Volume 10, No. 3 – September 2009

Preface: Biography and Ethnicity: Development and Changes in Senses of Socio-cultural Belonging in Migrant Populations in the US and Germany

Michaela Köttig, Julia Chaitin, J.P. Linstroth & Gabriele Rosenthal

This special issue is based on the empirical research carried out for our project "Biography and Ethnicity: Development and Changes in Senses of Socio-cultural Belonging in Migrant Populations in the United States and Germany." This research and collaborative teaching project at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nova Southeastern University (USA) and at the Center of Methods in Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences at Georg-August-University of Göttingen (Germany) between 2006 and 2008 was characterized by a differing methodological and interdisciplinary approach. Whereas the US-team of researchers followed a psychological and social-anthropological approach, the team of researchers from Germany consisted of sociologists. The German team primarily conducted biographical-narrative interviews, while the team in Florida applied participant observation techniques in addition to biographical and open-ended interviews. The persons belong to different groupings of migrants who have settled in Germany and the United States in order to escape socio-political ethnic conflicts or difficult living conditions in their countries of origin, whereby most of these immigrants may be considered political refugees. The goal of our study was to investigate the processes behind the creation and transformation of ethnic belongings and, in general, collective belongings of various groupings of migrants in variant social contexts. In particular, we examined how different living conditions and different societal contexts influenced the development and transformation of the sense of collective belonging. [1]

Interviews were conducted with migrants from Guatemala, Haiti, and Cuba now living in South Florida as well as migrants from Cuba, Poland, Iran, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and the successor states of former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union now living in Germany. This special issue will introduce the theoretical and methodological considerations as well as the empirical findings of the US and German research teams. The articles reflect upon and compare the interrelated life courses and current life situations of these different groupings of migrants. [2]

This special issue also includes an article by Alex STEPICK and Carol DUTTON STEPICK who were kind enough to contribute an article describing their research dedicated to the same or very similar themes. For many years, these researchers have made migration to South Florida the focus of their work. Their article focuses on migrants' experiences in the country of immigration and describes the coexistence between the established residents and newcomers from Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean and Latin American countries. The following chapter, an introduction to this publication, was written by members of the US research team: Julia CHAITIN, J.P. LINSTROTH, and Patrick T. HILLER. Their article presents an overview of their work and discusses the methodology of ethnographic and biographic techniques as well as their views for explaining the particular situation of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and Guatemala in Florida. Their text also sets the framework for the following four articles focusing on Cuban, Guatemalan-Maya, and Haitian migrant-ethnicities in South Florida and the relationship between their respective countries of origin and the host country of the United States as well as the interviewees' experiences. These articles offer discussions of aspects of Cuban, Guatemalan-Maya, and Haitian identities and how such views are related to ambivalent belongings, conflictive belongings, gender, home, maintaining indigeneity, social control, and social hybridity. [3]

The first article of the four, written by Robin COOPER, Denese EDSALL, Diana RIVIERA, Julia CHAITIN, and J.P. LINSTROTH, focuses on U.S. Cubans, their ambivalent identities and notions of home. This article is then followed by a contribution by Patrick HILLER, J.P. LINSTROTH, and Paloma AYALA VELA, describing the authors' interviews with members of Guatemala's indigenous population, the Mayas, and why Guatemalan-Mayas separate their identities from the Hispanic population in South Florida. In an additional article, J.P. LINSTROTH, Allison HALL, Mamyrah PROSPER, and Patrick T. HILLER have detailed their empirical findings from a study of Florida's Haitian-born and US-born Haitian population. Finally, Robin COOPER, J.P. LINSTROTH, and Julia CHAITIN's article addresses the particular situation of Cuban and Haitian women, regarding issues of gender and social control and the pressures of home country identity and traditions on female immigrant lives. [4]

The second part of the special issue contains articles written by the German research team. This section begins with an article by Gabriele ROSENTHAL written in collaboration with Michaela KÖTTIG. The essay describes the theoretical and methodological approach used in the empirical case reconstructions that are discussed in the following articles. The essay introduces a social-constructivist and biographical-theory concept of the creation and transformation of collective belongings and attempts to develop the methodological implications of this approach. On the basis of empirical findings, this article highlights the enormous impact that the interaction of familial pasts and life stories with the historical and cultural context has on the construction and reinterpretation of collective belongings. The authors refer to the biographical case reconstructions discussed in the following articles as well as the theoretical generalizations derived from these reconstructions. In the following article, Michaela KÖTTIG discusses the particularities in the constructions of collective belongings among migrants from Cuba in Germany and South Florida, demonstrating a specific relation to art as well as the special role art plays in the construction of a Cuban we-image. The article by Rosa-Maria BRANDHORST also addresses the issue of a Cuban migrant in Germany and his insecurity vis-à-vis his feelings of belonging. The contribution by Jana BALLENTHIEN and Corring BÜCHING describes the intergenerational transmission of constructions of ethnic belonging using the example of a family of ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union. Sonja GRÜN's article takes up a similar theme and, based on her case reconstruction of a migrant from Bosnia, also describes the efficacy of the family history. Jan KÜVER's contribution, which represents the final article in this special issue, focuses on the case study of a migrant from Sierra Leone whose familial and societal history led to clearly ambivalent feelings and ambiguous constructions of collective belonging. [5]


