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Stratified Belonging, Layered Subjectivities

Zong Yao Edison Yap

6. Conclusion

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A Cosmopolitan Integration and Integrating Cosmopolitanism

1This ePaper has raised as many questions as it has sought to address. A brief encounter at a mobile phone shop in Kreuzberg which hinted at the possibility of an inter-Arab social support network in Berlin instead led me to quite an unexpected discovery – that the most common discrimination faced by the newest wave of refugees in 2015 came from the older generation of Arabs instead of Germans.

2In line with the above lesson – i.e. the dangers of generalisation – my research has offered a more nuanced understanding of the multiple subjectivities in refugees’ experiences of discrimination and integration in Berlin that belies simple generalisation or homogenisation. Like the Turkish-Germans in Mandel’s Cosmopolitan Anxieties, the refugees’ and migrants’ responses to discrimination and integration – though narrated through conversations rampant with accounts of discrimination – highlight their creativity in challenging stereotypes, trying to fit into the dominant German society by performing German-ness, and rejecting markers of German-ness and re-ethnising oneself (as in Ahmad’s subsequent rejection of alcohol).

3Moreover, by including the voices of ten other migrants who themselves have varied positionalities along the dimensions of ethnicity, socioeconomic class, nationality, residential status, and so on, I have not only demonstrated the cross-cutting experience among refugees and migrants that undermines the fixity of categories, but also underlined the very difficult and complex project of integration as (state) institutions seek to consider and address refugee-specific issues (e.g. their legal status, discrimination linked to their refugee status, limited communication from their homeland etc.). Additionally, by contrasting my research findings to Ruth Mandel’s Cosmopolitan Anxieties as well as Esser’s integration theory, my paper contributes to and complicates the issue of integration by underscoring the generational and cumulative impact of poor integration of early immigrants or refugees (i.e. Turkish Germans and early Arab immigrants and refugees) on the integration and feelings of discrimination by newer waves of refugees.

4Considering the findings that this research has gathered, what then can we say about the issue of integration in Berlin, a city which is renowned for its liberal cosmopolitanism and alterity? Further, how can a cosmopolitan worldview be commensurate with refugee integration? Here, it is necessary to revisit Appiah’s definition of cosmopolitanism which consists of two parts: the first strand is an obligation to others that transcends blood relations and shared citizenship, while the second strand is an appreciation and championing of differences and the values and actions that underpin them (Appiah, 2006, p. xv). This therefore implies the need to respect others’ prerogative to exercise their freedom and, to varying degrees of their choosing, to re-ethnicise (e.g. tostick together within their own ethnic communities or to form a parallel society or multiple such societies in the host city or country), to assimilate (i.e. to give up parts or all of their culture and adopt the markers of German-ness, whatever these markers might be), or integrate (i.e. to show a willingness to be open to German culture and society while the society does likewise, and to have access to an equitable distribution of the society’s social, cultural, economic, and political resources) (Heckmann, 2015, pp. 82; 288).

5Through my interviews with Canan, Ahmad, and Sam, however, I have shown that this “respect” for various markers of German-ness (e.g. an openness to alcohol and pork consumption, acceptance of homosexuality, or even just late-night partying) can be a performance by those with migration backgrounds to fit into the dominant culture. This inherent duality in one’s public performance and private convictions (i.e. passing in Goffman’s sense) underscores the limits of a so-called “cosmopolitan integration”, for the very pretence and performance of German-ness inadvertently legitimises and reinforces the dominant culture and the migrant’s own marginality. Hence, I return to Appiah’s admission that “the position worth defending might be called … a partial cosmopolitanism” (Appiah, 2006, p. xvii). Where Berlin or Germany lies in the spectrum of this partialness depends greatly on how the city or the country identifies itself. Yet this leads one to an even larger issue of trying to define the contours of German-ness – as has been shown, this elusive, dynamic, and diffused notion is never static. Cemal’s account of how his experiences with discrimination changed as global and regional discourse moved from focusing on EU-Turkey accession to the Muslim question following 9/11 underlines how the centre-periphery configuration is ever-changing. In other words, Germany’s “identity” was defined against Turkey’s incompatibility with European and German ideals; then, with the 9/11 attacks, this “identity” was reoriented to an “East versus West”, “West versus Islam” binary. The above elusiveness of what constitutes German identity becomes even more diffused as one looks within the German borders since Germany is a federation of Bundesländer (states) which possess an incredibly diverse set of cultures and (transnational) histories. While the country admitted itself to be a land of immigration when it made integration a legal duty of the German government in 2015 and showed greater commitment to integration when it passed the Integration Act in 2016, whether or not Germans and Germany integrate the cosmopolitan worldview into their (national) psyche, accepting that differences can coexist harmoniously with equal citizenship and rights for all individuals remains to be seen (Barbieri, 1998; Brubaker, 2010; Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, 2016).


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