ERG SES D 05, Parallel Session D 05
Research into representations of youth, ethnicity and identity is a key dimension of urban education research. This paper examines dominant portrayals of Muslim youth in Britain and Germany, while also focusing on how young Muslims themselves respond to such representations. Media, political and public discourses around integration, community cohesion, radical Islam and citizenship are predicated upon ideas about the ‘nation’, how ethnic minorities are positioned in relation to it, and who is or is not included in mainstream ‘society’. How might being confronted with discourses that problematise Muslims, and ethnic minorities generally, influence young Muslims’ identities and their social location? Does the saturation of images that present Muslims as alien and ‘other’ impact upon these young people’s educational experiences? My research focuses on how young people from Turkish and Pakistani backgrounds negotiate these discourses and how they position themselves in relationship to them.
Social changes following the Second World War due to mass immigration, centralisation of political and economic power within Europe beyond national boundaries, as well as globalisation are increasingly challenging notions of fixed collective identities based on constructions of shared history, territory and ethnicity. As part of this study, I investigate how two countries - Britain and Germany - with different histories, immigration, integration and educational policies have dealt with the mass immigration post-1945, and how this corresponds to outcomes today, at a time when ideas of a common European identity and citizenship gain significance. A historical dimension is important for understanding how contemporary ideas about Muslims are related to wider discursive shifts: The dominant ways ethnic minorities are perceived, talked and written about by the white majority population have arguably changed over recent decades from concepts of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ to ‘culture’ and ‘faith’. While these notions are intertwined rather than distinct, they all function as markers of difference, and essentialist connotations persist, although less overt.
I am working with second and third generation British Pakistani and German Turks. These groups are generally thought of as disenfranchised by researchers: They are often depicted as socially excluded and economically disadvantaged, as ‘underachieving’ educationally and experiencing disproportionate levels of unemployment. Sections of the media and some politicians, however, depict young people from these communities as disengaged from society, living ‘parallel lives’ and contributing to social problems such as violent crime. While young males are thought of as at risk of ‘radicalisation’, young women are often portrayed as passive and oppressed. When faced with these notions, does it reinforce young Muslims’ alleged sense of alienation, or do they challenge and reject these ideas? How do the young people feel about such discourses and in what way does it shape their understanding of ‘self’? How do they negotiate their identities in the light of negative representations by the non-Muslim majority? These are the questions this research aims to address. The theoretical and methodological framework utilised draws on cultural, media and political studies, as well as critical ethnography, sociology, history, documentary and discourse analysis.
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