Part of the Spring 2018 MENAS Colloquium Series
How do immigrant communities grapple with death in a country that they do not necessarily view as their home? In this talk I examine the mortuary practices and burial decisions of Turkish and Kurdish communities in Germany in an effort to elucidate how death structures political membership and identity. Drawing on interviews and participant observation with bereaved families, Muslim undertakers, government officials, religious leaders, and representatives of funeral aid societies, I argue that in contexts where the boundaries of the nation and its demos are contested, burial decisions are political decisions that are linked to broader struggles over the meaning of home and homeland. While burial in Germany offers a symbolically powerful way for migrant families and their children to assert political membership and foster a sense of belonging, the widespread practice of posthumous repatriation for burial in countries of origin illustrates the continued importance of transnational ties and serves as an indictment of an exclusionary socio-political order. In both situations, the corpse is central to localizing and grounding political claims for recognition and inclusion.
Osman Balkan is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Swarthmore College. He received his B.A. from Reed College and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching interests include the politics of migration and citizenship, transnationalism and diasporas, Islam and Muslims in the West, race and ethnicity, biopolitics, and necropolitics. Balkan's research is situated at the intersection of comparative politics, political theory, and cultural anthropology. He employs ethnographic and qualitative methods to understand how politics is experienced and interpreted by ordinary citizens in their everyday lives. His current book manuscript examines the funerary practices and burial decisions of ethno-religious minorities in Germany. Building on multi-sited fieldwork in Berlin and Istanbul, it shows how the corpse functions as a political object by structuring claims about citizenship, belonging, and collective identity.