their subaltern position as objects of patriarchal oppression, Turkish women in Germany use the headscarf as a form of resistance and marker of identification of their Islamic or personal identity (Mandel, 2008, pp. 294–302).

25Through the above examples, Mandel shows that “any attempt to identify Turkishness or Germanness with a specific genetic myth of national origin constitutes a violent misunderstanding of what identity is. Its danger lies in presupposing that identity must be given a priori, either as a mode, to be imitated or as a model to be created”

26(Mandel, 2008, pp. 4–8). These examples also belie common portrayals of Turks that have relegated them to “tropes of abjection” (Mandel, 2008, p. 3). More importantly, through vignettes of Turkish-Germans’ marginality – although such peripheral positionalities are always changing along with moving definitions of German-ness – Mandel underscores how the “high visibility of Turkishness in nearly all districts in Berlin… challenges many Berliners’ image of themselves as cosmopolitan”. She thus describes Berlin’s cosmopolitanism as “selective cosmopolitanism” (Mandel, 2008, p. 14): “If cosmopolitan implies multicultural fluency, the acceptance, even celebration of differences, many German Berliners, perfectly at home with the French countryside, Chinese cuisine, or Italian film, still fail spectacularly when it comes to speaking the language of tolerance towards the Turkish Germans” (Mandel, 2008, p. 6).

2.4 Situating the Paper

27Given that the 2015 “refugee crisis” is a relatively new phenomenon, my research not only extends Mandel’s study of the integration-cosmopolitanism nexus to the case of refugees in Berlin, but it simultaneously addresses an analytical gap in Uslucan and Yalcin’s study that is best encapsulated in the question: how do refugees’ experiences of discrimination and integration differ from those of other migrants in Berlin? Since in this paper the refugees interviewed are all Syrian and have been granted refugee status, they are allowed to travel outside of Germany but not back to Syria – as the latter would mean that they no longer need the protection of the German government (Sanderson, 2018). Consequently, how does this travel restriction influence their communication and relationship with their family and friends back home? And how might this impact their integration in Germany? Furthermore, how has the refugee label impacted their social integration in Germany?

28With the 2015 “crisis” in Germany, we now have two prominent waves of immigration before it – the first is the influx of Turkish guest workers beginning in the early 1960s, and the second is that of the Lebanese and Palestinian refugees fleeing the civil war broadly from 1975 to 1990. This paper therefore allows us to document how the latest wave of refugees has experienced discrimination and integration vis-à-vis these two populations of Turkish and Arab immigrants. Do the 2015 refugees receive significant support from their Middle Eastern neighbours, or do they instead face marginalisation from them? Building on this question, how do a country’s past integration policies (or the lack thereof) impact its subsequent integration of other migrants?

29Taking into consideration the potential insights that will be gathered from investigating the preceding questions, in the concluding chapter, this ePaper shall re-examine the extent to which Berlin is cosmopolitan. Using criticisms of Berlin and German cosmopolitanism expressed by migrants and refugees, this paper argues that the degree of cosmopolitanism possible in the city, country, or region is, to a large extent, tightly coupled with the contours of Germans’ collective (and constructed) identity.



I define “discrimination” in this paper as the “unequal treatment of an individual or group on the basis, other than one’s merit, of a set of ascriptive characteristics (e.g. ethnicity, origin, age, socioeconomic class, gender, etc) for which no objective or legitimate justification exists”. For an in-depth discussion on the conceptual debate and contours of discrimination, see Salentin (2007, pp. 34–35). Further, I take “stereotype” to be “an overconfident belief associated with a category… [which] serves to justify (rationalise) our behaviour concerning this category” and “prejudice” to refer to “an ensemble of culturally-based opinions or attitudes about persons, groups, or facts” (Allport, Graumann, & Graumann, 1971; Uslucan & Yalcin, 2012).


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