Articles | Volume 75, issue 1
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16 Jan 2020
Standard article |  | 16 Jan 2020

Preface: Postmigrant city? Urban migration societies as a starting point for a normative-critical reorientation in urban studies

Karin Wiest

Please read the corrigendum first before continuing.

This contribution is the translated version of the preface Postmigrantische Stadt? Urbane Migrationsgesellschaften als Ausgangspunkt für einen kritisch-normativen Perspektivwechsel in der sozialgeographischen Stadtforschung by Wiest (2019). This special issue was developed as part of the DFG project “Locally Stranded, Globally Linked? Dealing with Diversity on the Social Margins of the Postmigrant City” at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (Leibniz Institut für Länderkunde, IfL). Special thanks go to Elisabeth Kirndörfer and Madlen Pilz for in-depth discussions and critical advice and to Birgit Kuehn, texthabitat, for the translation.

1 Conflictual readjustments of belonging and difference in the migration society

Economic linkages on a global scale, multilocal everyday practices, and multiple cultural and national affiliations are fundamental characteristics of mobile societies under globalisation conditions. They shape coexistence in everyday life in a variety of ways, whether in specific work environments, educational institutions, or leisure contexts. In urban contexts, this tends to be more obvious than in rural areas – hence migration often appears to be an issue that takes place primarily on urban terrain (e.g. Hess and Lebuhn, 2014b; Yıldız, 2011). At the same time, the way in which international migration and diversity are dealt with is characterised by contradictory everyday practices and policies. On the one hand, there is a demand for new, comprehensive social inclusion and access at different administrative levels, which form a key foundation for equal social participation. On the other hand, new forms of exclusion are being practised, which (re)produce marginalisation and social discrimination. The intensification of debates in the context of social realities of migration has become particularly evident in the recent increase in support for right-wing populist movements as well as in discussions charged with identity politics, especially when dealing with refugee migration. The demands for greater control and regulation of immigration are increasingly countered by emancipatory countermovements, aiming to overcome ethnicising or culturalising attributions and to forego national borders as much as social boundaries (Ataç et al., 2015; Hill and Yıldız, 2017; Römhild, 2017). Conflictual disputes concerning national ethnocultural affiliations must not least be viewed in the context of increasing socio-economic disparities worldwide. In their productive form, such conflicts can promote integration processes and open up new opportunities for social coexistence (Spielhaus, 2014; El-Mafaalani, 2018). In general, they bring the question to the fore of which social structures and mechanisms of social inequality are negotiated under the label of “migration” – “as the social and cultural reproduction of inequalities is legitimised by ethnicisations and racialisations, by religion, gender differentiations, and by national identification” (Çağlar and Glick-Schiller, 2011:150), or as Naika Foroutan puts it “migration is only the cipher that hides multifaceted conflicts in dealing with plurality” (Foroutan, 2018:21). Questioning and deconstructing social attributions that are often linked to the category of migration in a generalising way therefore represent essential aspects of research in the social sciences that take the growing significance of transnational ethnocultural realities of life into account. At their core are the multifaceted social constructions of an “other”, which take effect in political discourses and governmental practices just as much as in everyday life (Çağlar and Glick-Schiller, 2018:209; Mecheril, 2018). The main challenges here are, on the one hand, to adequately grasp the complex social constellations and structures of transnational global societies and to examine the associated shifts in the attribution of social belonging and social exclusion. On the other hand, local and temporal characteristics play a decisive role in the way migration and diversity are dealt with. Pott rightly points out that migration research has so far hardly addressed the fact that it “wins its object only through the use of the spatial category, through the spaces it views and constructs” (Pott, 2018:112).

Against the backdrop of the debates outlined above, this special issue focuses on the question of how migration as a cipher for social belonging and difference and “city” as a place of everyday routines and practices of appropriation and spatial production relate to one another on different levels. The aim is to provide a heuristic entry point into the discussion, which is located where science and practice and analysis and political intervention intersect and which claims to draw attention to the causes and effects of social grievances. Such access is referred to as “postmigrant” and is, in the context of this special issue, interpreted in the following sense. Its aim is, on the one hand, to critically question presuppositions of the mainstream society in common research questions of urban studies from a decidedly migration society perspective. On the other hand, it brings the effects of hegemonic social constructs and power structures on urban societies up for discussion – namely on those (urban) societies that have constantly changed in the course of international mobility and networking and have created new realities of urban coexistence.

