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Advantage in Theater for Men with Migration Background and Transgender People

Researchers at Freie Universität Berlin investigated structures of discrimination and privileges in the theater

№ 144/2020 from Aug 25, 2020

A study by researchers at Freie Universität has surprisingly shown that men with a migration background and people with a nonbinary gender identity experience a slight advantage over other male applicants in the field of theater. “In other social fields people in these groups are often discriminated,” says Professor Jürgen Gerhards, a sociologist at Freie Universität Berlin and co-author of the publication along with Tim Sawert and Julia Tuppat. The researchers investigated whether there was evidence of discrimination in the theater as well. “There is no such evidence; on the contrary, in the field of art members of these groups experience an advantage,” says Professor Gerhards. The study indicates that in theater, the symbolic order of discrimination found in society is reversed. The findings were published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

According to the authors, there are two ways of assessing the findings. “If you consider the theater as a critical institution for commenting on social developments and as a space for reversing societal conditions, one would probably welcome the findings,” says Gerhards. On the other hand, in light of the antidiscrimination directives of the European Union, the findings cannot be rated positively because they indicate that there is also discrimination in the field of theater, only in the opposite direction.

For their experiment, the sociologists sent out fictitious applications for an internship to all 462 German-speaking theaters in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The cover letter and curriculum vitae were identical in all the applications except for two characteristics. On the one hand, the origin of the applicants varied; they came from Germany, France, and Turkey and were called Lukas Steltmeier, Matthieu Dubois, and Hussein Özdemir. On the other hand, the gender identity of the applicants varied between male and transgender. Professor Gerhards pointed out that female persons were not taken into account because that would have expanded the combination of characteristics so greatly that statistically meaningful statements would not have been possible.

The findings contradict all other studies available to date on discrimination in the labor market, says Gerhards. The fictitious applicant without a migration background received the lowest number of invitations to interviews (26.4 %). The most were received by the applicant of Turkish origin (40.9 %), followed by the French candidate (31.4 %). There was also no discrimination against people with a non-heterosexual gender identity. The fictitious person with a transgender identity was invited to job interviews somewhat more often than the male competitors. The difference, however, was just under three percentage points and thus not significant, explains Gerhards.

The Publication

Jürgen Gerhards, Tim Sawert & Julia Tuppat (2020): “Reversing the Symbolic Order of Discrimination: Results from a Field Experiment on the Discrimination of Migrants and Transgender People in Theatre,” in: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, DOI:10.1080/1369183X.2020.1754771

Further Information

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gerhards, Institute of Sociology, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-57653, Email: j.gerhards@fu-berlin.de