Multiple belonging and the challenges to
biographic navigation

by Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka

Working Papers WP 13-05
January 2013
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

Social science research on migration reveals a strong groupist orientation. Numerous studies are prone to methodological ethnicization, constructing strong collective boundaries and implying homogenous collective identities embraced by ‘migrant communities’. Migrants are usually perceived – if not from the systemic vantage point of ‘societies of arrival’ – then from meso-perspectives, inquiring into collective dynamics while taking ‘ethno-national’ boundary-lines for granted. This working paper reverses the perspective of observation, putting individual persons in the forefront. It deploys the lens of ‘belonging’, distinguishing between ‘belonging to’ and ‘belonging together’. The analysis follows the individual migrants’ politics of the self, studied against the backdrop of collective dynamics, i.e. combining interpersonal with collective dimensions. From the personal point of view, the superdiversity of contemporary societies renders belonging a complex, often contested and always a self-reflexive condition. Belonging today is ever multiple and the different components of belonging are often difficult to combine together. The biographical navigation is therefore full of challenges, but also bears new possibilities. The problematic of belonging and the entailed social boundary work are analysed drawing upon Fatih Akin’s narratives - whose films and interviews have time and again portrayed migrants’ complex pathways. The perspective suggested here is meant to complement the recent efforts challenging groupist assumptions in migration research while doing justice both to individualisation as well as to the dynamic processes of collective boundary-drawing and communitarian positionings.

Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka is a full professor of social anthropology at the University of Bielefeld. Her recent publications include The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas: Local Attachments and Boundary Dynamics (New Delhi: Sage, 2011), ed. with G. Toffin; ‘From ‘identity’ to ‘belonging’ in Social Research: Plurality, Social Boundaries, and the Politics of the Self’, in: Ethnicity, Citizenship and Belonging: Practices, Theory and Spatial Dimensions, ed. by S. Albiez/N. Castro/L. Jüssen/ E. Youkhana (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2011) and ‚Zugehörigkeit in der mobilen Welt. Politiken der Verortung‘ (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012).
Website: www.uni-bielefeld.de/(en)/tdrc/ag_sozanth/team/pfaff/