Beyond Legal Status: Exploring Dimensions of Belonging among Forced Migrants in Istanbul and Vienna

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Beyond Legal Status: Exploring Dimensions of Belonging among Forced Migrants in Istanbul and Vienna


  • Susan Beth Rottmann Faculty of Social Sciences, Özyeğin University, Turkey
  • Ivan Josipovic Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria
  • Ursula Reeger Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria


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Abstract:  Migrants with precarious legal statuses experience significant structural exclusion from their host nations but may still feel partial belonging. This article explores two dimensions potentially relevant for this group’s sense of belonging: city-level opportunity structures and public political discourses. Specifically, we examine perceptions of belonging among forced migrants with similarly precarious legal statuses located in Istanbul and Vienna. Drawing from semi-structured interviews, we argue that opportunity structures in the cities provide a minimal sense of social normalness within a period of life otherwise considered anomalous or exceptional. Any articulations of belonging in this context however remain inherently tied to the conditions of legal limbo at the national level. With regard to public political discourses, migrants display a strong awareness of the role of religion within national debates on culture and integration. In a context where religion is discussed as a mediator of belonging, we found explicit affirmations of such discourses, whereas in a context where religion is discussed as a marker of difference, we found implicit compliance, despite feelings of alienation. Overall, this article shows the importance of differentiating belonging, and of cross-regional comparisons for highlighting the diverse roles of cities and public political discourses in facilitating integration.

Keywords:  asylum; belonging; city; culture; integration; Istanbul; legal limbo; Vienna

Published:   25 March 2020


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v8i1.2392


© Susan Beth Rottmann, Ivan Josipovic, Ursula Reeger. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.