The first section of this editorial begins with a discussion of the general conceptual challenges presented to a social analysis under highly mobile and globally interconnected conditions. On this basis and in view of the numerous approaches that have been taken in this field, the fundamental characteristics and a potential added value of the postmigrant perspective are outlined.

The second section examines the spatial implications of a postmigrant approach, which acknowledge the significance of migration not only as a force, which is shaping society, but also as a factor of “place-making”. With regard to the research subjects of urban studies, power-critical approaches that question the significance of national references in favour of an emphasis on global contexts are particularly fundamental. Approaches in the field of postcolonial urban research and studies on “urban citizenship” occupy a prominent place here.

The last section provides an outlook on the contributions to this issue. They take on the task of exploring the relevance of a postmigrant perspective for research questions in urban studies, based on empirical case studies. They illustrate the heuristic added value just as much as specific conceptual requirements and difficulties in implementation when the postmigrant is chosen as the observational focus for urban coexistence.

2 Migration research as social analysis

In the course of the social dynamics outlined above, a variety of research perspectives and concepts are currently being discussed, which place the transformation of immigration societies and the social diversification of life and worlds at the centre of their analyses. Prominent examples include works on transnationalism research (including Glick-Schiller et al., 1995), concepts of conviviality (including Wise and Noble, 2016), superdiversity (including Vertovec, 2007, 2017; Meissner, 2015), and intersectionality. The emergence of these approaches, whose central concern is to overcome essentialist, ethnically fixed research perspectives and a methodological nationalism (e.g. Glick-Schiller et al., 2006), is – despite all differences – primarily a consequence of explanatory deficits in concepts that refer to linear notions of integration processes or attempt to trace social explanations back to the cultural or national origin of migrants. As a result, such approaches focus less on a greater differentiation of the social differences and origins within the urban population and place greater emphasis on the relationships and interactions of overlapping social, cultural, and economic factors under global conditions (Vertovec, 2007:1025; Meissner, 2015). In addition to the common thrust of overcoming essentialist reductions and stereotyping, the conceptual reorientation towards the investigation of social relations, power constellations, and social positioning is also fundamental (Berg and Sigona, 2013; Labor Migration, 2014; Vertovec, 2017). That migration research should move away from a focus on migration that is ultimately always tied to a logic of the nation state is a demand primarily derived from a critical view of a paradigm of migration difference based on the nation state. In a correspondingly consistent implementation, it would then have to be integrated into an overarching social theory, “albeit one that simultaneously integrates migration and ethnicity as important factors in its analysis” (Dahinden, 2016:13). Such a perspective can be considered postmigrant and consequently sees society as influenced and permeated by migration (e.g. Dahinden, 2016; Römhild, 2015). It will be examined more closely in the following, with regard to its normative-critical objective and the analytical consequences derived from it.

2.1 The postmigrant – call for a sociopolitical change of perspective

Activities and works that proclaim a postmigrant view of society do not only focus on the analytical registration and recognition of “diversity”. Rather, they call for a “deconstruction of the hegemonic discourse on migration from the perspective and experience of migration” (Yıldız, 2016:2). Alongside a socio-analytical reorientation, the critical-normative perspective is thus particularly characteristic. This orientation is closely related to the cultural and political contextualisation of the term postmigration in German-speaking countries, particularly with regard to the history of immigration within the context of the recruitment agreements entered into since 1955. In Germany, for example, the term was initially taken up by artists and activists who, based on family or personal experiences of migration, strived for a greater recognition of immigration history in society and wanted to contribute to a greater awareness of discrimination (including Langhoff, 2012; Espahangizi, 2016; Yıldız, 2015; Hill and Yıldız, 2018). It was a central objective to systematically integrate an awareness of the social significance of individual and subjective migration experiences into current urban political debates. The postmigrant thus also became a kind of battle cry, explicitly directed against the marginalisation of people with migration biographies and criticising a social discourse that distinguishes between an alleged normality of the mainstream society and problems caused by immigration (Yıldız, 2015:22). The term is thus to be understood first and foremost as an appeal to rethink society from the perspective of the migration experience and thereby to heighten the awareness of national ethnocultural markers of difference. An essential aspect is, not least, the formulation of a “new critique of racism” directed at influential social discourses and practices which, through the reproduction of racial or cultural constructs, make social inequalities effective in the first place (Espahangizi et al., 2016:15; Castro Varela and Mecheril, 2016). What is certain is that this approach is characterised by a special potential to overturn the conventional view of migration-induced changes and exclusions, to look at the social “struggle” with migration (Spielhaus, 2014:97) and to highlight the relevance of a societal change of perspective. The added value of a postmigrant approach is therefore not only seen in the critical view of the social construct of national borders and affiliations, but above all in the identification of persistent power constellations and the deconstruction of hegemonic categories – an objective that it shares, however, with other approaches.

