By Maria Roca Lizarazu, University of Birmingham
The term “postmigrant” (translated from the German “postmigrantisch”) describes an analytical lens for interpreting contemporary (European) societies, which puts historical and ongoing migration movements at the centre. Contrary to what the prefix “post-” might suggest, the term does not imply that migration has or should be overcome. Rather, much like the “post-” in “postcolonial”, the focus is on aftereffects and how these shape and reconfigure the present. The term thus has a descriptive dimension, in that it seeks to capture the fact that most present-day European societies are societies of migration. This acknowledgement also has normative implications, since accepting this post-migratory condition complicates certain dominant binaries (for examples “migrant” vs. “sedentary”; “strange” vs. “familiar”; “inside” vs “outside”) and narratives of the nation state. Rather than approaching nation states as homogeneous, stable and sedentary configurations, which are supposedly plunged into crisis through migration, the postmigrant shift reframes European societies as inherently heterogeneous, diverse, and pluralistic and as shaped by various histories and manifestations of mobility.
The term “postmigrant” offers an example of what cultural theorist Mieke Bal describes as “travelling concepts” (Bal 2002). It was coined by Turkish German theatre maker Shermin Langhoff, to combat the exclusion of artists and cultural producers with a personal history of migration from the German cultural sphere. The term “postmigrant” was meant to contest the reductive labelling and devaluation of certain artistic productions as “migrant”. The term then founds its way into academia, where sociologist Naike Foroutan (amongst others) developed it further (Foroutan 2019). For Foroutan, postmigrant societies are characterised by complex processes of diversification and pluralisation, which trigger collective (re-)negotiation, reinterpretation and struggle. The term is also popular with a younger generation of German cultural producers and activists, thus linking back to its origins in the cultural sphere. While the concept has thus moved between academic research, artistic practice and political activism, it is an open question whether it can also travel well beyond the German-language contexts in which it originated. While the “postmigrant” has been applied to other national and cultural contexts (see Schramm/Pultz Moslund/Petersen 2019; Ring Petersen 2020), in the UK setting, for example, the term “superdiversity” (Vertovec 2007) is more widely used to describe similar conditions and processes.
What can the “postmigrant” lens contribute to the study of migration? Apart from mainstreaming migration and mobility, it allows us to focus on the internal diversification of contemporary societies in a way that related terms such as the “transnational”, “transcultural” and “postcolonial” do not. It also enables us to avoid some of the “potentially homogenizing” approaches in some of diaspora studies, as noted by Anne Ring Petersen (Ring Petersen 2020). It tackles questions of migration, citizenship and diversity from an intersectional, pluralistic and dynamic perspective, also underscoring the vital contributions of the arts to social, cultural and political transformation. At the same time, it is debatable whether the concept works beyond the framework of the European nation state, in which it originated and which remains its central focus.
Bal, Mieke, Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide (University of Toronto Press, 2002).
Foroutan, Naika, Die Postmigrantische Gesellschaft. Ein Versprechen der Pluralen Demokratie [The Society of Postmigration. A Promise of Plural Democracy] (transcript, 2019).
Ring Petersen, Anne, ‘Transculturality, Postmigration, and the Imagining of a New Sense of Belonging’, The Journal of Transcultural Studies 11.1 (2020), available online: https://heiup.uni-heidelberg.de/journals/index.php/transcultural/article/view/24140.
Schramm, Moritz, Sten Pultz Moslund and Anne Ring Petersen et al. (eds.), Reframing Migration, Diversity and the Arts. The Postmigrant Condition, (Routledge, 2019).
Vertovec, Steven, ‘Superdiversity and its Implications’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 30.6 (2007): 1024-54.