Yildiz, E.: Migration moves and shapes society, 2013

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Urban life in its rich multiplicity

Places open up to the world. In our everyday lives we are constantly being confronted with different, contradictory elements that are connected in a worldwide mesh of communication. The concepts “cosmopolitan everyday life“ or “transnational biographies“ express this transformation. From this perspective, globalization is a process happening here and now. It appears as something ordinary, everyday. Globality is a set of quite everyday experiences. It can be seen as a transformation of the contexts in which our life unfolds. In the meantime, our spaces of experience and conception have been global in scope, especially as a result of technological and electronic possibilities for transport and communication. A kind of mobile sedentary life or sedentary mobility appears to be a characteristic feature of global societies. It sparks trains of thought, increasingly influencing how our lives are shaped.
It was precisely a migration across borders in the wake of industrialization which stamped the character of large cities right from the start, contributing significantly to making our everyday life more cosmopolitan and pluralistic. Basically, urban development and urbanity are inconceivable without in-migration. Looking at the most important benchmarks of European migration history, we can see that being sedentary over several generations is a kind of myth. Experiences of mobility and their associated diversity and heterogeneity have also left their formative stamp on urban life. Already 110 years ago, half of the 400 million residents of Europe changed their place of residence at least once in their lifetime, across national borders or from one continent to another. That tendency increased in the upheavals of the two great wars.
More and more people are on the move, traveling on through: pupils, students, scholars, computer specialists, artists, staff of global firms. And of course labor migrants, refugees, including the undocumented, the so-called illegals. So it is not only the existence of migration which is new today. Rather it’s the fact that at the beginning of the 21st century, migration is affecting almost all countries on the planet. And most migration is not taking place, contrary to official perception, in Europe, but rather in the so-called ’developing world’.

However, along with the possibilities which such worldwide connections offer the individual in everyday life, there are national boundaries of nation-states and the associated controls on mobility, as well as economic and political discrimination that hamper migration.

Change through migration: Keupstraße in Cologne as a success story

As a result of an influx of migrants after WW II and labor migration since the 1960s, neighborhoods have arisen in Cologne that are shaped by this migration process. One such ’quarter’, is exemplary in its development and public perception in the city, is Keupstraße in Cologne-Mülheim. At the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood developed into an important industrial area and a classic working-class neighborhood through the influx of workers who sought to live near the factories where they worked.
Persons of differing origin and beliefs moved in and settled in Keupstraße over the years, only to move on and out of the area. The last group of migrant workers to come in consisted largely of Turkish migrants. As a result of economic crisis and the de-industrializing of the neighborhood, many were left jobless. The last German shop owners closed their stores and moved elsewhere. The empty apartments, restaurants and shops were then gradually taken over by in-migrating Turks. Opening an independent business was for most the only way out of joblessness. Stores were renovated and reopened, small service outlets, shops and restaurants stand one next to the other. Soon the facades of buildings and apartments were also renovated and remodeled.
However, the discrepancy between this everyday reality of reinvigoration and public perception is striking. For years, the municipality and mass media in the city warned about the ghettoization of this neighborhood, about how it was becoming a ’slum’. Keupstraße in Cologne became a watchword and metaphor for the “parallel Turkish society in town“. As a result of this construction of a negative image in the media and public perception, the Social Services Ministry in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia commissioned a study in 1999 about life in Keupstraße (see Dokumentation Keupstraße 1999). This study issued a sharp word of warning about the danger of a ghetto in formation and called for a “balanced mixture in the local population“ in order to put a halt to processes turning the neighborhood into a virtual slum.
In a study I directed 2000 to 2007, we investigated everyday life in this neighborhood in greater depth and detail. Our aim was not to see neighborhoods stamped by migration as a reflection of the ’world of origin’ of the migrants now settled there, or some sort of extension of their ’original culture’, but rather to view it as something new, developing under restrictive conditions within the host society. Our focus was on the experiences of mobility of the residents, making their own perspectives visible, their own voice audible, and seeing this as a component of migration processes.
It became evident that Keupstraße is not a closed, self-contained “parallel society“, but a highly differentiated and flexible quarter, one whose residents can justifiably be termed “precursors“ of globalization. The special flair of this residential quarter can be best described as ’Oriental staging’, as is familiar in other metropolitan spaces, such as New York, Toronto, Vienna or Berlin. In this process of construction, the mixture of cultural elements which seemingly stem from the migrants’ country of origin is shown to be a business strategy, a concession to prevailing European conceptions of what is ’oriental’. The society of the land of emigration is not reorganized here. Rather, new traditions are invented. Life styles and stores have long reflected a kind of “glocality“ (Robertson 1998), an everyday reality differentiated by its cosmopolitan character.
In any interviews we see diverse social and cultural experiences that overlay and cross over one another. Most of the residents identify with the neighborhood, emphasize the high quality of life there, and even “old-timer“ German residents, mostly express a sympathetic distanced attachment. People have come to terms with developments on the ground, and see the situation as quite positive, though somewhat ’exotic’ from their German vantage. “We gotten integrated in the meantime”, said an older German man; another commented: “when my relatives come to visit, they say it’s like taking a vacation abroad“.
Many residents maintain family, social, and economic relations across borders. These worldwide networks are qualitatively new circumstances which arise in local contexts on the basis of a globalized society (see Yildiz 2005). Cosmopolitan intercultural competence consists specifically in the ability to absorb local concrete processes and to recode them on a transnational basis. We have urgent need of that ability in today’s everyday world.