2.2 The postmigrant between social–theoretical aspiration and empirical challenges

The extent to which a value can be placed on a postmigrant perspective on society as a scientifically viable concept is subject to controversial debate (e.g. Mecheril, 2014). Particularly the prefix “post-”, which is often misinterpreted in a chronologically linear sense, provokes irritation. It is, however, meant in the sense of breaking free from the habitual thought patterns associated with the debates on immigration (Langhoff, 2012; Hill and Yıldız, 2018:7). At the centre of the approach is the demand to disengage conventional migration research from its specialised niche and to replace it with a social analysis that “considers everyone to be `affected' by migration and to be the creators of the conditions constituted by it” (Bojadžijev and Römhild, 2014: p. 18f; Yıldız, 2015:22). However, a correspondingly consistent recognition of social realities of migration also requires adequate analytical and conceptual approaches. For if the premise applies that “migration is to be considered a normal component of society, i.e. all people are mobile in one or another way and live in a migration society, then migration research must address the analysis of society as a whole” (Hill, 2018:100/101). It is still not sufficiently clear, however, how empirical research must be designed to bring migration societies as a whole into view, beyond culturalist, ethnic, and national attributions and categorisations. After all, the goal of researching realities of life from the perspective of migration – “migrantising social sciences” (Bojadžijev and Römhild, 2014:11, 20f) – naturally involves the reference to social differentiation and categorisation systems. The normative-critical momentum of the postmigrant perspective in particular, which aims to take a critical view of the discrimination and “migrantisation” of population groups, can thus contribute to a reproduction of categorising in- and exclusions. As a consequence, even the critical postmigrant perspective can often not avoid marking migrants as others. In doing so, it risks remaining stuck in dichotomies like migrant–non-migrant, local–foreign, and hegemonic–counter-hegemonic (e.g. Dahinden, 2016; Römhild, 2015, as well as West in this issue). On the other hand, efforts to overcome national ethnocultural markers of difference can also lead to limitations in analytical or thematic approaches, or to the dethematisation of research questions linked to migration experience and origin. The explicitly formulated objective of a postmigrant change of perspective, to bring migration from the fringes to the centre of society (Labor Migration, 2014), can equally run the risk of being misunderstood to the effect that it only focuses on those who have arrived socially and professionally at the centre of society and excludes subaltern milieus from consideration1. While the manifold studies that can be subsumed under the umbrella term of diversity are rather in the tradition of describing highly complex sets of variables and emphasising a depoliticised concept of diversity, the postmigrant perspective with its socio-critical orientation notably still lacks strategies that are capable of empirically depicting the new societal conditions without falling into the trap of “othering” and culturalist reduction (see also Römhild, 2015:38). After all, it is part of the challenge to overcome the distinction of ethnicising or culturalising categorisations on the one hand and to keep migration experiences with their varied causes and their associated obstacles and exclusions in view on the other (Çağlar and Glick-Schiller, 2018:5). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's concept of a “strategic essentialism”, which advocates a tactical use of essentialist identities within a framework of clearly defined political goals, may provide a way to deal productively with this fundamental conflict (Spivak, 1988; see also Dahinden, 2016).

