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Learning to Fly while Staying Grounded

Immigration literature typically defines incorporation as equality of life chances for immigrants and their children. Implicit in these analyses of receiving contexts’ impact on differential outcomes, is the assumption that once objective, i.e. measurable, incorporation is reached, subjective incorporation, i.e. belonging, will follow. This feeling of belonging – although frequently heralded as the ultimate desirable outcome – is ironically vastly undertheorized in immigration scholarship. More universal concepts of belonging, as developed by urban and feminist scholars, remind us that belonging is not limited to immigrants and refugees. Instead, it is part of the everyday power struggle between dominant and marginalized groups. Furthermore, these scholars view belonging as much more relational and fluid than immigration literature generally assumes. By focusing on local rather than national belonging, scholars study the (temporary) exclusivity or inclusivity of public and private spaces, as well as active, often gendered, “homemaking” practices in everyday life. 


Drawing on a cross-cultural comparison between Bielefeld, Germany, and Detroit, Michigan, this project analyzes how Iraqi refugees develop a sense of belonging in postindustrial cities. Theoretically, the study fills a gap in the immigration literature by providing a conceptualization of belonging that centres the emotional experiences of forcibly displaced individuals. Empirically, the multi-methods project helps us understand how we as a society may be better able to accommodate the needs of those who have been uprooted.

Geographies of Trauma

The sexual harassment by mostly North African asylum seekers during the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany, has frequently been described as a turning point in the German refugee debate. More importantly, it became a catalyst for a ‘strange bedfellow alliance’ between the New Right and a conservative strand of feminists who presented the incident as evidence for the alleged misogyny of Muslim men. Drawing on a discourse analysis of two major New Right newspapers (Junge Freiheit and Preussische Allgemeine Zeitung), a right-wing online blog (Politically Incorrect News), as well as a major German feminist magazine (Emma), the project analyzes how this seemingly paradoxical convergence could develop. Theoretically, it demonstrates the highly spatialized logic of anti-refugee narratives. Empirically, it draws attention to the necessity of critically assessing the legal definition of a refugee status grounded in an ostensibly neutral human rights framework.

Two Worlds Colliding

In comparison with segregation, racially mixed neighborhoods may appear to offer a ray of light. However, research on diversifying areas has consistently failed to look behind the scenes of these neighborhoods. The case study of racially and economically diverse Sheridan Park in Chicago, Illinois demonstrates what interactions, or the absence thereof, together with the physical environment can tell us about ongoing racial tensions. Through ethnographic observation and unstructured interviews with residents, the project shows that even if marginalized individuals are not physically displaced, they may still be symbolically displaced. By making them feel unwelcome, primarily white residents work to exclude People of Color from their own community. Diversity should thus not be equated with integration.

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