Race and Membership in Germany

AHA Session 102
Central European History Society 3
Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Paul R. Spickard, University of California, Santa Barbara
Rita Chin, University of Michigan

Session Abstract

What does it mean to be a member of German society? Presently, it seems problematic to describe Germany as an ethnic nation, as was the broadly accepted classification through the 1990s. Indeed, given the post-war taboos on using ethnic or racial language, the shifts in citizenship and naturalization law towards increasing openness, and the longstanding and growing immigrant and refugee populations, contemporary Germany is arguably closer to the civic-nation model present in France. Many scholars and politicians have been quick to jump on this classification, regarding Germany as one of the most liberal states in Europe and as the flagship for a more reasonable approach to integrating foreigners. At the same time, the past year has seen the rise of a nationalist-populist political party – Alternative für Deutschland – and similarly positioned interest groups, support for which is largely couched in xenophobic and ethno-nationalist rhetoric. Is this simply a reactionary movement responding to the European refugee crisis, or did ethnocentrism and race never really leave conceptions of what it means to be German? If the latter is true, where were they hiding, that we were not discussing them? At a time when the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach measures almost 50 per cent of Germans say that they think it would be best if Germany did not change much and 53 per cent say that increased immigration results in gradually losing what makes Germany German, it is especially critical to evaluate what it means to be “national,” and how membership in the nation can be racialized and ethnicized without the use of racial or ethnic language.

This session will engage with questions of race and nation in Germany, focusing on the places that racialization and racism are hidden in interactions, institutions, and social structures. The session will also address these questions from a variety of positions and approaches, both above and below, and both “German” and “foreigner.” Through evaluating the issue from multiple standpoints, we seek to provide a nuanced and thorough account of racialized Germanness in recent decades that combines both individual experiences and institutional arrangements. Ultimately, this session will address the many ways in which race permeates popular and institutional conceptualizations of German nationhood, but comes out in discourses of lack. These include, but are not limited to, expectations about language proficiency, cultural knowledge, religious difference, liberal values, etc. As a result, this session contributes to broader discussions of race and nationhood in a Europe that is increasingly removing race and ethnicity from its repertoire of categories for classification (in crime statistics, demographics, immigration reports, etc.) while simultaneously needing to come to grips with its increasingly globalized, transnational, and multicultural populations.

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