Rituals of Disintegration: Cultural Bonding in Wedding Ceremonies of Turkish Immigrants in Berlin (AS OF SEPT. 2010)
Rituals of Disintegration:
Cultural Bonding in Wedding Ceremonies of Turkish Immigrants in Berlin
The ability of rituals to create and maintain communities is the point of departure for this research. Rituals are firstly corporeal and performative: they do not say but do. Then they are reflexive and functional: they occur as a medium, which processes differences, overcomes crises, and performs rites of passage. They bond people together by dissolving individual attributes with their ‘effervescent effect’. What is achieved at the climax of ritual time is a transformative power that is capable of making changes in its respective society as well as societies around it. This power can periodically reassure the bonding of the community that does the ritual, while creating borders to keep the others outside. From this perspective, rituals include as well as exclude. It is this power of rituals I will focus on by concentrating on those performed by immigrant groups away from their homeland. I will examine how the frequently performed wedding rituals of Turkish immigrants in Berlin refresh their own communal bonds while disintegrating them from the host community. The leitmotive of the research will be gurbet; a very peculiar Turkish word that describes the state of being away from the homeland. The main research question will be supported by a comparison with the popular beauty pageants of Filipino immigrants in Tel Aviv, helping us to investigate the occurrence of particular characteristics in other rituals performed in gurbet.
Current Status of Research:
Although weddings are the most visible cultural activity of the Turkish community in Germany there is surprisingly little academic research specifically focusing on them, let alone for the particular elaboration of how they are done. A handful of doctoral projects such as Toprak’s “Auf Gottes Befehl und mit dem Worte dem Propheten: Auswirkungen des Erziehungsstils auf die Partnerwahl und die Eheschließung türkischer Migranten der zweiten Generation in Deutschland” touch the topic but his focus is more on the social structure of arranged marriages, rather than wedding rituals.
How wedding rituals are done has found its representation more in documentaries or films, such as the Rita Knobel-Ulrich documentary “Der Tag, als ich meiner Hochzeit entkam: Die Flucht einer versprochenen Braut” or the Sinan Akkuş film “Evet, Ich Will”, both of which made efforts to please audiences by way of using simple exotic clichés, far from contributing to a broader understanding of community building aspects of these rituals. Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Dortmund’s more recent large scale exhibition on this topic, titled “Evet, ja ich will. Hochzeitskultur und mode von 1800 bis heute: eine deutsche turkishe bedegnung” was also a crowd pleaser, falling short of identifying the essence of the ritual, focusing rather on the glittery fashion for/of weddings. On the other hand, highly interesting and accurate elaborations of how weddings are performed in Turkey are more available, such as the seminal work of Demirci; “Anadolu’da Eski Düğün ve Evlenme Adetleri”.
“Emotion in rituals” is a recently popular field of study and will occupy an important important part of my research. A conference organized by Prof. Wulf and Prof. Axel Michaels with the same title in Goa, India in January 2010, to be published soon, is the latest in this field.
Although the socio-cultural aspect of gurbet in the Turkish-German context has been researched extensively, such as in the works of Göktürk & Kramlig and Eryılmaz & Jamin, the emotional aspect of gurbet is often ignored, except within a handful literary studies that reflect on the so called Gastarbeiterliteratur, such as works by Pazarkaya and Wiegel. However, emotional aspects of gurbet occupies the primary position in oral literature and songs that are often found in wedding rituals, and I propose to focus on them in this research.
While certain studies like Fenella Canell’s “Power and Intimacy in the Christian Phillipines” give credible accounts of beauty pageants made in the Phillipines, except for Sharon Nagy’s article on the Filipino beauty pageants in Bahrain, there is little study of beauty pageants made in gurbet, let alone a single one that touches specifically those made in Israel.
Current status of my research:
Field work done so far: The origin of this research is a video art project I have started to work on in Berlin in 2007, while doing a residency at the Künstlerhauser Worpswede. Over a period of six months, I have videotaped around 50 wedding ceremonies of Turkish immigrants in Berlin and later edited them into a three-channel video work. It is this vast source of documentation of specific wedding rituals that I am going to examine in my research. Moreover, interviews with large range of participants have also been conducted which can be used as first hand source to lived experiences around these rituals. Similarly, several beauty pageants of the Filipino immigrants in Tel Aviv havealready been recorded and interviews conducted over a period of two years.
