21.4.2015 | Von:
Naika Foroutan

Post-Migrant Society

Germany has become a country of immigration - not only empirically but also narratively. Its society can be described as "post-migrant". What does this mean?

Klingelschilder in KölnEvery third German citizen refers back to an immigrant background in their family history. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

As a country of immigration, Germany is now experiencing a process in which affiliations, national (collective) identities, participation and equality of opportunity are being renegotiated and adjusted in a post-migrant state, i.e. after migration has happened and has been recognized by the government, academia and the public as inevitable[1]. The prefix "post" here does not signify the end of migration but describes social negotiation processes that occur in the phase after migration has occurred. Post-migrant societies are societies in which:

(a) Social change towards a heterogeneous underlying structure has been acknowledged ("Germany is a country of immigration") regardless of whether this transformation is seen as positive or negative, (b) Immigration and emigration are recognized as phenomena that have a tremendous impact on the country, which can be discussed, regulated and negotiated but not reversed,

(c) Structures, institutions and political cultures are adapted ex post to the identified migration reality (i.e., post-migration), resulting in, on the one hand, greater permeability and upward mobility but, on the other hand, also in defensive reactions and distributional conflicts.

Migration has become a part of everyday life in a German society in which one out of three persons identifies a migration narrative as a familial reference point[2]. Large German cities in particular have become increasingly diverse, which is reflected in schools, day-care centers and cityscapes. In Frankfurt, 75.6 percent of all children under six have migration backgrounds. In Augsburg, that figure is 61.5 percent, Munich 58.4 percent and Stuttgart 56.7 percent (see Figure 1). National identities are changing in light of this. A growing number of people are calling themselves German despite the fact that their ancestors have not always lived in Germany.
Figure 1: Share of persons under six years of age with and without migration background in selected German cities, 2011Figure 1: Share of persons under six years of age with and without migration background in selected German cities, 2011 (© bpb)

Let's just call them "New Germans," argued three journalists in 2012[3]. But such efforts to create new labeling practices hardly exist in the public awareness. "Foreigners," "migrants" or "people with a migration background" are still the most common terms used for all those who are perceived as non-German because of their appearance or their different-sounding names, regardless of how long they have lived in this country or if they ever even migrated to Germany. Empirical reality, therefore, has not yet entered a phase of narrative reinterpretation in which everything German is perceived as heterogeneous and pluralistic as a matter of course.

Nonetheless, immigrants and their descendants are increasingly claiming the right to participate in shaping the collective narrative. Accordingly, the following call was issued at the first national congress of New German Organizations ("Neue Deutsche Organisationen") in Berlin in early February 2015[4]: "We are German and want to participate in the decision-making process."[5] People from immigrant families participate as politicians, in legislative processes at the federal, state, and local levels, influence public opinion in their role as journalists and become teachers. In all cases, however, there are still gaps in representation. Although 20 percent of the German population counts as "New Germans," i.e., has a migration background as defined by the Federal Statistical Office, they nonetheless constitute:
  • only ten percent of public service employees[6],
  • an estimated two percent of journalists[7],
  • about four percent of the council members in German cities[8],
  • and nine percent of the managerial staff of German foundations (only three percent in the 30 largest foundations)[9].
Although a third of all children between ages five and 15 come from immigrant families, only around six percent of teachers have a migration background[10]. Following the 2013 Bundestag elections, 37 of 631 parliamentarians have a history of migration, resulting in less than a six percent share of representatives with migrant backgrounds[11]. According to an OECD survey, the employment rate among migrants with a university degree is more than 12 percent lower than among non-migrants with a university degree[12].

These gaps in representation should be addressed in a post-migrant society. This also requires an expanded conception of integration that identifies gaps in representation as a shortcoming in societal integration that should now be addressed collectively, which will require structural change and a removal of structural barriers. Post-migrant societies are negotiation societies. Established cultural, ethnic, religious and national elites must learn that positions, access, resources and social standards are being renegotiated. All parties should open themselves up to this negotiation process. For those already "established," this also means that they would have to become used to this negotiation society and integrate themselves into this post-migrant structure.

The Established Concept of Integration

Since the 1970s, migration research has primarily regarded integration as something concerning "foreigners," "migrants" or "people with a migration background" and their involvement in German society. Related terms such as "refusal to integrate," "progress towards integration" or "willingness to integrate" are primarily linked to the idea that there is an established core or host society that unilaterally motivates people with migration biographies to integrate into it[13]. This process has primarily been understood as a one-sided activity[14]. In line with this paradigm, integration policy measures require a needy other on which to focus. By contrast, this concept lacks the integrative adjustments or efforts in which the societal majority would have to engage, including greater structural and institutional freedom. Accordingly, it is not established barriers and closure processes on the part of society[15] that are being addressed as particular obstacles to integration but certain religious and cultural differences. Instead of considering structural barriers, a lack of integration is thus redefined as a personal and/or cultural problem on the part of migrants[16]. At the same time (and this is exemplified by the PEGIDA protests), there are elements in the population without migration backgrounds who cannot cope with the new, diverse society and who seem poorly integrated. Integration policy should address them as well.

This text is part of the policy brief Integration in a Post-Migrant Society.


The Berlin-based theater director Shermin Langhoff coined the term by calling her Ballhaus Naunynstraße theater "Postmigrantisches Theater" (Post-migrant Theater). She has repeatedly redefined the term subversively, thereby referring to the opening and closing processes in German society. For more on Langhoff‘s concept, see Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung [Federal Agency for Civic Education] (2011).
Foroutan et al. (2014).
Bota/ Pham/ Topçu (2012).
www.neuemedienmacher.de/projekte/bundeskongress-ndo/ (accessed: 2-17-2015).
www.berliner-zeitung.de/politik/initiativen-schliessen-sich-zusammen-kinder-von-migranten-wollen-mehr-mitsprache,10808018,29794900.html (accessed: 2-17-2015).
OECD (2012).
Kotte (2009).
Schönwälder/ Sinanoglu/ Volkert (2011).
Migazin (2014).
Georgi/ Ackermann/ Karakaş (2011), p. 6.
Mediendienst Integration (2013).
OECD (2012).
See Kymlicka (1999).
See Brubaker (2001).
Socio-structural barriers and marginalization processes can be found where members of a particular social group are denied access to central areas of society, e.g., education or certain professional positions. This prevents, for example, upward mobility through the achievement of better socio-economic positions. For detailed information on social exclusion mechanisms, see: www.bpb.de/apuz/130408/gesellschaftliche-ausschlussmechanismen-und-wege-zur-inklusion?p=all (accessed: 2-17-2015).
See Böcker/ Goel/ Heft (2010).
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