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Transnational Communities Programme

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Negotiating Spaces: Media and Cultural Practices in the Turkish Diaspora in Britain, France and Germany

Short summary / Long description

Principal Researcher
Professor Kevin Robins
Goldsmiths College
Department of Media and Communications
New Cross
London, SE14 6NW
Dr.Asu Aksoy
Goldsmiths College
University of London
Professor Kevin Robins
Tel: 0171 919 7246
Fax: 0171 919 7616
Duration of Research
1 October 1998 - 30 October 2000

Short summary

This project is concerned with contemporary cultural transformations in minority Turkish communities in Western Europe. It will involve a comparative study of populations in Britain, France and Germany. The specific focus is on media, culture and communication, in terms of both consumption patterns and production activities. The central hypothesis is that new media developments - satellite television, cable, the Internet - are creating a new transnational cultural order. Turkish communities are now watching Turkish television and reading Turkish newspaper on a daily basis. The project is concerned with a number of key issues: what this means for the way in which Turks across Europe relate to their ‘homeland’; what it implies for their involvement in their countries of residence in Europe; and the question of whether there are new forms of connection between Turkish populations in Britain, France and Germany. In raising these issues, the project takes account of key differentations within Turkish communities (based on age, gender, generation, religion, ethnicity, etc). The research will be undertaken through in depth interviews with Turkish populations in London, Paris, Berlin and Hannover, and will also involve interviews with media executives in the three countries and in Turkey.

Negotiating Spaces: Media and Cultural Practicesin the Turkish Diaspora in Britain, France and Germany

 Long description

This project takes as its core concern the ways in which media and other cultural practices are presently being mobilised by Turkish communities in Europe in their attempt to define their presence and identity, both within their countries of residence, and across the transnational space of Europe. It involves comparative research into the new cultural spaces of Turkish populations in three European counties, Britain, France and Germany.

The preliminary hypothesis is that developments in media and communications in the late 1990s are contributing to a radical transformation of the cultural space of Turks in diaspora. Research into contemporary forms of media use and cultural practice can provide an excellent focus for grasping the changing dynamics of identity formation within the transnational Turkish community. In what ways, the project asks, are Turks in Europe now using the media, and in what kinds of cultural activities are they involved? Are changing uses of the media by Turkish populations affecting the ways in which they identify (or not) with the different national communities in which they live? Are Turks using the media in such a way as to construct a transnational diasporic identity across the European continent? Does this primarily concern a transformed relationship to the Turkish ‘homeland’, or is it also a matter of new horizontal links being created between the different Turkish communities within the European nation states? What might be the key common elements in the new transnational identities?

A common argument now is that the increasing consumption of Turkish media by diasporic populations is an index of their ‘Turkishness’, and, by the same token, a sign of their failed integration into the European nation states. This way of posing the issue is problematical, however. Debates imprisoned within an either/or logic limiting European Turks’ identities either to Turkey or to Britain/France/Germany fail to account for the changing nature of their relationship to Turkey and for the transformations taking place in the frame in which they ground their cultural, social and political identities and demands.


There are three relevant contexts to the research: (1) the particular relationship between Turkey and Europe; (2) transnationalism and Turkish migrant communities in Western Europe; and (3) transnationalism in media and cultural industries, practices and consumption patterns.

1) Turkey/Europe. To understand the distinctive issues raised by Turkish migration, it is first necessary to situate migrant experiences in terms of the particular historical relationship that has evolved between Turkey and Europe. Their mutual encounter has a long history, in which Turkey has, on the one hand, been counted as part of wider Europe, and, on the other, been excluded on the basis of its Muslim identity. The more, it seems, that Turkey has sought to westernise its culture and way of life, the more Europeans have reminded Turks of their difference. Turks have consequently come to feel that Europe (as a whole) puts a block on their identity aspirations. This has been associated with a resistance to assimilation among Turkish migrants. Refusal, or deferral, of Turkish entry to the European Union has particularly served to confirm Turkish fears.

Changes that have been going on in Turkey since the mid ‘80s (associated with both economic liberalisation and the ending of the Cold War world order) are now having important consequences for this relationship. What has been apparent has been a cultural transformation that has in some respects called into question the ‘official’ Kemalist culture, and given visibility and voice to what has been referred to as the ‘real’ Turkey. There is a new salience of ethnic identities (Kurdish, Laz, Bosnian, Caucasian, etc.) and also a new assertion of religious identities (Sunni and Alevi). In place of the old imagined unity, there is now a new awareness of complexity and diversity in Turkish identity. This awareness is also apparent, in distinctive ways, among Turkish communities in Western Europe, for whom Turkish cultural and political life remains the fundamental reference point.

