Postmigrant Club Cultures in Urban Europe

by Kira Kosnick (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 162 Pages


How do young people with migration backgrounds take part in and shape urban leisure socialities in European cities? Presenting results of a long-term ethnographic research project carried out in ethnic club scenes in Paris, London and Berlin, this book challenges assumptions about migrant community dynamics and ethnic segregation. Examining both heteronormative and «queer» scenes, the contributors to this volume give insights into how clubbing socialities are related to the wider life contexts of different postmigrant groups and the challenges they face in metropolitan centres. Far from simply celebrating ethnic community, British Asian, German Turkish and French Caribbean club scenes respond to intersecting dynamics of racism, gentrification, sexism, homophobia and class stratification.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: New (Post-)Migrant Socialities – Ethnic Club Cultures in Urban Europe
  • ‘Moving on up?’ Navigating Through Urban Nightlife as a ‘Racialised’ Body: The Case of the Young British Asian in London
  • Appropriating the banlieue through Leisure. The Social and Spatial Dimensions of French Caribbean Clubbing in Paris
  • On the Move! The Rise of a Black LGBT*Q Clubbing Scene in Paris and Negotiations within the Coloniality of the City
  • ‘It’s All Ours’: Race, Space and Place in the LGBTQ British-‘Asian’ Dance Club Scene in London
  • Notes on Contributors

← 6 | 7 → Kira Kosnick

Introduction: New (Post-)Migrant Socialities – Ethnic Club Cultures in Urban Europe1

An ever-larger number of young people in Europe are descendants of immigrants whose migration history dates back to post-war population movements in the contexts of decolonization, armed conflict and labour migration. Since the start of the new millennium, the incorporation of young people with migrant backgrounds has become a key issue for many European member states whose populations are increasingly comprised of foreign-born migrants and their descendants. Urban riots, gang violence, religious radicalization and involvement in Islamist extremist movements figure prominently in policy debates and public discourses that form part of the ‘backlash against multiculturalism’ in Europe (Alexander 2013). Policy-makers and public opinion across a range of core countries in the EU have concluded that integration projects have failed, blaming both policies and specific immigrant groups’ alleged preference for ‘parallel societies’, ‘communitarianism’, and Islamicization (Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010). Youth cohorts with migrant backgrounds receive particular attention, because it is here that the integration potential of member states seems to be truly put to the test (Thompson and Crul 2007). Despite some factual evidence of successful educational and labour market incorporation for many who are counted as belonging to the so-called Second Generation and after, there is continued concern among policy-makers and researchers alike with potential ‘downward assimilation’ and disadvantaged young people joining an ‘urban underclass’. The concept of an urban underclass, developed in the context of ‘Inner City’ debates in the United States (Wilson 1987), refers not only to structural, socio-economic ← 7 | 8 → factors of disadvantage, but to cultural ones: the alleged emergence of a collective lifestyle and attitudes that hinder upward socio-economic mobility (Vermeulen 2010). Culture and cultural orientations or identities thus emerge as crucial dimensions of the ongoing debate on immigrant integration – for better or for worse (Lentin 2014). This holds particularly true for young people with migration backgrounds, who will be referred to as post-migrants in this volume, rather than as second- or third-generation immigrants.

Most young people with migration backgrounds have not permanently migrated across national borders themselves, and many claim home and belonging in their predominantly urban, European contexts of residence. To call them migrants can problematically contribute to the widespread racialized classification as strangers from ‘outside’ who cannot ever become part of the imagined ethno-national community, despite the emergence of postnational forms of membership in Europe (Soysal 1994). Yet, to simply refer to them as ethnic minorities runs the risk of ignoring the importance of migration histories and transnational affiliations that continue to shape their lives. The term post-migrant as used in this book is intended to capture both the importance of their histories and affiliations, and the distance that separates these young people from the direct migration experience of their parents or grandparents.2

A basic division of labour can be detected among academic disciplines concerned with the study of migrant and post-migrant youth, which can broadly be characterized as involving a focus on socio-economic parameters of exclusion, deprivation or segregation on the one hand, and a focus on cultural and political identity formation on the other. While human geographers and social scientists tend to focus on structural factors and institutions such as residential and family patterns, educational performance and labour market insertion, often with a quantitative bend, research in the humanities is overwhelmingly focused on ← 8 | 9 → questions of cultural identity and attitudes. While this is certainly an oversimplification of a complex international and trans-disciplinary research landscape, this broad categorization can nevertheless help to map and illuminate the limitations of contemporary knowledge frontiers with regard to the study of post-migrant and ethnic minority youth.

