Ongoing and concluded PhDs

PhD researcher or student information

Osman Balkan

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Discipline: Political Science

Degrees BA: Reed College


PhD Research Information

Death On The Move: Burial, Repatriation, and the Politics of Belonging Among Muslims in Germany

Brief description:

This dissertation examines what happens to migrant bodies after they die. It demonstrates that the governance of the dead is intimately linked to the construction of the nation and the enactment of sovereignty. Through a comparative study of the mortuary practices of ethno-religious minorities in Germany, it highlights the ways that death structures political membership and identity. By tracing the actors, networks, and institutions that determine the movement of dead bodies within and across international borders, it analyzes how relations between authority, territory, and populations are managed at a transnational level. The dissertation builds on extensive, multi-sited fieldwork conducted in Berlin and Istanbul in 2013-15. Drawing on interviews and participant observation with bereaved families, Muslim undertakers, government officials, religious leaders, and representatives of funeral aid societies, I show how the corpse functions as a political actor by structuring claims about citizenship, belonging, and collective identity. I argue that families, religious communities, and states all have a vested interest in the fate of dead bodies. Further, I demonstrate that in contexts where the boundaries of the nation and its demos are contested, burial decisions are political decisions. Focusing primarily on Turkish and Kurdish communities, I show how decisions about where and how to be buried are linked to larger political struggles over the meaning of home and homeland. While burial in Germany offers a symbolically powerful means for migrants and their children to assert political membership and foster a sense of belonging, the widespread practice of posthumous repatriation illustrates the continued importance of transnational ties and serves as an indictment of an exclusionary socio-political order. In both situations, the corpse is central to localizing and grounding political claims for recognition and inclusion. As I show, this is a highly contentious process wherein different factions, including states and civil society organizations, struggle over where dead bodies should go and what they should signify. In highlighting the role that burial decisions play in the negotiation of social, cultural, and political boundaries, this dissertation contributes to a growing body of literature on how the long-term settlement of Muslim immigrants is transforming European societies.


Ethnography, Interviews, Qualitative Methods

Keywords: citizenship, death, Germany, identity, Immigration, turkey, islam, transnationalism, belonging

Language(s) of writing: English

Country: United States of America (USA)

Home University:

University of Pennsylvania


Political Science

Supervisor: Anne Norton
Start date: 09-01-2010
PhD current status: PhD Defended
PhD research funded by: DAAD
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Added to catalogue on: 11-10-2018

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