With a scientific analytical objective, the postmigrant can be mainly utilised as an analytical category for social situations characterised by mobility and diversity, but also by social ruptures and ambiguities, and by processes of dislocation and relocation (Yıldız, 2015:22). This allows for a focus on social practices and discourses as well as on subjective positioning in the social debate on heterogeneity and plurality (e.g. Berding in this issue). Another essential factor is to investigate “how ethnicised and `migrationalised' world views – by individuals, in institutions and politics etc. – are generated, undergo change and interact with other perspectives regarding `difference”' (Dahinden, 2016:8). Thus, the deconstruction of the social production of migration as the result of historical and spatial categorisations and narratives of belonging or nonbelonging is at the centre; on this basis, context-dependent boundaries between migrants and nonmigrants are drawn (e.g. also in the form of a “doing migration” approach by Amelina, 2017). Of particular explanatory power in this context are local development paths, discursive characteristics, institutions, and specific actor and power constellations that influence how migration-induced in- and exclusions are negotiated and shaped (Pott, 2018:121). Against this background, and in accordance with the critical-normative orientation of the postmigrant, the following discussion will focus on possible connectivity with concepts of critical urban research.

3 Postmigration and urban research

It is obvious that migration-related negotiations always take place in specific spatial contexts, in spite of a seemingly increasing socio-spatial independence. Lifestyles and cultures, which are often practised far apart from each other, are recombined at a local level and lead to new forms of local anchoring. In the context of diversity studies, the explicit turn to spaces of diversity is a clear orientation towards specific local anchoring and the analysis of localised forms of diversity (e.g. Berg and Sigona, 2013:3). In the context of postmigrant approaches, however, spatial references have so far generally only rarely been explicitly addressed and keep at times a surprisingly classical focus on neighbourhoods with a high proportion of residents with a migration background (e.g. Hill, 2016). The impression that the connection between the city and migration in particular remains under-theorised in migration studies is attributed, among other things, to the fact that the reference to the city is often seen as implicit and taken for granted (Hess and Lebuhn, 2014b:6). Taking into account the continuity and multidirectionality of migration experiences on different reference levels as a key element of postmigrant thought, a relational understanding of space forms an essential conceptual prerequisite for urban research informed by a postmigrant perspective. This facilitates an analytical grasp on “spatial unanchoring and re-anchoring practices, and on the social integration of migration in multilocal contexts and the establishment of the necessary local references” (Pott, 2018: 115). Particularly in the context of transnationalism research with its focus on global power relations and the investigation of translocal and transnational social spaces and networks, examples of corresponding analytical approaches can be found (e.g. Çağlar and Glick-Schiller, 2018). Postmigrant studies take up these ideas with the concept of transtopia, “in which apparently distant elements, both local and cross-border, are linked and condensed into urban structures and forms of communication” (Yıldız, 2015:32). Considering a combination of urban research and a postmigrant perspective on society particularly reveals the fundamental theoretical–conceptual relevance of the studies that refer to migration regimes (Pott et al., 2018). Despite the different interpretations and disciplinary applications of the regime perspective, its objective of “exploring the complexity of the negotiation processes for migration under one roof” (Pott et al., 2018:11) presents many connecting factors. Thus both the postmigrant-oriented approach and the approach of the migration regime focus on the dissociation and deconstruction of obsolete power structures and on the “reflexive recollection of migration research on its concepts, terminology, and ultimately its own position” (Pott et al., 2018: p. 12; see also Horvath et al., 2017:310f). With regard to its specific formation context, the postmigrant itself can be interpreted as a specific actor–discourse–practice context in the sense of the regime approach: as an expression of complex, multiscalar negotiations on migration, through different actors and power structures in the spatial–temporal context of the former West German “guest worker immigration” and migration-related struggles for recognition in major cities of the Federal Republic of Germany. A central momentum here is directed towards the normative-emancipatory question of who belongs to urban society and who does not, who was excluded from which systems and when, and which forms of social participation are attributed to which groups of people. With the demand for equal and social participation – independent from origin and national standards – the postmigrant also has numerous points of contact with the debate on the right to the city and urban citizenship. On the one hand, the latter focuses on “the perspective of the urban governance of migration” and on the other hand allows for the migration-related agency “to be addressed beyond ethnicising and culturalising paradigms” (Hess and Lebuhn, 2014a:13).

