Sakıp Sabancı International Research Awards- Abstracts of Awarded Essays

The three equally-weighted Essay Awards were given to Defne Kadıoğlu Polat, Zeynep Selen Artan-Bayhan from City University of New York, and Tolga Tezcan from Florida University.

Awarded Essays Abstracts

“At least we have a home here” Everyday Experiences of Turkish Immigrants in a Gentrifying Berlin Neighborhood

Defne Kadıoğlu Polat


This paper debates the relation between ethnic and economic inequality in Germany by examining the everyday practices of first-generation Turkish immigrants in a previously stigmatized and currently gentrifying Berlin neighborhood. Over the decades many studies have recognized the potential of Turkish immigrants in Germany to change and being changed by their places of settlement. However, debate on migrant-related social inequality still mostly evolves around the integration paradigm. What lacks is a discussion on not only how Turkish immigrants affect German society but how forms of exclusion and inequality are changing with the neoliberal restructuring of the German economy. 

One example of this restructuring is gentrification. Gentrification is the transformation of  neighborhoods, districts or even whole cities for more affluent users. It is currently one of the most heatedly debated issues in Germany, particularly in the capital. However, studies that try to understand how gentrification affects the lives of residents by looking at their everyday practices are still rare. This paper, by studying first-generation Turkish immigrants in an immigrant-heavy working-class Berlin neighborhood, argues that the gentrification process provides us with a unique lens to grasp how ethnic and economic inequality are intertwined. 

Theoretically the paper relies on human geographer Henri Lefebvre’s multidimensional theory of space. In particular it is argued that through the dialectic relationship that Lefebvre proposes between what he calls conceived and lived space we can gain a better understanding of different and competing perspectives on Reuterkiez’s pre-gentrification state and its current gentrifying condition. After introducing the theoretical framework, the paper proceeds with a brief discussion on Berlin’s housing context, also explaining why Turkish immigrants in the capital are currently disproportionally affected by gentrification. Next the debate will turn to the empirical case study. Firstly, the neighborhood under scrutiny, Reuterkiez, will be introduced. Secondly the circumstances of gentrification in the quarter will be described, explicating how it has turned from one of the most stigmatized areas in Germany to one of the most popular spots in Berlin. In this part it will also be discussed how the neighborhood before gentrification has been reduced to the notion of a troublesome ‘immigrant ghetto’ by dominant actors such as the media and local politicians. Thirdly, it will be shown why and how Reuterkiez, despite its bad image and existing social problems has a strong use-value for Turkish immigrant residents, a use-value that is gradually lost under gentrification. Accordingly, the last part of the empirical chapter will debate how first-generation Turkish immigrants in Reuterkiez are affected by the gentrification process. 

Overall the argument presented in this paper firstly demonstrates that Turkish immigrants in Berlin are differentially affected by gentrification given pre-existing social inequalities. Secondly, relying on Henri Lefebvre’s distinction between conceived and lived space, the paper challenges the dominant idea of immigrant-heavy neighborhoods as inherently ‘problematic’ by referring to the experiences of Turkish immigrant residents and their families.

Praying God Abroad: Religious Boundary and the Experiences of Turkish Immigrants in Germany and the United States