The ERC project ‘New Migrant Socialities’ out of which this book has emerged aimed to develop a novel approach to the study of post-migrant and ethnic minority youth by investigating social practices and the emergence of new socialities in daily life contexts of public leisure. Its empirical starting point of investigation was the post-migrant and ethnic minority club scenes that have emerged in major European cities over the past twenty years (Kosnick 2008). In cities such as London, Paris and Berlin, thousands of young people with migrant backgrounds gather every week for special club nights and dance to Asian Kool, Bhangra beats, Zouk, Beur Rap music or Turkish Pop and Rock. By focusing specifically on leisure practices in the context of post-migrant3 club scenes, the research team aimed to investigate domains of social engagement that have so far entirely and, as will be shown, not coincidentally escaped the attention of researchers across the social sciences and humanities. While youth researchers have noted that ‘clubbing’ constitutes the main leisure activity of young people in Europe’s urban areas, the existence of club scenes for post-migrant youth has gone for the most part unnoticed (but see Boogaarts-de Bruin 2011, Huq 2003, ← 9 | 10 → 2006, Kim 2014). Yet, these scenes offer an important chance to study new forms of urban sociality that migrant and ethnic minority youth produce and engage in, forms that cannot be addressed within the current limitations of dominant research orientations.

There is a striking gap in the literature on ethnic minority and post-migrant youth when it comes to discussing what young people actually do, as opposed to how they identify. What is often lost in the gap between quantitative indicators of the social on the one hand and cultural orientations on the other is the question of the social as lived practice. In the literature on migrants and their descendants in Europe, much effort has been spent on analyzing cultural identifications without paying equal attention to the complexity of social practices in which such identifications are embedded. The scope of concepts used to refer to social formations in relation to migrant and post-migrant populations is consequently extremely limited: The notion of ethnic or diasporic ‘community’ is endemic in contemporary academic studies as well as policy approaches, often as a placeholder for ‘social group’, without examining the pertinence of its conceptual implications. This holds true even for recent cross-disciplinary approaches that advocate a hybrid or situational understanding of identity, where efforts to demonstrate the malleability of cultural identifications are rarely linked to examining the dynamics of social practices. Ignoring the question of the social, such approaches are unable to focus upon newly emergent forms of post-migrant sociality and the ways in which they might challenge social disaffiliation and segregation. The ERC project thus aimed to open up new horizons in the study of migrant life and social integration in Europe, and to move beyond the theoretical, methodological and political impasse of culturalist identity politics on the one hand and structuralist assumptions pertaining to social segregation or disaffiliation on the other. The following sections will briefly review the dominant research approaches across different disciplines that are relevant to the study of migrant and ethnic minority youth, in order to highlight how the project has aimed to move beyond the state of the art in a number of related fields.

