The Long Wait: African Migrant Communities and the Production of Local Identity in Istanbul, Turkey
Knight, Ricky Dale
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For nearly twenty years Turkey has been a transit location for sub-Saharan African migrants traveling to Europe. The majority of African migrants cannot immediately proceed onward to Europe, and spend months or years in Turkey, usually Istanbul, before they are successful in traveling onward. During this time migrants become temporary members of communities that are organized around shared identities, of which nationality is only one of many constituent elements. These communities operate not only to serve the material and informational needs of their members, but to transform members' identities in ways that speak to their experiences in Turkey. This dissertation follows Stuart Hall in contending that identity is not a fixed product of the past, but rather positional in that they are situated within discourses, and strategic in that they are responses to localized contingencies. A practice theory-based analysis shows that African migrant communities perform identity work within three critical fields of social encounter: relationships between the various African migrant communities themselves, encounters with a regime of migration control in which intersubjectivity is masked by a dominant discourse of legal objectivity, and the experience of alterity within Turkish national discourses on ethnicity and multiculturalism. This dissertation argues that migrant communities strategically manage identity within each of these fields in different ways. In relation to other migrant communities, the focus lies in competition or avoidance depending whether economic, social, and cultural capital produces greater or lesser degrees of power. In relation to the migrant control regime the focus in on successfully performing the role of refugee based on limited understandings of the works of the regime. In relation to a position of alterity within Turkish society, the focus is on spatial identities that limit public scrutiny. Although these strategies are divergent, they are linked by a unifying need to reduce the unpredictability and uncertainty that results from African migrants' inability to meaningfully control their day-to-day lives or their futures.