3.1 Urban citizenship and postmigrant struggles for the right to the city

The question of local practices and policies in dealing with migration is directed not least to all aspects of participation in different social subsystems, particularly the housing and labour markets, the education systems, and the opportunities of political participation. The reference to Lefebvre's “right to the city” (1968) in the sense of a “right to non-exclusion” from the services and qualities of urban society (Holm, 2011) can form a starting point in this respect, to shed light on questions of belonging to the urban society from a postmigrant perspective. In this context, there are also demands to rethink “the urban” in the sense of a de-marginalisation of (post)migrant concepts of life, as well as the recognition of migrants' contributions to urban development and urbanisation. Politically, the right to the city is inspired by the facilitation of an active democratic participation for all (Holm, 2011). This, however, is not so much a question of representation in a multiculturalist sense, but rather one of doing justice to the increasing diversity and plurality of society in general in everyday institutional action. In this context, it is not least those activists who see themselves as postmigrant, who aim for greater public attention as well as forms of social and political recognition beyond nation state forms of belonging (Ataç et al., 2015). In a superordinate sense, respective considerations of the urban are directed towards questions of global human and civil rights, which include all those who want to live in the cities – regardless of their residence status (see e.g. West in this issue). An essential factor is therefore the questioning of nation state logic, which results in a social exclusion of non-citizens and thus institutionalises inequalities. Multilevel models that distinguish between different forms of citizenship, as well as the idea of urban citizenship, which is based on domicile law or residency rather than national affiliation, represent much-discussed constructs in this context (e.g. Bauder, 2016:255; Rodatz, 2014; Bauböck, 2003).

Current examples that follow on from the idea of an urban citizenship are local solidarity movements, which have developed in the Federal Republic of Germany, especially in context of the summer of migration in 2015. Under the keywords “sanctuary city”, “cities of refuge”, or “solidarity city”, new alliances of civil and state actors have formed with the goal to declare cities a “safe haven” for people without residence status and to prevent deportations. Urban research with a postmigrant orientation can here direct a thematic focus to forms of urbanity that are generated through the constitution of new social and political alliances. Through respective coalitions at different levels, which can include representatives of local administrations and community action groups as much as “illegalised” persons, social boundaries and hierarchies between the various stakeholders in the city can be gradually lifted (Bauder, 2016). The conflicts surrounding migration-related participatory involvement and the micropolitical forms of resistance in the debate regarding the right to the city are usually linked to specific places. At the same time, they are centrally embedded in global, transnational constellations and mobility constraints. In this context, approaches in the field of postcolonial urban studies call for a critical change of perspective on local urban negotiations and on relationships between urban conflicts in very different parts of the world (see e.g. Lanz, 2015;80f).

3.2 Postmigrant city – a postcolonial analytical focus for urban immigration societies?

The increasing importance of transcultural references and socio-economic interdependencies has not only changed the view of urban societies, but has also contributed to critically questioning the supremacy of Western theory formation in urban research. Especially in the context of postcolonial urban studies, the existence of a single overarching theoretical narrative of urbanisation is questioned and confronted with a self-critical reflection of the “Western” researcher's view (e.g. Lanz, 2015; Robinson, 2006). The focus is on a critical awareness of the asymmetrical power structures between the “us” of a progressive West and “them” or “the rest” (Hall 1994) in urban research. As in the approach of “ordinary cities” (Robinson, 2006), this opens up perspectives for transnational comparisons that aspire to question and overcome excluding categorisation or hierarchisation of cities (McFarlane and Robinson, 2013, among others). By an appropriate change of perspective, established concepts, such as that of the European city, can be deconstructed as a discourse formation that “interprets the Western as urban, modern, civilised and secularised, while construing the `rest' as underdeveloped, traditional and religious” (Lanz, 2015: 76; see also Lossau, 2012:126; Ha, 2014). This direction of impact can only indicate the many fundamental parallels between postcolonial-oriented urban research and a postmigrant perspective on society here (see e.g. Yıldız, 2015; Liebig, 2015:7). For instance this can be seen in the critique of linear development models such as the postmigrant critique of the integration paradigm, and analogously in the critique of the modernisation paradigm from “postcolonial studies”. Just as the postmigrant view criticises a deficit perspective on migration, one of the key concepts of the ordinary cities is based on the critique of the predominance of a single, Western-influenced theoretical narrative of urbanisation that implies a global view of other urban developments worldwide from a deficit perspective. Postcolonial urban research, on the other hand, aims to address the cultural diversity of the urban, while not assuming a universal applicability of urban concepts – particularly Euro-American perspectives and Western-centred theory formation – neither does it insist on a categorisation of the diversity of urban developments (Robinson, 2006:60). Both postcolonial perspectives on the city and postmigrant views on society hereby place a central value on the significance and interrelationships between historical and contemporary power structures. The interest in mutual relations and influences between different urban cultures has, similar to in the context of postmigrant approaches, come to the fore in comparative urban research under the keyword “transfer” (Robinson, 2006). Accordingly, a postmigrant perspective on the city calls, among other things, for a greater awareness of the historical interrelationships of urban and migration history, such as the question of which commemorative practices relating to migratory movements constitute components of urban everyday life (e.g. Hess and Näser, 2015). Postmigrant urban research can thus be interpreted as a variety of postcolonial urban research: urban research with a special focus on the urban immigration history of the past decades and on urban societies in which the awareness of being an immigration society has become an essential element of sociopolitical discourse2. The decentration of the “Western view” (Hall according to Supik, 2005:25) would in this context be applicable to both the consideration of urban societies themselves and the common concepts in urban research influenced by Western Eurocentrism. Corresponding shifts in perspective are also put on trial in the contributions to this special issue on social geography.