Second Modernity

Our project proceeded from the assumption that young people with migrant backgrounds actively participate in and shape forms of sociality that are seen to characterize the age of ‘second modernity’ (Bauman 2000, Beck 2000, Lash 1999) in Europe, with its new forms of individualism but also collective bonding that cut across more resolutely ‘modern’ categorical distinctions. They do so particularly in urban and metropolitan environments, which have rightly been identified ← 10 | 11 → as central sites of cultural globalization (Eade 1997, Featherstone 2002, Holston 1999, Sassen 1991). In the debates around reflexive modernization and cosmopolitanism (Beck et al. 1994, Held 2003), however, migrants, post-migrants and ethnic minorities are rarely taken seriously as active participants and more often associated with ‘regressive’ phenomena such as religious fundamentalism, ethnocentrism, urban segregation, crime and gang warfare (Miller 2006). Young North Africans and French Caribbeans in France, Turks in Germany and South Asians in Britain rarely appear as cosmopolitan denizens who contribute to contemporary European cities, but are more often referred to as proponents of a negative ‘neo-tribalization’ (Maffesoli and Smith 1995, Touraine 1995) that comes to haunt their centres or peripheries. This echoes concerns in North America and particularly in the United States over the alleged ‘menace’ of Black and Latino inner-city youth, a gendered discourse that Forman has described as a form of moral panic coupled with demands for containment (Forman 2002).

Some of the most productive efforts to study and theorize migrants’ and post-migrants’ participation in contemporary globalization processes have focused on transnational communities and diasporas (e.g. Glick-Schiller et al. 1992, Hannerz 1996, Ong 1999, Portes 1998, Pries 1998), but the focus on translocal ties and orientations has not been paralleled by an interest in new forms of ethnic and migrant sociality that are specific to globalized urban localities. In striking contrast to discussions on transnationalism and diasporas, where migrants have even been seen to spearhead a global transition towards deterritorialized or at least post-national life forms (Appadurai 1996, Brah 1996, Clifford 1994, Kearney 1995), their overall perception and study in the context of urban environments has tended to be markedly more pessimistic (but see more recently Crul and Schneider 2010, Römhild 2011).

Structural Factors of Marginalization

Justified concern over the consequences of growing economic deprivation and precarious work have led analysts to describe the decline of stable cultural milieus as promoting social disaffiliation, with young people of migrant backgrounds hit particularly hard (Castel 2000, Mayer 2004, Wacquant 2006). Debates over a possible ‘second generation decline’ (Gans 1992) or downward assimilation were quickly taken up in Europe in the mid-1990s, with researchers particularly interested in possible links between national integration policies and indicators of socio-economic integration (Crul and Vermeulen 2003, Portes and Rumbaut 2005). Levels of integration have been measured mostly by comparing quantitative information on educational performance, unemployment, ← 11 | 12 → crime and income statistics. The social lives of migrants thus emerge primarily through the research prism of conventional social institutions such as schooling (Eldering and Kloprogge 1989, Vermeulen and Perlmann 2000), labour market (Muus 2002, Portes and Rumbaut 1996), family (Alba 2005, Nauck 2001), or ‘community’ organizing on religious and ethnic grounds (Abbas 2006, Werbner and Modood 1997).

Residence patterns in urban environments have also received significant attention among social scientists and human geographers. Debates on whether ethnic ‘diversity’ is an asset in urban environments are often linked to statistical indicators of residence patterns, unemployment, school performance, and crime figures (Body-Gendrot 2002, Simon 1998). Gang violence is commonly associated with ethnic enclaves and fights over urban territory (Vigil 2003). Urban riots and violence from Clichy to London’s Tower Hamlets and Berlin’s Kreuzberg district are linked to processes of socio-economic as well as cultural processes of polarization, with migrant youth in danger of becoming an urban underclass with limited rights and access to the city as a whole (Bacqué and Sintomer 2001, Häussermann and Kapphan 2002, Johnston et al. 2002). While it has been noted that residential concentration does not automatically indicate limited access to other parts and wider functions of the city (Peach 1999), there is little research that addresses how migrants and ethnic minorities make use of different urban spaces for socializing beyond their place of residence. New, more fluid and open forms of migrant and post-migrant sociality have thus gone almost completely unnoticed (but see Nell and Rath 2009, Hinze 2013). There is an urgent need to examine how young people with disadvantaged migrant backgrounds engage in social practices and inhabit urban space beyond the dominant focus on ‘disaffiliation’ and ethnic segregation in urban environments.

