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“Where Do You Come From?”

July 13, 2018

Drs. James Martin, Davina Höblich, and Heidrun Schulze Discuss Their Cross-Institutional Course on Discourses of (Im-) Migration in Germany and the US

From June 29-July 6, 2018, German social work students from RheinMain University of Applied Sciences (HSRM), Wiesbaden joined NYU Silver counterparts at our Washington Square campus for an intensive summer course entitled “Where Do You Come From? Discourses of (Im-) Migration in Germany and the US.” Through lectures, presentations, Photovoice research, and excursions, students examined the patterns of migration and immigration to the US and Germany, how views and narratives about the self and the other are constructed, what migrants have experienced, and how migration is differentially understood in these two countries.

This global learning experience, part of an ongoing exchange between NYU Silver and HSRM, was planned and co-taught by NYU Silver Associate Dean for Academic Affairs James Martin and HSRM Professors Davina Höblich and Heidrun Schulze. On the course’s next-to-last day, NYU Silver’s communications department spoke with the three professors about their ongoing partnership, how they conceived the course, and how it unfolded.

NYU Silver:
What was the genesis of this course?

Jim Martin (JM):
We had the idea for this course two years ago. At the time, we were working on our previous collaborative course being held in Germany on Human Rights and Social Justice. It was when the refugee crisis was happening in Europe. That is when we decided this would be an important topic. But over the two years it became such an important topic in this country as well.

NYU Silver:
Did you always envision this class would be held here in NYC because of the places to go with ties to the history of immigration?

JM:
When we were in Wiesbaden we decided, even before the course [on Human Rights and Social Justice], that we wanted to focus the next one on immigration.

Heidrun Schulze (HS):
At the very end, the last day [of the course] in Wiesbaden, we had the head of a residential care facility talk about working with traumatized refugees in residential care.

JM:
That was meant to be a bridge to the next summer school.

Davina Höblich (DH):
Exactly, it was a teaser for the next one.

JM:
In fact, we had originally planned that the course in NYC would be held last year but we realized one year was not enough time to plan it.

NYU Silver:
Is this course focused on the current moment or is it taking a historical view as well?

All:
Both!

DH:
Some of its areas of focus are: patterns and processes of immigration; public and scientific discourses about migration in the present and the past; and using research methods for critical thinking about othering.

JM:
The course began on the first day with an examination of the premise that the US is a “country of immigrants.” Joining me in presenting our own immigration stories, or the immigration stories of our families, were NYU Silver Professor Lala Straussner, Associate Professor Eva Lu, and Clinical Associate Professor Virge Luce. Then I presented on the patterns of immigration to the US over time along with the underlying dynamics of racism beginning with the Atlantic Slave Trade and Manifest Destiny. So American discourses about immigration are complicated, with both apparent and not so apparent components. On the one hand we celebrate our immigration history; on the other hand we tend not to look at the racist aspects of that history. At the end of the first day I conducted a tour of the traces of Kleindeutschland (Little Germany) in the East Village. This was the very first major immigrant community in the US. Although the community dispersed long ago, a number of buildings scattered through the East Village remain from that period.

NYU Silver:
How does the coursework intersect with the field trips?

DH:
In the coursework we presented theories and frameworks for students to apply in the excursions. For example, on the second day, I presented Nancy Fraser’s theory of social justice. And then on Monday we went to Ellis Island. We developed questions for students to apply the theory to what they were confronted with at the museum. And we did the same for the Tenement Museum.

JM:
Today we are going to Washington Heights to see the agency El Nido, and this is the only field visit we are doing to an agency that is working with a largely immigrant community.

HS:
Also, we are using the research method Photovoice as a pedagogical approach. Photovoice is based on Paolo Freire's anti-colonialist problem-based learning pedagogy. When the students go to these places, they take many pictures and are asked "what struck you," and "what caught your attention," and then today they are conducting interviews about these photos. Each student has to choose one photo [to discuss with a fellow student]. This research project is a way for students to learn to think critically about themselves and their social standpoint: How do we construct the other, and what does it mean for myself? What are my underlying presumptions about different nations, different cultures, different religions, and so forth?