4 Potential of the postmigrant perspective in urban research – outlook on the contributions

The contributions in this special issue put various approaches up for discussion, in order to conceptually grasp the described reflexive turns at the intersection of urban and migration research. The overall focus is on the question of what added value can be gained from a change of perspective, which on the one hand does not see migration as a special or problem case, but as a social normality, but on the other hand also takes into account the significance and influence of individual cultural ties and identities beyond an essentialising categorisation. In all contributions to the special issue, the concept of postmigrantism therefore initially serves as a set of critical questions posed to the empirical material. As thematic areas at the interface of migration and urban research, perspectives on “arrival quarters” (Berding, 2019), on municipal policy responses to so-called “migrant economies” (Räuchle and Nuissl, 2019), and on arrival and settling-in processes of people with experiences of forced migration in different urban contexts (Weiss et al., 2019) take centre stage. The contributions thereby focus on the question of the consequences for empirical and applied research when a “postmigrant perspective” is applied to classical research questions in urban geography. An essential aspect here is the critical analysis of deficit- as well as potential-oriented perspectives on migration and a problematising approach to integration concepts. A resource-oriented, economic evaluation of immigration up to its instrumentalisation continues to be a dominant line of discourse in current urban development policies. Migration and diversity are thus regarded as important factors in the interurban competition for businesses and skilled labour. The staging of diversity in the context of revaluation processes is also a facet of the discourse on potential around migration in the context of neoliberal urban development policies (e.g. Rodatz, 2014; Pütz and Rodatz, 2013; Lanz, 2007). At the same time, however, exclusionary practices in the management of international immigration continue to take effect – and are to some extent certainly linked to the gentrification of urban areas (e.g. Tsianos, 2014; Wiest and Kirndörfer, 2019). The tension between potential- and problem-oriented discourses particularly dominates those studies that look at the level of urban neighbourhoods. Numerous theoretical and empirical studies have dealt with questions of social cohesion and coexistence at the neighbourhood level in recent years. The focus here is particularly on neighbourhoods in major cities, which are strongly marked by social and national ethnocultural diversity. On the one hand, the discussion ranges from intensifying spatial, social, and symbolic boundaries that are drawn along national ethnocultural attributions (Albeda et al., 2018) to debates about parallel societies (e.g. critically Tsianos and Ronneberger, 2012). On the other hand, an exploration of the potential and opportunities of superdiverse urban spaces in terms of integration policy was carried out mainly under the label arrival quarter (Saunders, 2010; Hans et al., 2019).