(2) The Transnational Turkish Community

Of the 2.8 million Turks in Europe, around 2 million live in Germany, with France and Britain each having 250,000 migrants (these figures are official, and real figures are likely to be higher). In each of these national contexts, there are important and interesting distinguishing features. German migrants have been establish longest, form the 1960s, with already a third-generation population. Migrations to France and Britain were later, mainly in the 1970s. As well as having different age profiles, there are some distinctive differences in cultural composition between the communities.

Notwithstanding these significant differences in migration patterns, the Turkish diaspora quickly developed into a transnational community, based on a common experience of migration, common historical and territorial references, and common interests. It may be argued that Turkish migrants constitute a paradigm example of a transnational community.

There are a number of distinctive features of the Turkish diaspora that have inclined it towards the formation of an imagined transnational community:

(i) Unlikely the Maghrebian immigration in France, or the Surinamian immigration in the Netherlands, or the settlement of South Asians in Britain, Turkish immigration is not based on a colonial past. Unlike those other communities, then, the Turks have no privileged relation to any particular European nation state;

(ii) Turkish immigrants in Europe constitute the only national group spread throughout Europe (in addition to the large populations in Germany, France and Britain, there are 20,000 Turks in the Netherlands, 100,000 in Belgium and Switzerland, 20,000 in Denmark and Sweden). Such a dispersal makes it easier to structure transnational networks based on family ties, on economic activities, and on political organisations and voluntary associations in different countries;

(iii) It is necessary to recognise the significance of the geographical proximity between Turkey and Western Europe. This has made it possible for the Turkish migrants in European countries to travel to and fro relatively easily. In many cases, what we now have is a new kind of commuting migration, permitting a constant and continuous transition between identity positions.

A further distinguishing feature of the Turkish communities in Europe, particularly since the 1980s, is their high degree of politicisation - politicisation that relates directly to ideological divisions and struggles within Turkey. Immigrants from Turkey have been organised along ethnic (Kurds vs Turks), religious (Sunni vs Alevi), ideological (Left vs Right), regional and linguistic lines. In one respect, this may make for a divided and partitioned community. But, counter-intuitively perhaps, the identity of the community as a whole can be reinforced by these clear internal relations of solidarity and rivalry.

The force of those cultural and ideological dynamics has been reinforced by the irruption of Turkish media into Europe. Images of daily events in Turkey have served to strengthen the importance of Turkey as a cultural and political reference point.

(3) The New Media and Cultural Order

This brings us to the implication of media and cultural organisations and practices in the transformation of cultural spaces and identities. Studying the media can provide rich insights to what is happening to ‘Turkishness’ in its various contemporary manifestations.

First, we must have regard to wider transformations that are occurring in contemporary media industries and markets, transformations associated with the development of new ‘space-transcending’ technologies (satellite tv, the Internet). An important consequence has been the construction of new transnational communicational and cultural spaces in and across Europe. In this new media order, audiences that were once marginalised as ‘minority interests’ within the national broadcasting regimes of Europe, may now be reconstituted as significant elements in transnational services that embrace diasporic interests and identities.

It is in this broader context that we may situate the particular developments associated with Turkish media and transnational Turkish audiences. Perhaps the most crucial development has been in Turkish television, where the historical monopoly of the state broadcasting organisation, TRT, was undermined in the early ‘90s - as a consequence of both pirate broadcasting and new liberal economic policies. As a consequence there was a proliferation of commercial channels in Turkey (the main ones were Interstar, Kanal 6, Show TV, ATV, Kanal D). Additionally, there was the inauguration of new religious channels (Kanal 7, TGRT, Samanyolu). All these stations provided innovative coverage of Turkish society, and contributed towards representing the multiple dimensions of Turkish society. Through the 1990s, moreover, these channels have also actively sought to make their programmes available to the Turkish populations in Europe, through satellite links, but also by means of deals with cable operators. Programming to Europe has now become integral to their scheduling practices. The state broadcaster has also gone transnational, with its new channel, TRT-INT. We should also note the presence of the Kurdish television station Med-TV, broadcasting from Europe. This new logic of transnational marketing has also become apparent in other forms of production: Turkish newspapers are now published in editions from Europe; Turkish musical culture is aimed at the European market.

Account must also be taken of smaller-scale developments in Turkish media within the diaspora communities. To take the German example, Turks in Berlin have access to radio broadcasting partly in Turkish (SFB4-Multikulti, Kiss FM) and to private television channels (TDI, AYPA-TV, Offener Kanal). Due to the high penetration of broadcast media, several religious groups and nationalist groups are exploiting their potential. Web sites are also a growing phenomenon.

The emergent new media are part of the process of negotiating new cultural spaces both among Turks and among Turks of the diaspora.

