89.3 Closure and opening in asymmetrical communication about one's belonging

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 11:05 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Lena INOWLOCKI , Dept. of Health and Social Sciences, University of Applied Sciences Frankfurt am Main, Germany
In everyday interaction in Germany, provenience is often inquired about by speakers who feel entitled to be unquestionably “German”, in legal terms and in terms of social recognition. While – depending on region and age – one fifth up to one half of the population is of other than German descent, questions concerning provenience persist, marking difference and a previous status quo. The complex formal and informal regulations as well as the hegemonic discourse of who is regarded as “German” support demarcations, usually beyond the awareness of those who ask (and who perceive their question to be of general human interest). The question “where are you from?” actually presents communicative closure. The answer is cut down to identifying oneself on a checklist of “foreign” descent. Thus, in place of telling about grandparents who immigrated as migrant workers, about parents and oneself growing up in Germany, the short-cut answer would be “from Turkey” to preclude further questioning.

Communicative situations turn tense when difference is pointed out by a question, because of an asymmetrical relationship of who gets to ask and who is supposed to answer (even though every one would have a story to tell). The answer is tied to the expectation that the respondent will disclose what is already implied in the question, namely, his or her “non-German” belonging – which in turn becomes typified in combination with what else is perceived of the person in question (as a sort of 'anthropological' quest). What is the experience of persons who continuously have to react to such questions? Which ways of coping have been devised in facing short-circuits in communication?

Data analysis of everyday conversations and autobiographical-narrative interviews will be presented and a study of notions of “difference” and “culture”  in narrative expert interviews with psychotherapists and psychiatrists who treat migrants.