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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.2/3 (2003) 491-508

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Labor to Culture:
Writing Turkish Migration to Europe

Levent Soysal

The New Topography of Migration

"Migration, together with the enunciation of cultural borders and crossings," as Iain Chambers affirms, "is deeply inscribed in the itineraries of much contemporary reasoning." 1 From popular fables to intellectual discourses on the meaning of life, from policy documents to commercial advertisements on the techniques of living, the talk is about movement, going to places, being displaced, and re-membering anew. The tendency is "to adopt," as organizing guides and protocols, "metaphors of movement, migration, maps, travels and sometimes a seemingly facile tourism." 2

Not that migration—the movements of peoples and goods—is a novel phenomenon. People have perpetually and inevitably moved, traveled, and relocated. The anthropological and political histories of trade and exchange, invasions and conquests, and quests for dreams and the good life are in effect chronicles of long-distance ventures and displacements. 3 However, to affirm the historical salience of movement [End Page 491] and migration is not to render their significance incidental either to the contemporary configuration of the world we inhabit or to the popular and intellectual imaginary of that world, for the world we "imagine" 4 is now "global" and connected in tangible and elusive ways. The movement of peoples and goods is no longer confined to binary itineraries between proper units of the Inter-national Order put in place at the turn of the twentieth century. It is more and more difficult to isolate a rupture in the global order of things; a financial crisis here and a refugee crisis there are experienced worldwide, albeit differentially. The direction of the movement is not simply from peripheries to centers, from Third Worlds to the First. The citizens of the Third World are everywhere (Pakistanis in Japan, Indonesians in Malaysia, Zimbabweans in Botswana, and so on). The citizens of the First World are seeking fortunes in Third Worlds (the British in Hong Kong, Berlin, and Dublin, Americans in Mexico, and so on). 5

In the contemporary topography of the "global," as Chambers puts it, "migrancy involves a movement in which neither the points of departure nor those of arrival are immutable or certain." 6 This does not mean that movements and itineraries are unidentifiable and unconditional. The migrations are patterned and regulated, following economic, political, and historical trends and exigencies. 7 Neither does it mean that the proper units of the Inter-national Order, the nation-states, are discharged of their task to control and manage movement. The movements of peoples and goods do cross nation-state borders and obey ordinances of sovereignty.

In Chambers's becoming assertion, however, we find acute trends flowing from contemporary migrations. As exemplified by the uneventful disappearance of the distinction between "e-migration (out-migration)" and "im-migration (in-migration)" from our vocabularies, migrations are less and less about origins and destinations—leaving homes and arriving in foreign places for permanency. Contemporary migrations are about "border crossings," 8 "multi-connectedness," 9 having simultaneous presences, and being both permanent and in flux. The possibility of concurrent flux and permanence in migrancy derives from the gradual but eventual reconfiguration of "the national order of things." 10 In other words, behind the difficulty in dictating the role of the migrant as native or alien lie macroshifts in the politics of sovereignty, citizenship, and culture, all of which have been defined and are realized within national units but increasingly exhibit a dissociation from the national. 11 [End Page 492]

Despite the changes occurring in this transnational geography and the imaginary of migrancy, and almost four decades after its arrival in our scientific and everyday lexicons, the term Gastarbeiter continues to captivate our scholarly and popular imagination. It has been almost a customary sign of credibility to make a reference to the guest worker when writing about migrants in Germany and Europe. Even those who set out to evidence the "changes" in the status of migrants find it hard to refrain from the practice. In our...


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