Jun 29, 2012
From the violence at the Rütli School, widely reported in the German media, to domestic violence and high rates of recipients of Hartz IV public assistance: In recent years, Neukölln has made more headlines throughout Germany for its negative attributes than any other district in Berlin. But social and cultural anthropologist Michaela Brosig of Freie Universität Berlin went beyond the clichés presented in the media for her master’s thesis, studying the lives and lifestyles of young women of Turkish immigrant backgrounds in Neukölln. “Neukölln Unlimited?” she asks in the title, a play on both the title of a recent film of the same name and the opportunities and limitations involved in living in this district.
Brosig, who focuses primarily on feminist aspects of social and cultural anthropology, spent about two years working with nine young women ranging in age from 12 to 23 at a girls’ facility in Neukölln. Brosig worked as both a researcher and a social worker, interviewing all of the young women. For her master’s thesis, supervised by Professor Hansjörg Dilger at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Brosig has now received the Augsburg Academic Prize for Intercultural Studies, which is jointly awarded by the city of Augsburg, the University of Augsburg, and the nonprofit Forum Interkulturelles Leben und Lernen (FILL e.V.).
Carving out a niche for themselves, the desire to chart their own courses in life: Many of the young women shared the same goals. Since most of them are still living with their families, they use various strategies – alongside academic ambitions and their hopes for a professional career – to achieve those aims, ranging from provoking outright confrontation with their parents or keeping secrets to open dialogue.
“The more constraints are in place in the families, the more the girls tend to hide things like going out to clubs or having a boyfriend,” Brosig says. In some cases, they enlist their sisters or mothers to help with alibis, and while female solidarity within the family strengthens the young women in one way, this kind of double life often involves heavy psychological pressure. After all, traditional norms are widespread in the young women’s environment, “even though most of the research participants have come up with their own alternative ideas surrounding concepts of honor,” as Brosig says.
The image of oppressed Muslim women spread in Germany was another topic of discussion. “The young women thought that this discourse tends to generalize much too broadly,” Brosig reports. They rejected perceptions of themselves as part of a homogeneous Turkish culture and placed conservative norms squarely within their parents’ generation, from which they distanced themselves.
“Only a few of the young women have ever been to Turkey at all,” Brosig says. Those who have been to the country found themselves called “Almanci” – Turkish for inhabitants of Germany. “The majority of the young women reject clear-cut identifications, for example as being Turkish or German, referring instead to fragmented or local identities.”
Many of the young women, for instance, call themselves “Neuköllnerinnen” – residents of Neukölln – especially to defend themselves from negative labels imposed by others, such as “foreigner,” Brosig found. They associate the term “home” with places where they experience social appreciation, respect, and affirmation – such as at the girls’ center, in their home district, or within the family.
The girls are ambivalent in their views of Neukölln itself. “The young women do share some of the views we see in the media, with Neukölln as a ghetto or a hotbed of social issues. But that also makes the district fertile ground for hip-hop and subcultures,” Brosig says. Girls who are involved in rap, especially, draw strength and identification from living in this neighborhood. Many of the young women also perceive the area as a safe haven where they do not feel threatened by racism – a stark contrast from the city’s eastern districts.
In retrospect, Brosig finds the observation period very short for a study of this kind. The younger girls, in particular, changed very quickly. “A longitudinal study conducted over several years would be interesting,” she says. Brosig still keeps in touch sporadically with some of the young women who participated in her research, but she has lost contact with others.