Engaging inequalities

Engaging inequalities: How interactions between recent ‘refugees’ with established Iranians reflect social changes in Germany

Sonja Moghaddari


Western societies are, ever increasingly, culturally pluralistic. The so-called ‘refugee-crisis’, i.e. the arrival of people by the thousands traveling across the Mediterranean and through the Balkans since the summer of 2015, raises the issue of social cohesion in the German society. Within the important movements of solidarity in Germany, the number of established migrants and their children is surprisingly high. People identifying as Iranians’ humanitarian activities and public media advocacy are particularly visible. This observation contradicts existing scholarship that claims established migrants tend to seek distinction from newcomers who might endanger their social position. Between research that sees humanitarian aid as a consolidation of existing power relations and studies that underline its capacity to challenge these structures, where is the Iranians’ engagement to be situated? In this postdoctoral research project, I conceive of Iranians’ humanitarian and advocacy work for recently mobile people as a social site of diversity in the sense that its social dynamics are shaped by the interaction of a multitude of modes of difference. I build on my doctoral studies where I showed that Iranians create or deconstruct social boundaries among themselves as a tool to optimize their chances to generate capital. Their boundary work can therefore be seen as an engagement with relations of inequality deriving from local and transnational hegemonic regimes of value. Thus, studying social differentiation in migrant-pro-migrant activism will allow me to indicate how regimes of value shaping the perception of immigration in general, and of cultural difference in particular, evolve in the post-2015 German society. In a seven-month multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, I will apply various qualitative methods to study individual trajectories, boundary-work in social encounters, and the reception of categories prominent in the German society. This research thus aims to address the issue of diversity through the lens of pro-migrant activism that takes into account the historical depth and transnational interrelations that shape contemporary social processes.