Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Living in Migration in Austria

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Living in Migration in Austria

Article excerpt


Migration is a specific biographical experience, which can lead to the development of a specific lifestyle, considering lifestyle as a form of a subculture with certain expressive symbols (Richter, 1989, 1993; Spelleberg, 1996; Lüdtke, 1989). This article deals with the components of this lifestyle, examining how migration is contributing to a distinctive style (Bourtheu, 1982) in housing. Migration contributes in this way to the building of a distinct subculture.

Our understanding of culture is that: It is a set of meanings dirough which people perceive their everyday lives. This set is constructed during the life course and is not independent from actual life experiences (Berger and Luckmann, 1995). Culture is not a question of ethnicity or nationality but one of what influences of interactions in a life course. Furthermore, culture should be seen as a multilevel system (Nauck and Schönpflug, 1997). By concentrating here on one level, that is the development of symbols through biographical circumstances. The question of the development of meaning of the symbols is also addressed. A lifestyle in this context is a way of living, which can be analyzed through expressive variables such as clothing, eating habits, beliefs, political and religious attitudes, ways of organizing leisure time, and attitudes to work. Life is centrally organized around a principle, which was called "habitus" by Bourtheu. Examining the migrant population as specific life style in Austrian society, the concern is how migration makes a difference. Specifically housing will be used to examine the lifestyle.

A very central argument in sociological analysis of migration focuses on tiie infrastructure. Cultural components, as defined above, are regarded more or less as secondary, and difficult to analyze in an empirical way.

Immigrants are a deprived group of the Austrian living population because their social structural situation in many western European countries hke Austria, Germany and Switzerland is diat of the poor, the underclass. Hoffmann-Nowotny (1996) has called the situation "Unterschichtung", which may be translated as "under classing". The potential strategies to improve their situation are clear: To promote social politics that improves their economical situation, to transfer money or to offer structural opportunities for a better way of living in the host population. The central problem in everyday interaction is not so much a problem of material poverty, then a problem of labeUng migrants as strangers and foreigners. Labeling can affect rather wealthy migrants as well. Therefore it is probably better to analyze their situation under the more general concept of exclusion (Stichweh, 1997). The problem occurs when migrants are excluded from social interactions in their everyday Ufe.

Understanding culture as a multilevel system (Nauck and Schönpflug, 1997; Bühl, 1986 ) might seem to be more appropriate to describe the social position of the migrants in the host population.

The communication between the resident society and migrants is a main problem. This problem occurs at work, in pubUc spaces in leisure time and in school and many other situations. Not often analyzed are contexts in which migrants and state run institutions such as the immigration office for instance or persons like social workers, dealing with housing issues, giving advice for integration or helping in contact with for instance the courts come into contact with each other.

Labeling (Becker, 1963) is explicit and is constitutive for the interaction, because the professionals have to rely on Austrian law and yet "do justice" to the specific situation of the migrant population. Some of the immigrants' habits might seem unusual, and strange. They are not easily understood by the resident population. Even some of the habits are not tolerable for the professionals and are not tolerated by them. A concrete example may illustrate this. …

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