The dilemma of the bridge-builders: local councilors with migration background

Cihan Sinanoğlu

- completed -

Approximately 200 councilors in large German cities now have a migration background. For whom does this matter, and in what ways? Why should membership in a primarily statistically defined group - people of a particular national origin - lead to political practices that differ from those of politicians who are not part of this statistical group? The Ph.D. project investigates the political practices of local councilors with migration backgrounds. It looks at the councilors themselves and their motivations and strategies, as well as the interactions between the immigrant councilors and citizens, and between the councilors and their political parties. The project assumes that ethnicity matters for politicians of minority backgrounds, but not always and not for everyone, and it does so in ways that must be understood more precisely. Indeed, situational triggers, contextual characteristics, and individual traits may influence modes of ethnicity-making in the political context. In principle, this is shaped by three factors. The first factor is the existence of opportunities, such as communication networks and membership in migrant organizations and foreigner or integration councils. The second factor is the cognitive schemes and patterns of interpretation and perception, including individual and collective political experiences of ethnic identification, or motivations based on group loyalties. The third factor is the expectations or ascriptions of different actors, such as supporters, political parties, and the general public. The project employed a qualitative approach, which includes interviews, observations, and analysis of documents and the social media (Facebook). The project was concluded in 2017, and the Ph.D. was successfully defended at Göttingen University.


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