JM:
Right now the reason why we have some free time is that the students are interviewing each other about one of the photos each of them took. They took many pictures from which they had to select just one; they are interviewing each other about the pictures now. And then the presentations, which will be given by the interviewers, will be tomorrow. And so the interviewers will be presenting the photos, not the people who took them. So, it is about understanding the co-construction of meaning related to this picture between the picture-taker and the interviewer.

HS:
How we look at the world and what we see is linked to where we come from and our biography, and also the social and cultural context, and social structures. The interview process is a dialogue, a co-production, a collaborative inquiry. That means someone is interviewed about the photo, and the other person will scaffold the inquiry with special questions. The interviewer asks, “did I understand you correctly?” They dig deeper. And what happens in this process -- in the dialogue – is a new story line will evolve and new perspective will evolve in this dialogue.

JM:
It's important to understand the course is not simply about immigration, it is on discourses about immigration.

DH:
Photovoice is a research and a practical method for social work, and it fits quite well with Fraser's theoretical framework in the way that discourses are shaped and institutional patterns of values are created to include some people (the majority) as legitimate, having access to resources, and other people as excluded. It fits quite well with our current discussions around ICE and the separation of migrant children from their parents, and who is entitled to enter the US; we [in Germany] are also having this quite currently.

I want to add too that in Fraser's work what I find very interesting is the combination of different philosophical perspectives to look at systemic and structural racism. Because on the one hand she is looking at redistribution – what people need and which resources they should have access to; and on the other hand she is looking at recognition. We had an interesting discussion about this. Maybe the discourse in Germany, with its welfare state tradition, focuses more on the redistribution side, while in the US the focus is more on the struggle to be recognized...

JM:
...among minorities. What we are talking about, since it is not so well known, is Nancy Fraser's status model of recognition. We talk about social justice all the time in our school but we never define it. Fraser's theory attempts to define what we mean by social justice, how we understand when there is social injustice and therefore what needs to done to correct it. She states that parity of participation is required for social justice. In order to determine whether there is parity of participation, we have to consider both redistribution (distributive justice) and recognition. So this was the theoretical frame.

HS:
We had another very important theoretical frame from Norbert Elias, who conducted a very interesting study in the 1950s in the UK. It is the so-called "figuration" concept. We use it for social work in Germany, especially in migration and immigration research for analyzing power interdependencies among groups. It is about the power dynamic between the established and the outsiders. The figuration concept of the power imbalance is a fluid concept, not static. Earlier this week a colleague of ours from Wiesbaden, Tanja Grendel, presented on a research project in which we analyzed a group discussion that we had conducted with young refugees after they watched the film “Hidden Figures.” We brought some data with us from the group discussion, and then we had the students analyze the sentences. We wanted them to realize how the transcript shows – with the lenses of Fraser and Elias – how the refugees constructed their identities not as privileged but as subjugated...

DH:
...to be the outsiders.

NYU Silver:
Have there been any surprises?

HS:
I was astonished that the students had such an interest in analyzing the data. I was surprised because this is hard work, normally for scientific people as well. They said, “this is really great that we can analyze life from the perspective of the refugees.”

DH:
We were told the American students are not so used to having qualitative data reconstruction sessions, but they did quite well actually. It was very nice to see how they were formulating hypotheses from the text and did meaning making. It was quite interesting. We thought there would be more work needed to introduce them to that method, but they were doing quite well.

JM:
One of the things I know from our working together for a few years is that in German social work there is a much stronger emphasis on learning theory than we have. So I think for our students this was probably newer to them. We tend to focus more on practice, so it is an interesting combination.

NYU Silver:
Will there be continued collaboration between the two schools

All:
We hope so!

Type: Article

Drs. Davina Höblich, Heidrun Schulze, and James Martin (back row center) with HSRM and NYU Silver students at the completion of their summer course.