RESPONDers Reviews: Ayhan Kaya's 'Turkish Origin Migrants and Their Descendants'

Reviewed By: Justyna Szalanska | The Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul


In his recent publication "Turkish Origin Migrants and Their Descendants", Ayhan Kaya proposes an interesting approach to the phenomenon of migration in the context of a transnational space constructed by immigrants of Turkish descent and their descendants who maneuver between the countries of settlement and origin. The author presents the above mentioned issue from various research perspectives - political science, sociology and anthropology, but refrains from essentialism in defining culture, nation, civilization, religion and citizenship. It means that these categories are not treated as fixed values, but are perceived as phenomena subject to constant changes and transformations that are influenced by experiences from the cross-border area far more than by the culture of the country of origin or host country. On these grounds Kaya suggests to resign from traditional, reductionist terms in naming these people such as ‘migrant’, ‘Turkish’ or ‘Muslim’, and to use, instead, combined expressions connected with a hyphen: ‘migrant-origin’, ‘Turkish-origin’ and ‘Muslim-origin’. The author approach comes close to the earlier works on identity of migrants leaving in a borderland (Hooks 1990; Hill, Collins 1998; Sandoval 2000; Mohanty 2003; La Barbera 2012). The category of transnational space resembles the borderland, understood as an “interstitial zone of displacement and de-territorialization that shapes the identity of hybridised subjects” (Gupta and Ferguson 1992).

The book has six chapters: one preliminary devoted to methodology and explanation of the main issues, and five thematic ones. The second chapter deals with theoretical considerations on migrations and migrants' identities, with the author looking for other than traditional approaches to show that explaining the identity of immigrants requires a withdrawal from the perception of this phenomenon in traditional binary terms. Kaya proposes a new concept: IDology, resulting from the combination of two words: English "ID" (Identity Card) meaning identity card and "logia" from the Greek "logos" - word, science. IDology is a critical approach to the recently popularized identity studies, which, according to Kaya, only duplicate identity discourses and, therefore, only deepen the differences between immigrants and the societies of host countries. The third chapter concerns the 'labeling' of Turkish immigrants in Europe. The author claims that due to the growing Islamophobia in the host countries, as well as the institutionalization of Islam itself, Turkish immigrants ceased to be perceived as migrant workers (Gastarbaiters), and they were referred to as, initially, Turks (up to the 90s) and later - Muslims. The fourth chapter is devoted to the construction of immigrant communities based on faith, ethnicity and culture. In the next chapter, the author introduces the policy of the Turkish state towards emigrants, emphasizing the role of religion in the policy carried out by the currently ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP). The sixth and last chapter presents various issues related to the policy of transnational space in which Turkish immigrants live: from the influence of emigrants in the political, economic, social, cultural and intellectual spheres on their country of origin, through immigrants as transnational actors, debates about intellectuals in Berlin, up to the patterns of emigration and return among young Turks and the effects of political instability being the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in 2016. 

The publication follows Felix Guattari’s concept of three ecologies - three interconnected networks existing at the scales of mind, society and the environment (Guattari 2000). Kaya, after Guattari, names them as social, moral and environmental ecologies and proposes to assess 

Turkish-origin migrants and their descendants through their lens. According to the author, Turkish immigrants singularize their identities in the form of individualization of Islam or celebration of ethno-cultural minor differences through the moral ecosophy. Through social ecosophy migrants create counter-hegemonic (or counter-dominating) expressive cultures (for instance hip-hop) or construct communities of faith, ethnicity, culture and honour (Kaya 2018: 5). Eventually, they also produce an environmental ecosophy, which can be explaied as a strategy to survive in a new environment. The latter can have a shape of multiple identities, a specific bricolage of transnational, political, social and cultural formations (Kaya 2018: 5). 

What is undoubtedly an added value to the book is the fact that Kaya brings his own earlier ethnographic studies among Turkish-origin and Muslim-origin immigrants in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Kaya’s approach to studying identity derives from concepts of Brubaker (1992), Gilroy (1987) and Hall (1994). Similarly to Gilroy and Hall, Kaya claims that culture and identity are phenomena in the process of constant change. Whereas Brubaker finds immigration as a challenge to the traditional nation-state and formal citizenship (Brubaker 1992), Kaya goes further and points out that identity of immigrants is produced as a counterbalance of growing populism and racism in Europe (Kaya 2018: 142). 

Through the criticism of contemporary methods of identity research, Kaya tries to show that identity is a difficult phenomenon to be defined unequivocally, because it is a result of individual experiences. According to Kaya, identity is a collage, a unique creation composed of many components: the culture of the country of origin, the culture of the host country, family traditions and the baggage of experience from the routes traveled in the transit space. The identity shaped in this way is a by-product of the strategy of survival and adaptation of immigrants to new living conditions. The book is a valuable guide for any researcher willing to break up with essentialism in studying migrants' identities.


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