Research Issues

The research explores the relationship that is being negotiated between the European nation states, which aim to manage and integrate the migrant populations, and the Turkish communities, intent on defending their national, ethnic or religious interests. First, it considers the nature and the significance of the political culture within the different nation states (in this case Britain, France and Germany) for shaping the cultural strategies of Turkish immigrants, taking account of differences between the policies of the host nations, particularly with respect to rules of naturalisation. There are great difficulties in acquiring citizenship under the German system of ius sanguis, as is well known, whilst the civic tradition in France has made integration much easier. Policies and attitudes on ‘multiculturalism’ are also significant, and vary significantly across the three countries. Recent developments have served to aggravate the situation, including a more problematical approach towards the integration of minorities in France, and the development in Germany of an alarmist approach to the dangers of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’.

The core issue in the research then concerns how Turks in diaspora are responding to contemporary developments. There is evidence to suggest that the Turkish diaspora is distinctive with respect to other transnational communities in Europe, in terms of how it is positioning itself in the host countries. Research questions here concern:

(1) How Turkish communities are responding to European and European national attitudes towards Turkey. The strategy of Turks in Europe may be mirroring that of Turkey itself. In both cases, it is a question of whether it is possible to be in Europe, and yet, at the same time, preserve a cultural distinctiveness. The integration policies of European nation states may also be facing resistance from Turkish communities that are trying to position themselves on their own terms. The Turkish diaspora might, in this respect, pose a challenge to European policies on multiculturalism and citizenship.

(2) How much developments in é migré communities are being affected by the transformations in Turkey that were referred to above. The constant commuting between place of domicile and place of origin now makes it necessary to think of Turkey and Western Europe as a single cultural space, with cultural influences flowing in both directions. If in the past it was the case that migration stopped time (the homeland existed in the past tense for the migrant), now the migrant communities are synchronised with the time of Turkey.

(3) How differences and divisions within the transnational Turkish community affect cultural responses. There is evidence of quite distinctive cultural inflections within the Turkish diaspora, and, behind the often imagined homogeneity of ‘Turkishness’, it is possible to construct a complex map of cultural differences: division between secular and religious groups; religious differences between Sunnis and Alevis; differences according to such variables as age, (migrant) generation, and gender. It may well be the case, furthermore, that such cultural differences become exaggerated in the diasporic context.

(4) How transnational forms of association are developing across the diasporic Turkish communities. This concerns the development of forms of solidarity and representation that may transcend internal differences to nourish the imagination of a transnational community of ‘Turks abroad’.

Finally, and most particularly for this research project, there is the question of how media and cultural practices relate to these process of identity formation. On the one hand, there is a fear that Turks are taking refuge in an exclusively Turkish cultural space. This provokes anxieties about their dissociation form the cultural and political life of the country of residence. On the other hand, the new media and cultural space clearly provides opportunities for Turkish communities to extend forms of transnational association and soliarity. And, of course, such developments do not necessarily preclude continuing involvement in the country of settlement. Media and cultural practices are absolutely central, then, to the new transnational developments. The problem is that very little is actually known about media use. There is great need for solid, empirical evidence of new cultural developments in order to respond constructively to the questions posed by the Turkish diaspora in Western Europe.

Research Approach

The research involves an analysis of media use and cultural practices by Turkish communities in Britain, France and Germany. It will in some respects build on other research that has sought to examine the media activities of minorities - for example Naficy’s work on Iranian exiles; the work of Cunningham and Sinclair on media use by Asian diasporas in Australia; Gillespie’s work on South Asians in Britain; the work of Hargreaves and Mahdjoub on minorities in France. This project, however, is primarily concerned with broader transformations in Turkish culture and identity, and the decision has been taken not to define media too narrowly. The project will be concerned with a broader range of cultural practices and activities, as they seem necessary to understand the wider cultural dynamics of the communities being studied.

Media and cultural practices will be considered from three perspectives: (1) Consumption - involving an in-depth, qualitative analysis of media use (both Turkish and other by different groups within Turkish communities in Britain, France and Germany; (2) Cultural Practices - concerned with forms of cultural practice undertaken by members of the European Turkish communities themselves (e.g. newspapers, videos, radio); (3) New Media and Markets - involving an examination of mainstream media production for Turkish communities in Europe (e.g. satellite television, newspapers, Internet services). Research will be conducted in Turkey (Istanbul, Ankara) and also with representatives of Turkish media in Western Europe. A key concern, then, is with the interaction between cultural identities and the logics of media markets and businesses.

The research seeks to situate these media and cultural practices within the institutional structure of the Turkish communities. The study of media is a means to gain insight into wider questions of culture, identity and community in the changing diaspora. In line with this emphasis, the researchers will work with organisations and agencies within the Turkish communities (rather than seeking to interview people on an individual or family basis).

Finally, the approach is a comparative one, involving a cross-national study of one particular diaspora. In one respect, this will provide insights into different dynamics of identity formation in different (national) contexts. But, perhaps more importantly, this work in four countries (Britain, France, Germany and Turkey) will afford greater possibility of understanding the dynamics of transnational cultures and community


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