Çetin Çelik is an assistant professor at College of Social Sciences and Humanities of Koç University and Koç University Migration Research center (MIREKOÇ). He got the Ph.D. in Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences, the University of Bremen in 2012. 

His latest paper titled “Disadvantaged, but morally superior: ethnic boundary making strategies of second-generation male Turkish immigrant youth in Germany” is published in the journal Identities.

Today, we want to make an interview about recent discussions on the second generation in Germany.


Thanks for accepting our request. Congratulations for the publishing. It was instructive for ones who are interested in Turkish diaspora. In this study, you are approaching the subject from a different, more specific perspective. That’s what attracted our attention.

Firstly, you mention a tendency in German migration research on ethnic stereotypes about Turkish immigrants. Would it be a convenient approach to relate this to the increased visibility of the Turks in German society?

Thank you for your kind words and the invitation. In my study, I try to develop some perspectives about the role of racial, ethnic and religious categories in the integration process of minority and immigrant groups. We know well that each society has ethnic-racial or ethnoreligious hierarchies at the symbolic level. The construction of these categories hierarchically is the result of long historical processes. While these categories and their order are open to change, we should keep in mind that the pace of change is extremely slow. With migration, immigrant groups enter symbolic hierarchy of ethnicities, races, and religions of receiving countries. They over time find their place in this hierarchy depending on resources of the immigrant group and structural conditions of receiving society. This symbolic hierarchy is incredibly important because it significantly shapes and structures the lives and life chances of immigrant individuals. If receiving society does not welcome specific immigrant group, let’s say because of its religious background, the integration of this group becomes harder.

I believe German migration research has come to understand the key role of these ethno-religious hierarchies in the integration of Turkish immigrants. It has traditionally tended to explain integration anomalies of Turks by focusing on incompatibilities between social-cultural characteristics of Turks and Leitkultur (Guiding Culture) of German society. However, immigrant groups re-form their identities in the context of the host society, and ethno-religious hierarchies of the receiving society greatly impact whether they develop adaptational or oppositional identities towards norms and values of receiving societies. The increasing attention of German migration research to the ways in which widespread ethnic stereotypes and prejudices influence integration of Turkish immigrants is, I believe, the result of a sort of advancement of German migration research. So, referring to your question, I do not think that visibility of Turkish immigrants increased in German society; they have already been visible in various forms. To me, it is rather related to the acceptance and appreciation of the fact that integration is very much related to identities, and immigrant identities are re-formed within the context of reception that is including constraints and opportunities for certain immigrant groups.  


Besides, you are talking about “destigmatization strategies deployed by minority groups In fact, this approach is the most important reason why your article is remarkable. So, would you briefly give examples of these “strategies”?

Migration research, or let me put this way migrant integration research, is overwhelmingly dominated by functionalist approaches. For a second think about the concepts such as assimilation, integration and accommodation; these are all functionalist tools that are inherently aiming at the final stability of society. What I want to do is to bring the main assumptions and concepts of conflict theories to the migrant integration research and, this way, show that the field of migrant integration is often not about stability or equilibrium but is heavily characterized by endless series of conflicts for recognition and respect.

We know very well that society is composed of conflicting groups that are socially and structurally separated. Powerful majority group can generate strong ethnic boundaries with minority groups through negative stereotypes and prejudices. However, minority groups, although they are weak and inferior in ethno-racial or ethno-religious system of receiving country, are not completely weaponless. Like every one of us, each group has desire for acceptance and respect. So, they develop certain strategies to overcome or repulse negative stereotypes about themselves. Of course, the strategies are various and which group use what strategy is dependent on various dynamics regarding groups’ resources or the resources available in structural conditions.  

Just as an example, if the members of minority groups are socioeconomically poor and subjected to racial discrimination, they can stress in their accounts universalizing strategies; such as stressing that they believe the same god with stigmatizers. This strategy enlarges the category so much so that majority and minority groups are equalized in it. If we are talking about discrimination against a well-educated socioeconomically well-off minority, the members of this group may tend to emphasize lack of education and cultural capital of the stigmatizers and this way could claim respect and superiority. However, as I said, which group uses what strategy is very much dependent on the interaction of resources of the minority group and structural conditions in the host society, and, therefore, it is a contingent process.


How would stigmatized groups “rebut the notion of their inferiority”? In this case, what does their inferiority refers to?