The prevalent focus on ‘structural’ factors that are usually analyzed on the basis of quantitative data has consequences for the range and quality of social forms and practices that can appear as relevant to migrants’ and post-migrants’ lives. Practices that are not linked to formal institutions or leave traces that can be measured statistically by state agencies, academic or market surveys are less likely to receive research attention. As will be shown below, this has consequences also for research on the cultural orientations of migrants and their descendants, which often ignores the complex social embeddedness of identity formation processes and attitudes. Instead of examining the relations between cultural expressions and diverse social practices that characterize migrants’ lives, information on structural social factors tends to be provided as static background information, separate from the analysis of identities and orientations.

← 12 | 13 → The Culturalist Response: Migrant Identities

In the wake of a surging interest in ‘identity’ issues across the social sciences and humanities, migrants have been intensely studied with regard to their identifications, attitudes and cultural orientations. While early research was interested in migrant identities mainly with regard to possible (segmented) assimilation or (multicultural) integration (Kymlicka 1995, Rex 1991, Soysal 1994, Taylor 1992), cross-disciplinary interest in newly emerging, ‘hybrid’ and possibly transnational identities has increased over the past decade (e.g. Anthias 2001, Hall and Du Gay 1996, Back 1996, Moreiras 1999, Vertovec 2001, Werbner 2002). Drawing upon both earlier work on situational ethnicities (Nagata 1974, Okamura 1981), literary and postcolonial theory (Anzaldúa 1987, Bhabha 1994), references to ‘hybrid’ cultural production and identities abound in current literature on migrant youth.

Identity is seen as a particularly pressing issue in relation to Muslim migrant youth in Europe (Buijs and Rath 2002, Fangen et al. 2012, Vertovec and Rogers 1998). Young Muslims have received increasing attention regarding their attitudes towards religious extremism and their role in the possible construction of a European Islam or transnational forms of Islam, even before the political scrutiny that emerged in the wake of extremist terror attacks in the USA and Europe (Césari 1998, 2007; Heitmeyer et al. 1998, Metcalf 1996, Nielsen 1999, Schiffauer 1999, Tribalat 1995). However, they have also been studied as harbingers of new, ‘hybrid’ identities that move beyond a static cultural and/or religious pluralism (Baumann 1999, Grillo 2004, Hall and Du Gay 1996, Nederveen-Pieterse 2001, Parekh 2000, Werbner and Modood 1997).

The formerly omnipresent ‘torn-between-two-cultures’ thesis that dominated research on migrant youth until the 1990s (e.g. Watson 1977) has now broadly been dismissed as inadequate and based upon cultural essentialism, as young people’s identities are thought to be fluid, multiple, and drawing on different cultural repertoires. Yet, the de-essentialization that has taken place with regard to culture usually does not extend to the analysis of migrant social forms and engagements, where the ‘community’ concept still reigns supreme. Often used uncritically as a placeholder for ethnic minority groups or migrant populations, the community concept carries with it implicit or explicit connotations of tight-knit social bonds, temporal continuity, clearly defined membership and internal homogeneity (Alleyne 2002, Amit and Rapport 2002, Bauman 2001), and thus tends to essentialize the social – even when the concept of ‘culture’ has been torn free from its romantic nationalist underpinnings that suggest it to be the stable quality of discrete ethnic groups. As a result, migrant participation in forms of ← 13 | 14 → sociality that differ from those implied in the ‘community’ mould still remains largely invisible in contemporary research.

Methodologically, research on migrant and ethnic minority identities tends to rely heavily on interviews, and thus almost inevitably require respondents to situate themselves with regard to dominant identity discourses. Quantitative surveys, on the other hand, that are often employed in comparative research on Muslims (e.g. the EUMAP project on Muslims in EU cities) and second generation immigrants in Europe (e.g. the TIES survey on the second generation in Europe) tend to leave little space to register dimensions of migrant life that have not been considered by researchers beforehand. Both the theoretical focus on identities and the prevalent methodological repertoire are thus limited when it comes to shedding light on the actual complexities of young people’s lives and their related social practices. These are often glossed over instead, by referring to ‘the situation’ that migrant youth find themselves in (unemployment, school failure, segregation, racism etc.), or by firmly placing them within ethnic or religious migrant ‘communities’, thus essentializing the social (but see Kasinitz et al. 2009).