We would like to thank the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Nova Southeastern University for their crucial and generous assistance in funding this project. Without their support, this project could never have come to be. Furthermore, we would like to thank all students involved in the project in Göttingen and Fort Lauderdale who have collaborated on this project and helped put the research ideas that were developed here into practice. Special thanks go to the team of students at the Georg-August-University of Göttingen who assisted in preparing and conducting the conference "Ethnicity, Belonging, Biography, and Ethnography" in December 2007—particularly Diana STRUVE, who coordinated the entire process. We also wish to thank the colleagues who offered their professional assistance both on a practical as well as at the research level. Here we would like to thank, among others, Alex and Carol STEPICK from the Florida International University in Miami. Finally, we are particularly indebted to all of those who gave us their trust and took the time to provide us with an insight into their lives and their social surroundings.


Dr. Michaela KÖTTIG, born 1965, is currently a research assistant at the Center of Methods in Social Sciences at the Georg-August-University of Göttingen. She studied at the University of Kassel and was employed at the University of Cologne. Her research concerns female right-wing extremism in Germany. She also focuses on political socialization, family sociology, and family history as well as the influence of these factors on peer interactions. Furthermore, she is interested in young people's transition from school to work and the construction of belongings in transnational families. Here, she focuses on the constellations of families with very different political opinions and patterns of actions. In her research, she employs biographical, intergenerational, and ethnographical methods and has written about the productive transfer of interpretative research methods to different fields of social work. As of 2003, she has been secretary of the Research Committee on Biography and Society (RC 38) at the International Sociological Association (ISA). In October, she will begin a professorship at the University of Applied Sciences at Frankfurt/Main for interviewing techniques, communication, and conflict management.


Michaela Köttig

Georg-August-University of Göttingen
Center of Methods in Social Sciences
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 3, 37073 Göttingen

Tel.: +49 551 39 14206
Fax: +49 551 39 12286

E-mail: Michaela.koettig@gmx.de
URL: http://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/28239.html


Julia CHAITIN, Ph.D. is a social psychologist, with an expertise in conflict resolution and peace-building. Her research focuses on psychosocial impacts of the Holocaust and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She is a Senior Lecturer in the Social Work Department at the Sapir College, and a member of The Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development and "Other Voice"—peace and social justice organizations.


Dr. Julia Chaitin

Department of Social Work
Sapir Academic College
D.N. Hof Ashkelon

Tel.: 972 54 7976090

E-mail: jchaitin@yahoo.com


J.P. LINSTROTH obtained his D.Phil. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford. Most of his research is concerned with understanding ethnic-minority groups, whether Spanish-Basques, Cuban, Haitian, or Guatemalan-Maya immigrants in the US, or urban Amerindians in Brazil. He was co-awarded an Alexander Von Humboldt Grant (2005-2007) to study immigrant identity in South Florida and has recently been awarded a Fulbright Foreign Scholar Grant (2008-2009) as a visiting professor at the Universidade Federal do Amazonas (UFAM) and for fieldwork amongst urban Amerindians in Manaus, Brazil. He has published several scholarly articles and has two forthcoming books, titled respectively: Marching Against Gender Practice: political imaginings in the Basqueland; and, Violence and Peace Re-Imagined: a new interdisciplinary theory for cognitive anthropology. Currently, he is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution and Anthropology at Nova Southeastern University.


J.P. Linstroth, D.Phil. (Oxon)

Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nova Southeastern University
3301 College Ave/Maltz Bldg
Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Florida 33314
United States

Tel.: ++1 954 262-3000, ext. 3070
Fax: ++1 954 262-3968

E-mail: linstrot@nova.edu
URL: http://shss.nova.edu/


Gabriele ROSENTHAL is Professor for Qualitative Methods at the Center of Methods in Social Sciences at the Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany. She is currently the president of the Research Committee: "Biography and Society" (RC 38) within the International Sociological Association (ISA). Previous positions included a professorship for general sociology at the University of Cologne and a professorship for social therapy at the University of Kassel. Since 1989 she has taught qualitative methods and biographical research as a guest lecturer at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel. Her major research focus is on the intergenerational impact of the collective and familial history on biographical structures and actional patterns of individuals and family systems. Her current research deals with migration, ethnicity and ethnopolitical conflicts. She teaches qualitative methods, biographical research, family sociology, and general sociology and is the author and editor of numerous books including The Holocaust in Three Generations (1998) and Interpretative Sozialforschung (2005). Her recent articles have been in the field of migration and of methods (video-analysis or biographical research in interrelation to collective history).


Gabriele Rosenthal

Georg-August-University of Göttingen
Center of Methods in Social Sciences
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 3, 37073 Göttingen

Tel.: +49 551 39 12413
Fax: +49 551 39 12286

E-mail: g.rosenthal@gmx.de
URL: http://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/28238.html


Köttig, Michaela; Chaitin, Julia; Linstroth, J.P. & Rosenthal, Gabriele (2009). Preface: Biography and Ethnicity: Development and Changes in Senses of Socio-cultural Belonging in Migrant Populations in the US and Germany. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(2), http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0903E12.

Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research (FQS)

ISSN 1438-5627

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