In contrast with public “ghetto discourse“, migrant neighborhoods like this are not only evidence for the ways in which everyday life is rendered cosmopolitan and pluralistic. They also corroborate successful strategies for dealing with the challenges of our era, and for successfully reinvigorating urban neighborhoods through in-migration.

Migration as a resource: diversity as a basis for intercultural learning

It is interesting how a traditional view of things can radically change when viewed as pragmatically necessary. Cologne’s candidacy in 2004 as the “cultural capital of Europe 2010“ is a telling example. Cologne’s bid bore the motto that was something of a riddle for outsiders: “We live it”. Reference was to the practical everyday relevance of intercultural living together in Cologne, and the natural way in which this was accepted. In the application, Cologne presented itself as a city “open to the world”, multilingual, multi-religious and transnational.
For the sake of submitting an application, the history of Cologne was reinterpreted as a history of migration. In the course of reinterpreting the past and its reconstruction, migration was showcased as a resource for the development of Cologne into a new transnational locality. At the same time, the urban space for people became a field for new action and a didactic project for intercultural learning.
Simultaneously, the way the media dealt with migration changed radically. The local media presented their new discovery of cultural diversity in the city on a daily basis. In this reinterpretation, Cologne became a space of possibilities, a place for learning, and the history of migration became a history of success. Migration, which keeps cities alive and in motion, opening up new spaces for action, becomes a process full of opportunities, which in turn stimulates innovation and reflection.
This symbolic upgrading of the value of urban spaces through migration – and thus the new, unfortunately temporary habitus of the city as a migration city (the application was unsuccessful and Essen was chosen instead) – created a new public consciousness in Cologne, opening up fresh perspectives on different groups living together. It sparked intercultural processes of learning or at least showed how such processes could appear.
For several years now, there have been new educational approaches where diversity due to migration is not seen as a “defect of identity“ but rather recognized as a potential resource and a prerequisite for learning. Ingrid Gogolin and Marianne Krüger-Potratz’s Einführung in die Interkulturelle Pädagogik (2006), whose point of departure is heterogeneity in the everyday world as a prerequisite for living and learning, is one example of this current new perspective in research.
Instead of reducing migrants to an ethnic dimension, stripping them of their biographies, the multiplicity of possible designs for living, and this within a group defined as “ethnic”, are made visible. Migrants are viewed as experts on their own everyday life, as discoverers and inventors of their reality.
In the context of these mobility movements, the so-called ethnic ascriptions become more and more complicated. The number of those who for various reasons leave their places of origin, or are compelled by circumstance to leave -- for a shorter or longer period, or permanently as emigrants abroad -- is constantly growing. To be born here, to grow up there, to work and live there, and to spend the last years of one’s life somewhere else, becomes everyday normality. Migration generates transnational networks, designs for living and competencies.


We are in urgent need of a shift in perspective in connection with how we shape processes of learning. The current situation demands that we move away from ethnic everyday knowledge and include the actual situation of the everyday world and social realities of the individual involved within the design of educational strategies. Possible social problems should no longer be viewed as deviation or mental deficit, but rather as an expression of social transformation and new challenges.
Experiences of mobility and the heterogeneous everyday reality of individuals with (or without) a background of migration, should flow into the design of educational processes in a full and reflexive manner. Cognitive, spatial and social mobility are evidently an urban basic experience, manifest especially in a multiplicity of life worlds. Thus, we need concepts in education oriented to the everyday world, ones which do justice to the challenges of global society. In conclusion, we can say: migration not only moves society, it also educates society.
Intercultural education in this sense can therefore not just focus on migrants as part of some subfield in scholarly investigation. It must become a lasting thematic emphasis of and within global societies.


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Erol Yildiz, Professor at the University of Klagenfurt/Austria, 2013