About the project: background, aims, relevance

The question of belonging – both in the sense of ‘feeling at home’ and in the political guise of (in)formal memberships – is important for everyone. The issue surfaces particularly prominently, however, in situations of (forced) migration, when people leave or have to leave their familiar frameworks of belonging and find themselves in new, alien contexts and environments. Migration studies, including much ethnomusicological research, has analysed belonging and its modes of presentation and performance mainly along ethnic/national lines. This approach has been justly criticized for ignoring the relevance of transnational networks and neglecting the complexity of individual identity construction. Gender studies, globalization studies, and transnational migration studies have demonstrated that individuals are positioned in a complex web of mutually dependent identifications and belongings, spanning beyond the identification as members of ethnically or nationally defined communities. Recent research has placed mobility and multiple, overlapping processes of identity construction into centre stage. 

By investigating the biographies, musical performances, and networks of selected women* musicians through interviews and participant observation, the project examines how women musicians from Syria who have been displaced as a result of war and conflict perform, negotiate, and enact their interdependent belonging/s through music-making after migration. While presented and marked as mainly ‘Syrian’ and/or ‘refugee’ in the media, Syrian women* musicians perform and inhabit much more differentiated identities and belonging/s, transcending purely ethnic/national or social status ascriptions. Though ‘Syrian’, locally grounded belongings are potentially relevant and strong, the aim is to avoid the trap of essentializing and highlighting this component of belonging, thereby rendering other belonging/s and more general aspects of performance and performativity invisible. Rather than presuming a Syrian diaspora group, I analyze the musical performances and lives of individuals, their strategies and their networks, in order to understand all relevant kinds of belonging/s, acted out in and through music. 

The musicians studied in this project come from the same national, territorial, and cultural background, have been publicly active as musicians in Syria, and have resettled after migration in Austria or Germany, that is in countries which are comparable in terms of language, politics, economic situation, cultural history and institutional possibilities. The sample group – coherent in some aspects, but immensely varied in others, including musical background – is especially fruitful for discussing the complexity and diversity of processes of performing music, networking, and belonging/s after migration. 

This project takes a decidedly political stance in speaking out against the socio-political tendencies all over Europe in which the exclusion and marginalization of homogenized Others mask the actual need of humane encounters with other people, specifically foreigners. Presenting the relational individuality of these Others generates a better understanding of the complexity of human identities in order to counter a political discussion that ascribes ready-made identities to people of other skin colour, religion, and descent. You can find information on recent activities, publications and presentations here