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Mobility and Belonging

Mobility and Belonging

At the centre of the projects of this research area is the question: How did the forms and phenomena of mobility in Europe in the modern era affect the political, social, cultural and religious »belonging« of actors who crossed borders, and, conversely, what effect did these ways of belonging have on mobility potential? The research area thus investigates how the interaction between mobility and belonging led to changes in the perceptions and concepts of difference.

The research area examines the interplay between practices of mobility and the creation of belonging in modern Europe in three complementary and overlapping perspectives – of actors, spaces and texts. Firstly, a number of projects investigate from an actor-centred perspective the multi-layered – self-perceived and ascribed – ways of belonging and in individual lifepaths and the autobiographical practices of migrants and other mobile actors. Particular attention is paid to strategies of biographical navigation, through which the actors sought to position themselves spatially and socially in the different phases of their lives. A second approach focuses on texts, which not only functioned as a medium in which actors reflected on their mobility, but which through their own mobility transported ideas and concepts. In this way, they created belonging independently of the mobility of the actors, and consequently increased or decreased the mobility potential of other actors and texts. Thirdly, the research area examines border regions and spaces of concentrated and overlapping mobility, in which actors of different backgrounds came into contact. Through this coming into contact, liminal spaces and transit zones emerged, in which differences dissolved and affiliations had to be renegotiated.

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Mobility makes otherness particularly visible. The movement of people and concepts calls into question existing political, social, religious and regional differences and affiliations, and transforms them. Differences and belonging had to be (re-)defined and (re-)negotiated by mobile actors and the societies that were confronted with them. Conversely, changing affiliations and forms of belonging affected the mobility of actors. Here a distinction must be drawn between forms of belonging perceived by the individuals and collectives themselves, and those attributed to them by others. These affiliations attributed by the actors to themselves and those attributed to them by others often resulted in multiple, overlapping forms of belonging, which the actors actualised in their practices and which were represented in objects such as texts and images.

The research area investigates this interplay of practices and the creation of beloging in Europe in the modern era in three complementary and overlapping perspectives, focusing on actors, spaces and texts.

In the actor-centred perspective, a number of projects investigate the multi-layered forms of belonging in the individual lifepaths and autobiographical practices of migrants and other mobile actors (A. Friedrichs; M. Grigore; D. Klein; S. Panter; M. Sing; Th. Weller; DigiKAR Project). Particular attention is paid to strategies of biographical navigation, through which the actors sought to position themselves spatially and socially in different life phases and roles. The social practices of these actors are investigated in their interaction with the migration regimes and borders of states, as well as in their interaction with their respective social surroundings. Of particular interest are conditions of transition and liminality, which are particularly apparent in transit zones (A. Friedrichs; S. Panter). While strategies can be identified that attempted to hide the migrant’s own migration history and to adapt to a new social environment (Th. Weller), there are also examples of mobile actors who sought to do the exact opposite, particularly figures such as missionaries (St. Paulau) and refugees from revolution (S. Panter). The attempt to convert people of other beliefs implied the active creation and transformation of belonging in the majority society.

Texts are not only a medium in which mobile actors reflected on their mobility (A. Friedrichs; D. Klein; S. Panter; Th. Weller), they are themselves mobile and they transport ideas and concepts (M. Grigore; Projekt DigiKAR). Like human actors, texts also had allegiances ascribed to them, which could also change through mobility. For example, some theological texts that were considered "Catholic" in the place they were written were expurgated in places that were "Catholic". The semi-automated comparative investigation of such expurgations shows how differently the affiliation to "Catholicism" was across early modern Europe (M. Müller). In spite of such local variations, religious narratives of belonging nonetheless always developed a transregional integrative force (M. Grigore; St; Paulau; M. Sing). In this way, mobile texts created belonging independently of the actors, and consequently promoted or reduced the mobility potential of other actors and texts. Based on early modern depictions of islands, one research project investigates how the mobility of those describing can shape the object being described and its affiliations, and how texts can create belonging through communicated or imagined mobility (M. Barget).