The aim of the ‘New Migrant Socialities’ project was to bring into view those practices that disappear from view in the research gap between structural indicators of the social on the one hand and a focus on cultural orientations on the other. Therefore, we aimed to study new contemporary forms of sociality that migrant, post-migrant and ethnic minority youth produce and engage in, with a focus on nightlife leisure socialities that use and shape urban spaces beyond areas of residence. Its specific comparative focus came to be the post-migrant club scenes that have formed over the past decade in European metropolitan centres.

Post-migrant Club Scenes

An interest in leisure practices such as clubbing might seem like a frivolous concern in the face of socio-economic deprivation and poverty, unemployment, racism, educational marginalization and struggles over legal incorporation that migrants and post-migrants are facing in EU member states (Fangen et al. 2012). However, it should not be underestimated how central leisure is in the lives of young people, as a domain that implies a relative degree of freedom and personal choice compared to other areas of their lives such as work, education or family contexts where they tend to face much greater restrictions. ‘Free time’ offers the chance to make choices both with regard to what to do, who to spend time with, and how to shape social encounters. While this obviously holds true for older people as well, it is of particular importance to young people who tend to face ← 14 | 15 → multiple life transitions in terms of family, work, and residence. Forms of public leisure offer spatially and temporally distinct spaces for social experimentation and encounter that do not have a necessary impact on other life domains, though they can and do of course, particularly for people who use these sites for work-related networking (McRobbie 2002) or finding a life partner, as will be shown in this volume. Equally, it would be a grave fallacy to assume that public leisure is simply a domain of personal freedom, untouched by the constraints and power dynamics that shape young people’s lives in other domains. It is all the more important, then, to investigate how post-migrants and ethnic minority youth participate in forms of public leisure, what social choices they make, and how these choices are shaped by different factors that impact their lives.

Migrant and post-migrant club cultures are a prime example of new forms of sociality that indicate the active participation of ethnic minority youth in contemporary forms of urban sociality and global youth culture. Metropolitan centres with substantial migrant populations are known for their vibrant nightlife, subcultural scenes and entertainment industries, increasingly also central selling points for cities that aspire to global city status (Evans 2003, Sassen 1991, Florida 2002). Night-time economies constitute an important growth sector for especially postindustrial cities in many parts of the world (Chatterton and Hollands 2003, Hadfield 2009, Lovatt and O’Connor 1995). City life, with its specific forms of anonymity and public spectacle, its possibilities of encounter among strangers, has long been described as producing both individuation and different forms of crowds (Canetti 1980, Simmel 1903) and a wide range of social phenomena that are characterized by relative instability, open membership and fluidity (Blum 2002). Very little is known about the participation of migrants and post-migrants in these forms of city life, unless they belong to the highly mobile and privileged ‘creative class’ for which there is thought to be a ‘global competition for talent’ (Florida 2005).

Yet, cities such as Berlin, London and Paris are home to substantial migrant and post-migrant club scenes that feature regular party nights, different club venues, DJs and organizers, and cater specifically to the tastes of young people with, among others, Turkish, Kurdish, South Asian, North African or Caribbean backgrounds. These have emerged particularly over the past fifteen years with the rise of new Bhangra, Asian Kool, Turkish pop, Raï and Rap as genres that fuse different musical traditions and cultural elements. Thousands of young people gather not just on weekends in club venues to socialize and dance, forming crowds that are not always ethnically exclusive, but in post-migrant scenes usually dominated by a particular ethnic group. Advertised on flyers and posters in urban neighbourhoods, on internet platforms such as asianclubguide.com, vaybee.de, ← 15 | 16 → on social network sites but rarely in ‘mainstream’ city guides and listings, club events carve out special profiles and often cater to more specific audiences among the ethnic target group, from professionals-only to student nights or queer nights.