4.1 Postmigrant everyday routines, “normalcy of diversity”, and shifts of normality

In clear detachment from problem- and potential-oriented perspectives on diverse neighbourhoods, Nina Berding explores everyday coexistence in Düsseldorf's suburb of Oberbilk in her contribution. And not least in order to escape a migrantising view of urban coexistence in the sense of postmigrant (urban) research, Berding places those “multiprocessing strategies” and routine practices, which urban residents develop in order to navigate a complex daily urban life, at the centre. By resorting to Simmel's concept of “blasé” in the sense of an inclusive behavioural style under the conditions of complexity, diversity becomes a self-evident reality that is reflected in the pragmatic attitudes, behavioural patterns, and social relationships of urban society. In the context of this study, the added value of a postmigrant perspective is interpreted to the effect that the experience of diversity is addressed as a common and self-evident basis for action and perception. Hereby, the urban residents themselves become the focus of attention, as distanced and constructively operating actors. While Berding focuses on aspects of daily life, of a “normalcy” or “everydayness of diversity” (Wessendorf, 2014:2; Meissner, 2015:557) in the sense of conviviality and pragmatic routine, the question also arises of to what extent and in which contexts there are shifts in corresponding normalities and how a disruption of routines is set in motion that produces new, emotionalised exclusions beyond blasé attitudes in the sense of pragmatic distance. Examples of this can be found in studies on the exclusion of refugees and in findings on the emergence of hostile places (e.g. Kurtenbach, 2019). They are, above all, intended to draw attention to the contradictory discursive dynamics that characterise highly mobile and internationalised societies: while experienced dissociations and demarcations like blasé attitudes can represent important inclusive resources, disintegrative effects of social boundaries become increasingly noticeable in other contexts, not least in the form of new types of racism (Espahangizi et al., 2016:15).

4.2 Perspectives on integration and arrival from the point of view of migration

The increased immigration in response to causes of flight between 2014 and 2016 has generated a number of studies with a particular focus on the arrival of people with flight biographies and the way they were dealt with and perceived in specific local contexts of the Federal Republic of Germany (including Hamann and Yurdakul, 2018; Glorius et al., 2019; Kurtenbach, 2019). Acknowledging globalised conditions and in the sense of the postmigrant point of view, however, refugee migration is to be regarded less as an exception but rather to be accepted as a status that – due to worldwide economic disparities and political power imbalances – is always an element of global mobility processes. This perspective can also alter the view on the common dichotomy between an us of the host society and them with an experience of forced migration. Questioning and, if necessary, abandoning such dichotomies is one of the fundamental challenges of research that takes a postmigrant perspective on refugee migration (e.g. Ratković, 2017). This aspect is also an important factor in the contribution of Günther Weiss, Francesca Adam, Stefanie Föbker, Daniela Imani, Carmella Pfaffenbach, and Claus-Christian Wiegandt. Based on a research project on refugee arrival and settling-in processes in two formerly West German municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia, the team of authors seeks to approach an understanding of integration that is based on the subjective view of the different actors. The views of people who had fled and of those who are involved in helping people who had fled are also contrasted within the scope of this contribution. This distinction, however, is inherent in the fundamentally very unequal social (power) positions and is not justified by national ethnocultural attributions. It rather pursues an equal comparison that places the perspective of interviewees with a flight biography at the centre. The views and ideas of the two groups at times reveal more similarities than differences and clearly show that “integration” is generally not perceived as a one-sided imperative here (see also Hamann, 2019). However, the insights also suggest that the experience of those affected directly, be it the refugees themselves or those involved in refugee relief, is often largely detached from prevailing public discourses, which are dominated by demarcations and fears.

4.3 Critical reflection of essentialisations and discourses on potential

The agency of migrants and their influence on urban development has often been discussed with regard to the significance of migrant economies (Hillmann, 2011). The establishment of migrant enterprises is, on the one hand, interpreted as a reaction to access barriers on urban labour markets in the sense of “social advancement for one's own account” (Yıldız 2015:24). On the other hand, it attracts attention as an expression of an independent, creative contribution to the economic and infrastructural development of the city (Hillmann, 2011:16). This field also encompasses the strategic staging of ethnic authenticity as an entrepreneurial marketing strategy of migrant entrepreneurs (Stock, 2013). From a decidedly postmigrant perspective, however, studies on migrant economies often imply an uncritical social othering and unique status of the entrepreneurial activity of urban residents with migration experiences, as well as a closeness to neoliberal instrumentalisation of migration. An essential point is that a label as a migrant enterprise inevitably constructs specific dichotomous relationships in the sense of us and them, which, moreover, are not directly related to the diversity of the enterprises and the individual strategies and practices of their actors. In a critical examination of these limitations, Charlotte Räuchle and Henning Nuissl discuss, on the basis of their studies on migrant economies in German municipalities, the question of the extent to which this otherwise decidedly “pre-postmigrant” access can nevertheless be made fruitful for research informed by the postmigrant perspective. Questioning the term migration, referencing transnationality, and a problematising attitude towards a “neoliberal valorisation” of migration are seen as central points of contact.

