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Pathways of Migrant Incorporation in Germany


In this essay we examine five different pathways by which migrants with whom we have worked are incorporating themselves within Germany. Our approach to incorporation brings into the literature on migration the insight that social integration can take place within a process of social and cultural differentiation, a point that has been developed in work on ethnic identity in Africa and in US studies of multiculturalism and cultural citizenship (Schlee and Horstmann 2001; Flores and Benmayor 2000). However, rather than focusing on cultural and identity processes, we begin with an interest in the context of social relations out of which cultural similarities and differences are defined.

To differentiate our definition from the dominant discourse about migrant integration, we will speak of pathways of incorporation. In examining these pathways of incorporation, we note that migrants often live their lives in more than one nation-state at the same time. In four of the five pathways we describe, migrants become connected through social linkages and various forms of identity to Germany that at the same time connect them to organisations, communication systems or identities that extend transnationally (Glick Schiller, 2004).

All five pathways challenge ways in which migrant integration is commonly conceptualised within German discourse and public policy about Ausländer. The fact that there are five pathways identified from our research highlights the weakness of past migration studies that tend to cast all patterns of migration settlement into the same mode arguing for a single model of migrant integration.

The five pathways we identify through our research can be called (1) Christian modernists, (2) local public foreigners, (3) familial networks, (4) vernacular cosmopolitanisms and (5) regional cosmopolitanism. In describing these five modes of incorporation, we draw from Boris Nieswand’s ethnography of Ghanaians in Berlin, Nina Glick Schiller and Evangelos Karagiannis’ ethnography of Nigerians and Congolese in Halle/Saale, Günther and Isir Schlee’s data on Somali in Germany, Holland and England, and studies of German Turkish media in Berlin by Ayse Çaglar and of Russian media in Berlin by Tsypylma Darieva. Lale Yalçin-Heckman contributes comparative points drawn from her research on Muslim labour migrants’ families and associations in Germany and France.

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