Experiencing Differences and Diversities in Contemporary Germany

Since its reunification in 1990, Germany has been grappling with definitions of national identity, belonging, and citizenship. Memories of the horrific legacies of Nazism and the Holocaust intersect with new political and social realities, such as the addition of the socialist East, the role of ongoing and high migration, globalisation, Islam and Muslim hybrid identities, and citizenship legislation. Since the summer of 2015, the arrival of over one million refugees has intensified debates about what it means to live with cultural difference and how Germany ought to respond to poverty and suffering exploding in Europe’s richest country. Young and old Germans launched an unprecedented number of civil society initiatives. At the same time, reactions to assaults on hundreds of women in Cologne and to terrorist attacks in France and Belgium revealed xenophobia and political radicalism.

To examine these issues in greater detail, Sharon Macdonald (CARMAH) and Jan-Jonathan Bock (Woolf Institute) organised an academic workshop at the Institute of European Ethnology. Leading researchers from US, UK, and other European and German universities presented their latest findings and discussed the consequences of growing heterogeneity for German society. Panel contributions and discussion concentrated on such themes as ‘Contesting Diversities’, ‘Politics and the Reconfiguration of Identity’, ‘Experiencing Belonging and Exclusion’ as well as ‘Emergent and Future Forms of Action and Activism’. CARMAH Researcher Jonas Tinius also presented a paper titled ‘Engaging Art: Encounters and Representations of Diversity in Refugee Theatre’.

The two days were fascinating, productive, and insightful. Reflecting on how cultural differences are experienced in contemporary Germany reveals a range of understandings regarding diversity and heterogeneity. The so-called refugee crisis has produced new societal alliances and forms of social action, but it also revealed inadequacies regarding the capacity of German society and at least some state institutions to be truly inclusive. More research is needed in this field. For those interested in the topics our workshop debated, plans are ongoing to publish all papers in an edited volume in the near future.

To read the full text on the conference, please see Jan-Jonathan Bock’s full report.

© Anne-Sophie Reichert