4.4 Transversal versus postmigrant perspective?

With conflicting priorities arising from active immigration and reactive integration policies, many German municipalities have created extensive structures and strategies for dealing with immigration in political, civil society, and administrative terms. The question of to what extent these local strategies can be reassessed under, for instance, postmigrant assumptions and to what extent this can inspire innovative options for urban development policies is a starting point for Christina West's philosophical view of society and the city. Here, she sketches the model of a “transversal city” in the sense of an intellectual exercise to rethink urban future, both conceptually and empirically, in the discursive field of migration and integration. Through the identification of four characteristic discursive – i.e. homogenising, critical, cosmopolitan, and transversal – aspects, she relates transversal and postmigrant perspectives to one another. According to West, the transversal perspective – in contrast to the critical postmigrant perspective – is unaffected by the construction of an other, such as the migrant or the hybrid, and is therefore most suitable for overcoming the differentiation principles of migration and diversity concepts. While the cosmopolitan moment (e.g. in the field of superdiversity) continues to draw on modern differentiations in categories such as culture, ethnicity, or nationality to accomplish an abstract diversity, the critical moment aims to combat discrimination (e.g. from the postmigrant perspective), but ultimately also generates migration-related categorisations. In this understanding, transversal urbanism is intended to do justice to the increasing complexity of society and to the transversal orientation of the individual, as interconnected processes and distinct actors who engage beyond official or dominant logics. The challenge of the migration and integration discourse can, according to West, consist of continuing to reflect on an optimistic narrative of our society of the future, in the sense of a transtopia.

The contributions in this special issue also take a closer look at specific local contexts, such as larger agglomerations (Cologne, Rhine-Neckar, Heidelberg), neighbourhoods in metropolitan environments such as Düsseldorf-Oberbilk, but also urban centres outside agglomerations such as Braunschweig, Rostock, and Heinsberg. This provides a spectrum of different urban spatial contexts in which migration and diversity are negotiated. But the common denominator of these case studies is that they relate to formerly West German urban contexts. These localisations to some extent reflect the genesis of the postmigrant perspective, which is primarily anchored in the West German history of migration since the 1960s. In German-speaking countries, and particularly against this background, a transfer of the postmigrant perspective to other structural contexts, such as rural or peripheral areas and research contexts, is often still lacking, especially in formerly East German contexts with different migration histories. Furthermore, the question arises as to what extent the term postmigration will also prove to be a viable term beyond the German-speaking context, even more so if one considers the different levels of commitment to immigration societies and the respective identification with life in a global migration society, across the globe and in different national and urban contexts.

The contributions in this special issue discuss common issues of urban geography in a new way and also demonstrate that the adoption of a postmigrant perspective, especially in applied urban research, offers a lot of potential to constructively set prevailing thought patterns in motion. It seems particularly helpful in these application-oriented fields that the postmigrant is “not a child of the academy” (Espahangizi, 2016). Not least because the term is analytically (still) vague, it prompts questions, encourages contemplation, forces a change of perspective, and thereby gives important impulses – not only for the theoretical–conceptual debate, but especially for critical self-reflection in applied urban research and municipal practice. To prevent the term from outliving itself as a concept, and in order to initiate enduring social debates, the notion of the postmigrant must be moved from its to-date still somewhat avant-garde position into broader urban everyday realities. This would, however, require finding a language that addresses different educational and social backgrounds and groups of origin equally and offers “opportunities for translation” that can open the mind to shared experiences, common stories, and needs as (urban) citizens, despite the most varied socialisations.

Competing interests

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


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Supik, for instance, with reference to Hall (1997), also raises critical questions in this context: “… whether the marginalised gain from their entry into central sectors, or whether this must be regarded as appropriation. Where does marketability begin and where does recognition end? Where does one turn into the other? When does hybridity manifest itself as subversive potential, and where is it only the latest craze for entertainment?” (2005:114)


According to Foroutan, a society can be described as postmigrant when the awareness of being an immigration society is politically recognised and has become part of the social narrative (2015:2).