The fact that some second-generation immigrants were involved in the brutal terror attacks in major European cities such as in Paris in 2015 and Brussels and Munich in 2016 exacerbated xenophobia among politicians and the broad public. These terrible incidents increased scholarly interest in the integration of second-generation immigrants further, and heightened anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiments across Europe and far-right.
In addition to the terror attacks, economic restructuring and growing poverty amongst the working-class have also resulted in the rise of far-right in Germany. This has become visible with the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) movement and strengthening of the Alternative For Germany (AFD). In this regard, the host society often tends to relate the Turkish second generation's social and economic disintegration to marginalisation and ‘Islamisation’.
In such a context, studying the stigmatisation of ethnic minorities and immigrant groups reveals discrimination, stratification and ethnic boundaries. Along similar lines, the destigmatisation strategies of minorities, how they respond to the majority to maintain their dignity, achieve recognition and invest in their integration, are equally revealing.
My Identities article, 'Disadvantaged, but morally superior: ethnic boundary making strategies of second-generation Turkish immigrant youth in Germany', examines how social, political and structural changes in Germany increase anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments. By drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic data with twenty second-generation Turkish immigrant youth, the article reveals the kind of stigmatisations Turkish immigrants (the largest Muslim group) face, and, more importantly, how they deal with these stigmatisations in their daily lives.
The external definitions we are given, i.e. how others define us, become an inescapable part of our internal self-definition. Such external labelling is more effective if it is done with institutional legitimacy and governmental authority. This separation of a population into ‘us’ and ‘them’ can have serious consequences for people from subordinated groups.
A clear example of this kind of external labelling can be observed in the frequent reports of the Swedish National Agency for Education concerning 'educational underachievement' of students with foreign background in Sweden. This labelling primarily indicates a negation of everything ‘Swedish’. According to this understanding of Swedishness, not all of those who were born or brought up in the country are Swedes. A Swede is born of parents who are native-born ‘Swedish’, has a ‘Swedish’ appearance and name, and speaks Swedish without a foreign accent. Secondly, in these reports, the offspring of immigrants, a very heterogeneous population in terms of country of origin, class background, length of residence in Sweden and age at arrival, are lumped together as one homogenous group and labelled 'students of foreign background'.
What the recipients of these reports (which are widely broadcast in the media) understand is that these students always lag behind those of 'Swedish background', thereby putting a strain on Sweden’s educational system. Such descriptions hide the internal variability between young people in these categories. and indicate the ‘racial inferiority’ or ‘cultural backwardness’ of young people with an ‘immigrant background’. This also fails to take into account the growing proportion of young people with migrant parents who do not define themselves (at least not initially) by their migrant background.
In my Identities article, 'Constructions of self-identification: children of immigrants in Sweden', I investigate the self-identification of a sample of young people with various migrant backgrounds in Sweden. In a survey, we asked them how they present themselves for others in different contexts (in school, in the neighbourhood or outside Sweden).
The results demonstrate that young people with a migrant background challenge the forced labelling of the state agencies. They actively negotiate various forms of identity and belonging; they construct a variety of self-identifications and present themselves in diverse ways in various contexts. They construct and reconstruct forms of identification in their daily lives, in school, the neighbourhood and outside the country. The question of choosing an identity label is intimately connected with where they are and who the others are; thus, identifications are not fixed and bounded but a relatively fluid, situational and dynamic process.
Some of the respondents self-identified as Swedish or hyphenated (e.g. Iranian-Swede). Many others hold on to their parents’ country of origin (e.g. Iraqi or Bosnian). A smaller group chose a religious label.
Moreover, the various characteristics of young people and the social environment around them are associated with a certain form of self-presentation in everyday life and in different contexts. These characteristics may include features of their friendship networks, the class position of their parents or the degree of stigmatisation of people from their parents’ countries of origin.
Blog post by Alireza Behtoui, Södertörn University, Sweden
Read the full article: Behtoui, Alireza. Constructions of self-identification: children of immigrants in Sweden. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1658396