migration  Culture matters! What culture means in the context of migration


In their article Thomas Geisen and Tobias Studer examine the theoretical bases of a cultural exercise that goes beyond dichotomous world interpretations and which are supported by the individual and social processes of stigmatization and exclusion.


In public debates on the subject of migration many exotic and scandalous concepts of cultural differences feature prominently. Furthermore, scientific debates are primarily about clarifying the meaning of culture in the context of individual socialisation, shared contexts and developments in society. As a general rule academic discussions focus on migrants as members of a separate culture. Clarification processes run in many specific cultural directions, affecting the opposing forces of ‘traditionalist’ versus ‘modernistic’ orientations. These dichotomizations make types of cultural attribution possible, and are legitimised through practices of exclusion and discrimination. In this way cultural characteristics are expressed and stated to be constant, the process of establishing the culture is agreed and any ambiguous ambivalences embedded in the culture are clarified . . . Migration research is confronted with the problem that owing to the configurational nature of its object of research and the associated organizational process, it has to carry out a positive confirmation of the existing categorical frame of reference, in which culture per se is visualised and constructed as a systematic unit. The concept of culture can be addressed first of all by anyone who thinks about culture, power and control in a systematic way and takes account of corresponding cultural relationships of dominance (Hauck, 2006, p. 18). Secondly, an ambivalent concept of culture facilitates the breakdown of biographical learning processes, the practical individual learning processes which include participating in the learning processes of society and institutional developments. This implies a generalized definition of migration, as much in a spatial and territorial sense as in a biographical and chronological one. While power and control replicate in exchanges and in communication about abstract concepts of culture, communication and education in migration processes can likewise succeed if the practical biographical learning processes can be communicated and addressed as accepted cultural descriptions in their inconsistency. Thirdly, a materialistic appreciation of different cultures is necessary, one which takes into account and analyses practical living conditions, against a backdrop where differences are established and whose culture means the same for everyone.(vgl. Haug, 2011). Practical references for migration research have borrowed in particular from Cultural Studies (vgl. Willis, 1979, 1991) and the ethno-psychoanalytic approach (vgl. Erdheim, 1982; Nadig, 1986) which consider that the cultural labelling of a stranger is to do with one’s own culture. Against the backdrop of current debates on the meaning of culture in the context of migration it is to worth emphasising that the right to mix is as important in cross-cultural learning processes as “the right of the individual to withdraw from inflexible communities” (Mergner, 1998, p. 38).


Thomas Geisen is an academic at the college for social work of the College of Higher Education of North West Switzerland. The main focuses of his work are migration, work and violence.