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Project summary

The project investigates new forms of public sociality emerging among young people with migrant backgrounds in the context of urban club cultures in three European cities. It comparatively studies the phenomenon of ethnic club scenes with Turkish, South Asian, French Caribbean orientations in Berlin, London and Paris, corresponding to the major immigrant groups in each city and country. The project aims to explore how young people participate in forms of social engagement and cultural experimentation that are specific to metropolitan city life, but have so far been not been addressed as relevant to the lives of ethnic minorities. Research seeks to shift attention from the predominant research focus on identity to a focus on practices of sociality, countering the heavy bias towards the study of attitudes and cultural identifications that tends to dominate across different disciplines when it comes to the study of ethnic minority youth in Europe. The project combines a focus on socio-cultural practices with an interest in urban scenes as fluid social formations that are semi-public and lack defined membership or criteria of belonging. Through ethnographic case studies carried out with a team of researchers in and across the three cities, we explore the potential of urban club scenes for producing and experiencing different kinds of sociality and encounter among marginalized groups.

Urban diversity

Urban space does not automatically bring forth 'cross-fertilization' and mixing just by virtue of being home to diverse populations, diverse in the sense of ethnic or sexual categories. Neither does the mere spatial co-presence of people that can be classified along multiple, often hierarchized categories of identity tell us much about how these people relate to each other in social terms. The urgent (political as well as academic) question is rather how different forms of urban sociality and association arise, and under what conditions – particularly with regard to forms of public life. We are not assuming pre-constituted groups here, no pregiven communal solidarity, no predetermined way of life and 'community' that seeks preservation, celebration, or integration into the wider imagined consensus of a wider ‘society’. Positing the issue of post-migrant socialities in urban spaces as an open question opens up a new terrain of inquiry: one that does not prioritize questions of identity but rather asks about social practices and forms of affiliation that tend to go unnoticed in the current disciplinary and interdisciplinary mainstream of ethnic and migration research.

Why post-migrants?

An ever-larger number of young people in Europe are descendants of immigrants whose migration history dates back to post-war population movements in the context of decolonization and labour migration. While these young people are often referred to as second- or third-generation migrants, they have mostly not moved across national borders themselves and claim home and belonging in their predominantly urban contexts of residence. To call them migrants can problematically contribute to the widespread racialized classification as strangers from ‘outside’ who cannot ever become part of the imagined ethno-national community. Yet, to simply refer to them as ethnic minorities ignores the importance of migration histories and transnational affiliations that continue to shape their lives. The term post-migrant is intended to capture both the importance of their histories and affiliations, and the distance that separates these young people from the direct migration experience of their parents or grandparents.

Why club scenes?

Clubbing is not only one of the most popular leisure pursuits of young people across Europe regardless of ethnic background and migration history, it is also an important context for deliberately socializing with strangers. Club scenes are quintessentially urban, semi-public social formations that lack rigid membership criteria and thrive on the excitement of being in the presence of unknown others. While some of the club scenes we study might appear relatively exclusive in terms of their ethnic composition, they are nevertheless anything but communities. On the contrary, they are contexts that flourish on the basis of encounters between strangers, creating forms of sociality that are marked by a low degree of obligation and commitment. A club night that does not continue to attract new participants will lose its appeal and founder. Club scenes are thus important sites for the formation of urban publics as forms of deliberate stranger sociality that flourish in urban environments. The participation in urban publics is a significant form of place-making through which city residents, including young post-migrants, can both stake symbolic claims to the city and shape both the urban fabric and urban forms of life.