A group can be inferior in different ways. It can be socioeconomically poor, and/or racially, ethnically and religiously not welcomed. By the way, a higher socioeconomic status of a minority group does not necessarily guarantee higher or better place in ethno-religious hierarchy of receiving society, and, thus, welcoming atmosphere or conditions. The Jewish minority can be an example here. As for Turks in Germany, as I argue in my article by citing other works, the massive entrance of Turks to employment in Germany as manual workers have overwhelmingly proletarianized their image. Afterwards, with 9/11, they came to be associated with radical Islam. The mono-ethnic citizenship regime has formed barriers before their social and structural integration. The rapid deindustrialization of the economy has impoverished them and the rigid tracking system in education has pushed second-generation Turkish immigrant youth to disadvantaged school types. Within this context, they are faced with strong ethnic boundaries and experience inferiority in German society. However, I should note that I here give a basic picture of these ethnic boundaries and their workings; it is much more complex than this picture suggests and one should look at my article to understand the nuances of my arguments.


Can we say that these strategies are always “peaceful”? Do you also examine the situations in which the strategies may shift in violence in your studies? Or let’s ask, do these strategies get affected by violence from time to time?

As I said, we need to accept the field of integration as conflictual zone and think about it with the concepts of conflict perspectives. To me, the strategies followed by members of minority groups are not always peaceful. If you look at my article on identity formation of second generation Turkish immigrant youth, which was published in the journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies in 2015, you could see that some students appropriate destructive oppositional identities towards German society and its norms and values. They attack teachers physically and try to set a school on fire. The de-stigmatizing strategies of members of minority groups can be peaceful or violent, again, depending on the group’s resources and constraints and opportunities of structural conditions.


Would “increasingly Islamized image of Turks” that turn them into religious other, affect “the destigmatization strategies” in Germany? Perhaps we need a historically-comparative research to talk about that…

The stigma attached to a group and de-stigmatization strategies of this group are intensely interlinked. The Islamized image has been influencing de-stigmatization strategies of Turks in Germany. In my article, I try to show that some Turkish youth follow strategies to degrade Germans in the field of morality. I believe religious identity, together with ethnic identity, is playing a role here. In other words, this youth normatively inverse the norms for Germans in the field of morality strategically by putting religion and ethnic pride to work. Whether this would change in future, if so, how, is a good research topic to investigate in future.  


We, as BMS, closely follow the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the rising right-wing parties in Germany. You have done your doctorate in Germany and you are completing many researches about this country. I would like to ask you how do you think that the right-wing tendency which is increasing in Europe in general will affect the attitudes of the Turkish communities?

My research shows the great impact of constrains and opportunities of structural conditions on the identity and adaptation of immigrant groups. I highlighted in my article that exclusionary public discourses push Turkish second generation towards reactively and oppositionally formed ethnic identities, which basically means that this youth will be less and less eager to invest into their integration process.

Within this context, we can assume that right-wing discourses form great barriers for adaptation of immigrant youth. As social scientists, however, we need to evaluate and discuss simultaneously the reasons for increasing right-wing discourses and tendencies in Germany and other countries. This is highly complicated issue but I can limit myself here by only saying that this topic should be thought together with increased insecurity, unpredictability, and risks many people experience today in Europe, a process caused by historically recent social, economic and political transformations.  

In your research, how did you think about and reached the correlation between socio-economic segregation and ethnic segmentation in education for the Turkish immigrant group? 

For My Ph.D. study, I collected data through in-depth interviews and using ethnography. I was reading on and observing in the field the impoverishment of Turkish immigrant group in Bremen. My readings on de-industrialization process and restructuring of the economy in the city of Bremen helped me dreadfully to see and grasp the link between the closing of shipyard companies and socioeconomic impoverishment of previous working class neighborhoods. As for the link between socioeconomic status and school attainment, I drew on valuable research produced by, for example, Heike Solga, Heike Diefenbach and Jürgen Baumert in Germany. The notion of ethnic segmentation in education was also introduced by Heike Diefenbach before to indicate ethnically divided school tracks in German education system. I just thought of at some point looking all these variables together, the rate of Turkish migrants, welfare recipients and academic track goers at the district level in Bremen. And it worked out; I could show the coupling of social and ethnic segregation of Turkish immigrants with ethnic segmentation at the district level in the city.


Thank you again for your enlightening work. Finally, I want to ask, what does this paper promise to us about the question of visibility that we talked about in the previous question? What is the prospect of a researcher reading your work?

I believe my work says many things about Turkey. The country recently has become a true immigration country. While it used to be a migrant-sending country in the past, it turned out to be migrant-receiving and transit country. The country harbors more than three million only Syrian refugees, who have temporary protection status, on its soil. This forces Turkey to develop new plans and strategies to cope with the challenges of protracted refugee situations particularly in the field of education, housing, health, labor market. Within this context, how structural conditions and social policies will shape inter-ethnic interactions among various groups in Turkey is a key point for the integration issue. In my opinion, my study points at least a study direction and method for understanding the current and future power relations between majority and minority groups in Turkey in terms of achieving respect and recognition.