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Fluid identifications and persistent inequalities: Social boundary making among Iranians in Hamburg

Sonja Moghaddari


Research in transnational migration long neglected the study of power relations among migrants. In this paper, I explore within-group heterogeneity, viewing it as the outcome of the processes of social boundary making. How does social boundary making among migrants relate to their chances to generate capital in different local and transnational social fields? Focusing on  dynamics between people identifying as Iranians and living in Hamburg, I critically discuss previous work that attempts to explain their lack of social cohesion. An ethnographic account of alliances and divisions that emerge around an Iranian cultural festival illustrates that social boundaries can constitute barriers to capital accumulation, but they can also be actively shaped in order to generate capital and overcome such limits. Through the analysis of this case study I argue that social boundary making among migrants reflects their engagement with local and global regimes of social inequality.


Iran; transnational migration; Hamburg; within-group relations; social boundary making; social mobility; racial discrimination, representation; event

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