116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Tracing the Emergence of Turkish German Subjectivities through the Discourse surrounding “Gastarbeiter” in Die Fremde Braut

Mariah St John, University of Hawai'i, Manoa

This paper examines the discourse surrounding Turkish immigrants in Germany and the type of subjectivation that is represented in the Gastarbeiter. I analyze the divisions created within their subjectivities and substantiate it with Necla Kelek’s memoir Die Fremde Braut and reflections of my mother’s experience.


 Since the arrival of the first wave of immigrant labor in Germany during the 1960s, millions of Turks have been displaced to a nation that is culturally and linguistically distant from their own. Over the span of nearly four generations, however, many Turks have come to consider Germany their home. The Turkish German relationship is fraught with cultural tensions rooted in the relocation of a Muslim community to a predominantly Christian nation state. As a result, social conflicts, culture clashes, and heated debates regarding integration and national identity have persisted up to the present day. The rift between both communities gave rise to the wavering Turkish identity dilemma in Germany.

This paper examines the internal conflict prompted by the collision of two starkly different cultures in Necla Kelek’s memoir Die Fremde Braut (The Foreign Bride, 2005). Many memoirs written by Gastarbeiter (guest workers) and the following generations are politically charged, confronting the implications of migration, displacement, diaspora, and exile, through the lens of private moments and relationships. They further attempt to speak back to and engage with discourses in which they were implicated and that may have played a role in determining their identities and histories.

I closely interrogate what subject position emerges within these stories with an acute attentiveness to homeland and how it evolves. Through the lens of Michel Foucault’s theory on discourse and the subject and power, an examination of the discourse that enables the subjectivities of Turkish immigrants in Germany, as well as departure moments within discourse where there is a dramatic shift resulting in changes in policy and representation is carried out. I further analyze what it means and looks like to resist a discourse not only responsible for constructing one’s identity, but for ultimately dictating one’s lived experience. While many of these stories share experiences unique to the respective bearers of their story, they also work to share a collective narrative––one that touches on the Turkish-German experience as a greater whole.

Paul John Eakin’s theory of relationality and the myth of autonomy lends itself to my analysis of how Turkish Germans present their identities in the stories they tell through the stories of others as well. The self exists in relation not only constituted by immediate relationships (parents, siblings, friends, intimate partners, etc.) but also by social institutions and politics, which exist in the larger society. The analysis of the divisions created within the subjectivities of Turkish immigrants in Germany is substantiated by the experiences highlighted in Die Fremde Braut and reflections of my mother’s experience.