Selen Artan Bayhan


Recent attacks carried out by radical Islamist groups in European capitals such as Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and American cities of San Bernardino and Orlando have not only claimed many civilian lives but also revealed the troublesome nature of Muslim presence in the U.S. and Western Europe. Following the attacks, statements questioning the compatibility of Islam with Western values have resurfaced in the press and social media. While there is a shared feeling of unease towards the presence of Islam in the West, there are also significant historical and structural differences that set the contexts on either side of the Atlantic apart. The demographics of the Muslim population, the religiosity of the receiving society, and also deeply rooted relations between religious institutions and state play important role in creating different settings that may have diverse outcomes for Muslims. Since the structure of boundaries between immigrants and native population is path dependent, comparing an immigrant group coming from same country in two different settings would reveal both the structure of the boundaries and their respective effects on immigrant encounters and experiences. This paper is an attempt to understand how religious boundaries, which are structurally different in Germany and the United States, affect Turkish immigrants’ religious practices, experiences and identifications in their respective societies. The data for the American component is based on 52 in-depth interviews from my doctoral dissertation research done in 2013 and 2014 in New York and New Jersey. While the majority of the interviews were conducted with first generation Turkish immigrants, there are also respondents who arrived in the U.S. as kids accompanying their parents (1.5 generation). The section on Germany is heavily based on previous studies about Turkish immigrants and religion/religious boundary. However, I used blog entries, public speeches, and literature with direct quotations of Turkish immigrants in order to give voice to their life experiences as Muslim immigrants in Germany. The study finds out that since the religious boundary is too bright in Germany, and not moving in the direction of blurring, the only option left for Turkish immigrants is to cross the boundary individually. This course of action might be more feasible for immigrants with lower levels of religious orientation, but for immigrants with higher levels, or for women wearing headscarves, moving beyond the religious boundary is hardly possible. In the American context, although the religious boundary has not been blurred entirely, it is moving towards that direction for many Turkish immigrants. Moreover, since becoming American and staying Muslim are not mutually exclusive processes, Turkish immigrants with high levels of religious orientation manage to harbor a hyphenated identity in the absence of a bright boundary. 

Building or Burning the Bridges? The Determinants of Return Migration Intentions of German-Turk Generations

Tolga Tezcan 


What drives German-Turks to return to Turkey? This study attempts to answer this question by investigating the determinants of return migration intention among German-Turks. While German-Turks, invited to work in the booming post-war economy, have always been defined as “guestworkers” and expected to return to Turkey eventually, they have preferred to stay in Germany, enjoy increased wealth by earning high wages, and benefits from the German welfare system. But things have changed since 2006, and the net migration number of Turks has now fallen to below zero for the first time. This study aims to identify the factors that influence the multifaceted issue of return migration intentions by combining quantitative and qualitative perspectives. Quantitatively, I use the most recent “Migration Sample (M1)” of the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), which includes 463 respondents who have a Turkish background, to estimate logistic regressions models and predicted probabilities for return intentions. Qualitatively, I conducted social media voice call interviews with 20 German-Turks planning on return migration. By utilizing a multi-method approach, this study focuses on testing the effects of four domains: (1) economic integration, (2) social and economic ties with Turkey, (3) discrimination, xenophobia, and multiple identities, and (4) generational status. The results indicate that all these domains make a contribution to return decisions. First, the neoclassical economics model, which assumes migrants are more likely to return once they face economic difficulties, is seen as more applicable to the German-Turks case. The qualitative findings confirmed that the return migration plans were rooted within economic challenges, especially after 2002 following the currency change in Germany. Second, the domain of social and economic ties with Turkey suggests support for having “feet in two societies” which triggers return considerations. Furthermore, the qualitative part of this study signals two undiscovered patterns: (I) children are one of the main factors for parents to construct transnational ties in order to be able to get children’s approval when it comes to return. Watching Turkish TV, speaking Turkish at home, and visiting Turkey regularly point to anti-assimilationist practices centered around the children; and (II) despite evidence from the regression analysis that contacting friends and relatives in Turkey increase the return migration intention, most of the German-Turks plan to move somewhere far from their relatives since they feel they cannot fulfill their relatives’ overwhelming economic expectations anymore. Third, perceived collective discrimination and concerns on xenophobia were also found to be catalysts for returning. German-Turks are the targets of collective discrimination based on their stigmatized identity in Germany. Fourth, and finally, this study sheds new light on generational status. The 1.5 and 2nd generation German-Turks are more likely to develop return migration intentions than the 1st generation. Qualitative findings in this study suggests that 3-D (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) jobs that have been carried out by mostly 1st generation German-Turks have now become a source of irritation and anger for subsequent generations. Moreover, for the 1.5 and 2nd generation German-Turks, by attending the 1st generations’ funerals, death has taken a mythical form which strengthens the desire to die in Turkey.