Presentation at symposiums: I have initially started my PhD with the Istanbul University Theatrewissenchaft Department under the supervision of Prof. Dikmen Gürün. Upon the invitation of Prof. Erika Fischer-Lichte, I came back to Berlin to conduct a one year research at the Freie Universitat’s International Graduertienkollege: Interart. During this period I was able to present my research at the joint symposium “After Fiction” in Copenhagen organized by the European Doctoral School, FU and Goldsmiths University. In June, I was invited to the Technion University, in Israel, to a symposium titled ‘The Public Space in the In-Between City”, where I focused on how rituals of gurbet make use of public spaces in the city. During this productive period it became clear to us that this research would better be carried out in Berlin. Therefore, upon approval of both Prof. Fischer-Lichte and my home professor I have transferred my PhD to the FU.
While Prof. Fisher-Lichte is overlooking the overall research, I am supervised by Prof. Christoph Wulf of the Anthropology department, specifically about issues related with ethnography and ritual theory. Together we have developed a large bibliography and already decided on the methods and theories we will follow during the research. The structure of my PhD dissertation has been approved by both Prof. Fischer-Lichte and Prof. Wulf, and I have already started working on the first chapter.
This research was initially inspired by Elias Canetti’s Mass und Macht and Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. While Canetti’s unusual technique of merging literary theory with anthropology provided me with the grounds on how I can combine my own artistic practice with theory, the social theory of rituals as laid out by Durkheim has been instrumental in the development of this research. In particular, his ‘effervescent effect’ theory encouraged me to survey cultural bonding and exclusion by way of wedding rituals in gurbet.
In general I will be concerned with the organizational and dramatic aspects of ritual interaction rather than the symbolism of them. How they are done is the key question. Therefore, my theoretical background is composed of Victor Turner’s entire opus with emphasis on his theory of “social drama”, Roy Rappaport’s studies on ritual form, selected writings of Richard Schechner and Christoph Wulf’s recent studies within the frame work of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Sonderforschungsbereich “Kulturen Des Performativen”, especially the study group “Die Hervorbringung des Sozialen in Ritualen und Ritualisierungen”.
Fisher-Lichte’s theory of self-organized and self-organizing communities will be a key approach to investigate how wedding rituals performed in gurbet become reflexive forms of alternative power; alternative to the host community’s own cultural bonding.
The most significant methodological approach of this research will be the importance I give to Erfahrung. Lived experience has also been the schwerpunkt of my artistic practice. In all of my works up to date, I have employed an ethnological approach to the cultural groups I have documented. Hence, the video documentation of weddings has been collected with close attachment to and collaboration with the Turkish immigrant community, living through with them the rituals from beginning (even preparations) to the end. My personal background in homeland Turkey, and with long times spent in the Western world will also enable a different, more productive perspective of the topic. In short, I take this research very personal.
While I approach the ritual dynamics in gurbet, I will give special importance to personal ethnologies that construct and live around it. Therefore, in addition to the documentation of weddings, interviews will be used as key case studies, through which we can evaluate personal accounts on how the rituals are made, and how emotions come about. In this aspect ‘anthropology of experience’ will be the key to perception of our leitmotive; gurbet. Oral and written literature for gurbet will also be closely examined to support the experienced cognition of it. Thus, we will distance ourselves from excessive schematization of rituals as done by Schechner, focusing more on these personal lived experiences of participants.
In order to point out how rituals of homeland change and mutate in gurbet, I will compare those made in Turkey with those who are made in Berlin, sometimes following the family who does their first wedding here and a second one there -usually the case when one partner is from Turkey.
My proposal is to go from down to up, not from up to down. Like Durkheim who tried to examine the massive phenomenon of belief by focusing on the most elemental forms of religious life, I propose a through examination of the most elemental forms within these specific wedding rituals in order to better understand what they bring about to the society in general.
Although anthropological theories will be a major part of this research I plan to maintain it in the general context of performance studies.
Scientific and Social Relevance of My Research
Integration is a popular and ambiguous topic in today’s Germany, so much that a special ministry is dedicated to it. Not only this country’s but also all of Europe’s history with racial tensions makes this issue so fragile that every survey on it has a potential to be problematic from the beginning. This ambient anxiety over the topic acts like a concave mirror and has the perpetual danger to distort the actual hypothesis to be discussed, especially if the survey is conducted by the host community. It might be similarly problematic if the survey is conducted by a member of the immigrant community. Recent studies by these groups have proven to be highly controversial within their communities, as in the infamous case of sociologist Necla Kelek. Therefore, it might be worthwhile if someone who is familiar with both the host’s culture and the culture of the guest’s homeland develops this kind of research.
Weddings are unarguably the most important and noticeable communal events of the Turkish immigrants in Berlin. While they are seen as exotic celebrations in the eye of most German public, to the Turkish society they are indeed the most prominent organizational manifestation. Therefore, a through study of its dynamics will be useful for a better understanding of the dynamics of the integration issue. Finally, since there is little scientific study on this subject, I see this research with great social and scientific relevance, and highly contemporary (hochaktuell) and even urgent.
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