Schaffung von Gemeinsamkeiten im Kontext kultureller Differenz - Sozialgeographische Perspektiven auf Prozesse von Vernetzung und Relationaler Integration somalischer Postmigranten in Deutschland und Finnland


Jaana Janßen, née Schütze

Research Area:



IMG _Jaana Janßen Permanent crisis and conflicts have forced Somalis for more than two decades now to flee their country in very large numbers. Whereas the flow of newly arriving Somalis into „safer“ countries would not stop, many Somalis were able to settle down, create new, relatively stable home places all over the world (mostly in the USA, Great Britain and the Nordics). Others again continue moving, or try to move somewhere else in search for improved livelihoods. What is central in this dynamic intersection of mobility, immobility and the need for certainty and better life chances is their social networkings being translocal and – at the same time - differently (re-)produced in specific places. Consequently, they appear in different forms – either as formal or informal organisations – and with different resources. Most of them share the focus of self-support and cultural remembrance; however, they host all manners of activities such as weddings, parties, teaching lessons, outdoor and indoor games, travelling, collecting money and so forth.

In my PhD project I argue that these networkings serve as arenas for negotiating boundaries - between host and home country, now and then as well as 'them' and 'us' - in order to build up „integrated“ selves in situations of cultural difference (in the sense of incommensurability). Here, I use the term „integration“ to refer to the individual instead of the societal perspective pointing to a practice which can be most adequately described as self management (s. also „self actualisation“, GIDDENS 1991). For a translocal actor this would mean to create a self that is on the one hand stable enough to reassure a sense of a distinctive self and on the other hand flexible enough to cope with changing environments. During the process of integration actors therefore would try to make sense of their backgrounds in a way that both differentiate them from and allow for association with the Other.

In seeking to understand integration in contrast to prevalent perceptions (that more or less tend to reinforce „deficits“ on the migrants side) I make use of concepts dealing with identity, self and subjectivity. With HALL, BRUBAKER/COOPER and further post-colonial and post-structural thinkers I consider identity a process rather than something substantial. It is the relational paradigm that help us think of identity as an act of positioning towards the self and the Other referring either to the 'social' (attachments to single persons or collectives) or to places (s. topophilia, TUAN 1974). Thus, the way actors position themselves in their network activities/practices reveals how they experience and produce difference and 'sameness'.

It is these complex processes of differentiating and sharing, being emplaced in network practices, that help challenge dominant but rather reductionist assumptions of migrants „unwillingness“ to integrate „into“ host society. What became obvious in the past was that those debates were not helpful at all in a way that they were able to offer solutions for better understanding each other and living together; instead they carved out differences between 'a migrant culture' (-> Islam) and the 'culture of the majority' (Who is majority?). Having studied Somali network practices it seems that those cultural differences are rather fluid and contingent. However, there was also empirical evidence for cultural reproduction and defence of 'Somaliness'. These seemingly contradictorily findings indicate a strong need to explore how people manage to live together in situations of cultural difference. It is this matter of concern that I hope to contribute to in a fruitful manner.

I deploy 'Networks' both in a methodological and a conceptual sense. This means, they have served as entry points for ethnographic field work studies, allowing for access to Somalis living in both countries, directing contacts and shaping my own networks. Then I consider them as facilitators for self management since they offer the space for negotiating boundaries. Nonetheless, networkings are neither passive nor static entities; rather they are continiuosly constituted and reworked in translocal practices. In order to approach the network/space relation and yield insights into a broader variety of self organisation I chose multiple research sites in two different countries, the one being more inclusive (Finland) the other more exclusive (Germany) towards migrants self organisations. As a result, for instance, networkings in Finland tend to be more formal whereas those in Germany - where migrants get less support for establishing associations - remain more informal; often they are set up around internet and call shops.