Prof Mathias Czaika chaired and moderated online the "Faculty Talk: Transnational Identities and Belongings" at the University for Continuing Education Krems on 23 March 2022. It was Vedran Džihić, Cengiz Günay and Ludger Pries who analyzed the contemporary political question of how migrant identities are constituted, and discussed the potential of these transnational identities for the cultivation of democratic structures.
How do we deal with the challenge posed by an increasingly diversified society, not least because of the large number of people with migration experience? Due to flight from war within Europe this has currently developed to a societal topic which is highly relevant for politics. How can democratic policy benefit from the potential of such national pluralism, and what special roles do transnational identities play in this context? These questions were addressed on Wednesday, 23 March 2022, at the Faculty Talk on "Transnational Identities and Belongings" organized by the University for Continuing Education Krems.
Migrants as independent actors
Prof Mathias Czaika, Head of the Department of Migration and Globalisation, and host of the Faculty Talk, presented in his introduction the meaning and historical roots that lay behind the concept of transnationalism. He said that with her concept of transnationalism, anthropologist Prof Nina Glick Schiller initiated a shift in paradigms within migration research in 1992. The main focus of the transnational perspective is on the continuous interactions of migrants as independent actors along with political, social and socio-economic phenomena, which can emanate from the country of origin as well as from the host country. Thus, transnationalism proves to be a hybrid alternative to the concepts of assimilation and segregation and thereby of importance for the field of integration.
Identities beyond clear nationalities
„Concepts and Policies of the Construction of National and Transnational Belongings“ was the keynote address of Prof Ludger Pries, Ruhr University Bochum, who explained how identities - i.e. group memberships in the broadest sense - are created and what role the special type of transnational identities play. Transnationality is only one of many identity components. According to Pries, these include social class, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, and citizenship. The differentiation of these characteristics alone creates several billion possible combinations.
But how, in view of this diversity, can a (self-)assignment to certain groups nevertheless be conceived? Pries proposed the distinction between a geographical and a social space of identities. In this way, characteristics can be unified into complex groups of characteristics. This is also where transnational identity finds its place. It cannot be clearly assigned to the country of origin or arrival, in contrast to diaspora identity with its strong reference to locality. According to Pries, the concept of transnational identities makes it possible to think of identity constructions in a way that is not exclusively nationalistic, without having to completely abandon this characteristic.
Hybrid Identities with Migration Experience Moving into Transnational Political Engagement
Cengiz Günay, Director of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs (oiip), revealed in his presentation that for migrants to participate in politics, the nature and character of their sense of belonging to political movements and parties is crucial. He presented on "Social and political identities and their transnational dimension - the example of Turkish migrants in Austria" which builds on the project "Transnational political engagement of the Serbian and Turkish diaspora", and Günay carried out together with Vedran Džihić.
Günay elaborated on a high convergence of social and political identity that could not be substantiated with the approval of a specific ideology. In his view, support for political groups and parties is similar to emotional attachment to a sports team. Both satisfying the need of belonging to a specific group and raising the status of this group is what drives people to do so. Particularly migrants have a strong tendency towards this. The associated process kicked off by the group filtering information does not simply lead to an import of conflicts from the country of origin into the country of arrival. Transnational experiences serve as a basis for transforming and merging conflicts, including experiences of discrimination. These experiences would form an overarching migrant identity. From this, Günay derived two forms of transnational political engagement with seamless transitions: one that is primarily directed at the country of origin and one that focuses on the immigration society.
Transnational identity as a social in-between space
The breakdown of these migrant identities continued with Vedran Džihić, Senior Researcher at oiip. In his presentation "Patterns and contradictions of transnational identities and affiliations - the example of ex-Yugoslav migrants in Austria" he first identified four structural characteristics of transnational spaces in order to reveal their impact on migrant identities.
Džihić described care relationships, i.e., family and friends being the closest, as the core and first characteristic of transnational spaces. Communication mainly takes place via social media. Furthermore, the experience of discrimination is twofold: both on the part of the country of origin and the host country. As a result, migrants have the feeling that they cannot be completely at home either here or there. The fourth and last characteristic of transnational spaces emerges out of the feeling migrants share of being at home everywhere and yet sensing simultaneously a feeling of alienation. Depending on the social or educational background, one of these poles is dominant: while better-educated migrants are more likely to develop a plural political identity, those with less education are more likely to have a feeling of exclusion.
For Džihić, transnational emancipatory democracy potentials arise from the interplay between the country of origin and the host country as a mutual opportunity: transnationality can ensure democratic renewal in the country of arrival through the influx of debates and ideas. At the same time, however, it is conceivable that this transnational political engagement in the host country might effect a progressive democratic-political change in the countries of origin.