Sarah Jurkiewicz – Age and Generation

Young Syrian Mothers in Berlin-Marzahn: Housing and ‘Home-Making’ Practices

Dr. Sarah Jurkiewicz

The project explores everyday practices of ‘home-making’ under conditions of flight, refuge, and migration. It follows female refugees who come together on a weekly basis to a meeting point called “Women’s Breakfast” in Berlin-Marzahn. The meetings are organized by a consultancy advice centre run by a diaconal institution. Mostly young mothers, who are predominantly from Syria, attend these meetings with their kids who are not (yet) in day care, although older woman with grown-up children in Germany have also started to attend these meetings. Here they meet and converse with local volunteers who teach them German language and provide support with different bureaucratic requirements of their stay (applications, flat search, questions related to schooling etc.).

A particular focus of the project is on the phase when these women have moved out of the emergency shelters or community accommodation provisions and start constructing their ‘home’. The ordinary presumption would be that the liminal stage of the long journey and waiting comes to an end when one’s own place and space can be newly constructed – yet does this hold true and if so, in what sense?

In order to engage with this question, the research focusses on how my interlocutors construct and inhabit their new space, in material and emotional terms. What role does the remembrance of home – the old house/flat back in Syria – play? Furthermore, how far their different positionalities and preferences related to age, class, education, and rural/urban point of origin shape their current sense of association and belonging. The specific role of the new place, namely Marzahn a former East-Berlin district at the margins of the city, is crucial in this regard.

Another set of questions relates to gendered and spatial practices of home-making. How do these women negotiate their role as women and mothers in the new setting vis-à-vis their spouses and wider family and kin networks (located in Germany, Turkey, and Syria)? Who is responsible for specific tasks involved in the process of ‘home-making’ such as purchasing and arranging furniture, organizing care work, performance of household chores, and so on? How far have these roles shifted or are in contrast to the previous situation in Syria? How has the relationship between migration and home-making affected the gendered notion of work and care?

Methodologically, besides an overall ethnographic approach, the dwelling biographies perspective (Biehl) and methods from mobility studies will be applied to conduct this project.

This research is part of the larger collaborative project Liminal Spaces as Sites of Socio-Political Transformation and Knowledge Production in the Arab World with partners in Egypt, Morocco, and Palestine (2018-2020). The aim is to investigate different instances of transitory spaces at the threshold of political, social, and cultural transformations and look at how and which form of knowledge is produced in response to these changes.