Certain musical genres that are part of these club cultures – Bhangra and Asian Underground, Dancehall or Raï – have received substantial academic attention, particularly with regard to their culturally ‘hybrid’ character. Yet, as with the more general paradigm shift towards the theorization of hybridity as a process of cultural ‘intermixing’ (Bhabha 1994, Nghi Ha 2005, Hutnyk 2000), they tend to be heavily focused on questions of identity and cultural expression, not on sociality (Baily and Collier 2006, Martiniello and Lafleur 2008). For Britain (Back 1996, Dudrah 2002, Huq 2002, Sharma et al. 1996), Germany (Bennett 1999, Burul 2003, Cheesman 1998, Kaya 2002, Soysal 1999) and France (Echchaibi 2001, Orlando 2003, Oscherwitz 2004), the music of ethnic minority youths is almost invariably described as an expressive channel and resource for identity construction (but see Çağlar 1998, Steyerl 2004). Very little is said about the particular consumption contexts in which young people draw upon this and other music in their daily lives, and about how it fuels social encounters. This absence is exacerbated by the methodological choices of most research, which relies heavily on interviews and textual interpretation, without considering the day-to-day activities and settings in which music use is embedded. Considering such contexts of use could considerably complicate the picture painted of these musical cultures, as when it emerges that Turkish rap music is not the music of choice at Turkish club events in Germany, or when British Asian club nights in London promise a mix of bhangra, garage and R&B (Kim 2014, see Cholia, this volume). What is the lure of ethnic club nights for migrant and post-migrant youth in European cities, what kinds of people use these scenes for social encounters, and what is it that they do there?

I am by no means suggesting here that ethnic club cultures offer the only or even the major context of nightlife public leisure for young people with migration backgrounds. Many of our informants that we met in the context of ethnic clubbing were also going out to other locations and events not defined by forms of ethnic or migrant belonging. Undoubtedly, many others who could potentially be target audiences for ethnic club events have no interest at all in visiting them. Our research does not allow to draw conclusions with regard to any overall degree of interest or disinterest in ethnically focused scenes among post-migrant and ethnic minority populations. Neither does the emergence of ethnic club scenes organized by and for post-migrants offer evidence or intends to counter findings of an overall increase in cross-ethnic socializing and diversifying ← 16 | 17 → identities among young people with migration backgrounds in Europe (Römhild 2011, Vertovec 2006, 2007).

By focusing on ethnic club scenes only, our research could be accused of continuing a rather exclusive concern with ethnic identifications and orientations that is often pervasive in migration studies. Much research in the field takes the relevance of ethnic categories or migration experience for granted, thereby contributing to a problematic essentializing of ethnic belonging (Crul and Schneider 2010)4. The focus on ethnic club scenes appears at first sight to continue rather than disrupt a narrow focus on phenomena that can be labelled ethnic or migration-related. We are indeed in this volume concerned with forms of urban sociality that are shaped by ethnic categories and specific migration histories. However, instead of taking the relevance of these categories and histories for granted, we problematize them and investigate why, when and how they become relevant in different contexts of post-migrant and ethnic clubbing in European cities. Departing from clubbing contexts that would in dominant frameworks of migration research be most likely described as a form of ethnic community gathering, we have aimed to understand in what ways ethnic categories, identifications and belongings hold relevance (or not) for organizers and participants, and how they are related to different socialities. Instead of assuming that the existence of club scenes structured along ethnic lines automatically explains their raison d’être, we set out to study their cultural and social dynamics, which will be shown to be quite varied.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
Migration Jugendkultur Rassismus Sexualität : Gender
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 162 pp., 3 coloured fig.

Biographical notes

Kira Kosnick (Volume editor)

Kira Kosnick is Professor of Sociology at Goethe University Frankfurt. Her work focuses on questions of sexual citizenship and migration, transnational public spheres, and the politics of multiculturalism and diversity in Europe.


Title: Postmigrant Club Cultures in Urban Europe
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