Spaces are first created by mobility. Spatial mobility goes hand in hand with transformations of the social space, just as social affiliations also always relate to space. Traversing borders of political territories, for example, raised questions of belonging. Social exclusion also often implied a structuring of space. Contact zones are of particular interest for research on belonging, such as Seville (Th. Weller), Istanbul (D. Klein), the Russian-Iranian-Ottoman border region (St. Paulau), the Ruhr region (A. Friedrichs), Le Havre (S. Panter) and European islands (M. Barget). These are border regions and spaces of concentrated and overlapping mobility, in which actors from different backgrounds came into contact. This coming into contact gave rise to liminal spaces and transit zones, in which differences dissolved and affiliations had to be renegotiated. From a religious-historical perspective, the religious self-understanding of decidedly trans-confessional or interreligious milieus becomes visible in these contexts (M. Grigore; M. Müller; St. Paulau; M. Sing). Mobility can also promote the formation of cross-border networks, which in some cases strengthened across large distances, such as the transatlantic (S. Panter; Th. Weller) and the trans-Ottoman spaces (M. Grigore; D. Klein; St. Paulau). In particular, the circulation of texts gave rise to translocal communication spaces, in which affiliations were defined and called into question (M. Grigore; M. Müller).

In some of the projects, digital tools and methods play an important role, for example the quantitative evaluation of bio-bibliographical databases, semi-automated text comparisons and the analysis of genre-bound narrative structures. Digital maps are also important as an analytical tool in research into mobility phenomena.

An overview of the individual projects enables the narrative of a constant increase in mobility potential to be called into question. Instead, discontinuities, upheavals and waves can be observed in relation to mobility, and these affected forms of belonging. Similarly, it is not possible to identify clear dominant categories of differentiation in individual historical periods or cultures. Rather, in different circumstances there was an overlaying of various difference categories, which could reinforce each other, compete with each other, or neutralise each other. A multi-perspective analysis across historical periods is particularly useful for making cycles, continuities and discontinuities visible. For example, the weighting of "national" and religious aspects of belonging varied depending on the context, but at no point was either of them completely irrelevant as a category of difference. Against this backdrop, mobility can be understood as a test case for the ambiguity tolerance of societies, which varied in strength between different times and spaces. Processes of ambiguization and dis-ambiguization were in a dialectic interdependence.

Across the historical periods, processes of social and spatial interconnection and disentanglement can be observed. In many projects, a close interlocking of local rootedness and global networks can be observed for individual actors. This research area thus places the focus on the relationship between transit zones (micro-perspective) and transregional spaces (long distances). This becomes particularly apparent in the projects that deal with actors in imperial and trans-imperial structures.

In all of the projects, it becomes clear how communicative practices influenced the aggregate conditions of belonging. Language played a central role as a medium of communication and differentiation. Mobile actors were to the fore as carriers of ideas and authors of autoreflexive texts, though they also had affiliations ascribed to them by third parties. The spectrum of aggregate conditions of belonging stretched from situational self-attributions and attributions by others to classification by the authorities and formal membership in organisations.

Antislavery Discourse

The Case of Arab Secularists and their Opponents in Egypt

"Gurbet Istanbul": Being a Migrant in the Ottoman Capital, 1453-1800


Lives on the move. Mobile identities and belonging in the Iberian Atlantic (1580–1700)

Migration and Sociation

Mönchische Mobilität im transosmanischen Raum. Die Donaufürstentümer und das osmanische Südosteuropa zwischen dem 14. und 17. Jahrhundert


Multiple denominational belonging? Reception and censorship of the Mainz cathedral preacher Johann Wild OFM (1495-1554)

Transatlantic Families. The Lives of German Revolutionary Emigres,1848/49–1914


Transkonfessionelle Mobilität. Die russisch-orthodoxe Mission und das ostsyrische Christentum im Urmia-Gebiet (Iran), 1898–1917

On the edge of Europe? – Ireland, Iceland and Cyprus in German sources, c. 1650–1750

Self-Determination under Occupation? The Formation of Modern Egypt (1879–1956)