Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Philip Kasinitz

Committee Members

Thomas Faist

Gregory Smithsimon

Michaela Soyer

Van C. Tran

Subject Categories

Migration Studies | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Urban Studies and Planning


belonging, refugees, migration, revitalisation, welfare, Iraq


Despite a growing interest in belonging, immigration and urban scholarship has yet to develop an empirically grounded, spatially sensitive, and complex theorization of the concept itself. Drawing on a comparative case study of two disempowered cities – Bielefeld, Germany, and Detroit, US, – this dissertation analyzes how and to what extent forcibly displaced Yazidi and Chaldean Iraqis develop a sense of belonging. By triangulating data from semi-structured interviews, ethnographic observations, as well as a discourse analysis of policy documents, the following pages trace how politics of belonging are continuously produced, reproduced, and challenged through a spatially mediated and often contradictory interplay between personal, collective, and communal desires. The analysis begins with an exploration of the cities’ efforts to counter future population loss by seeking to create a welcoming environment for their residents. Employing the concept of commodified belonging, I demonstrate that while this approach may allow the cities to reposition themselves in the regional and global urban hierarchies, fostering belonging for the primary purpose of reaping the economic benefits of resettlement simultaneously creates highly specific expectations regarding newcomers’ social rights and responsibilities. Embedded in a welfare regime, Bielefeld takes public responsibility for addressing people’s emotional ruptures, underscoring Yazidis’ vulnerability. In contrast, Detroit – as part of a labor market regime, largely relegates the mending of ruptures to the private realm, highlighting Chaldeans’ strength. By sketching out future pathways to belonging, these distinct visions of residents as welfare subjects and immigrant entrepreneurs subsequently risk deepening existing gendered logics and racial hierarchies, undermining the very foundation for belonging. To empower particularly Yazidi women, Bielefeld encourages Yazidis’ partial emancipation from the community and their assimilation into whiteness, using them to indirectly attract financial resources for everyone. Conversely, Detroit attributes Chaldeans’ ability to empower themselves to their rootedness in the enclave and their non-blackness, celebrating Chaldeans’ direct economic contributions to the region. It is only through finding a balance between rootedness and mobility that forcibly displaced Iraqis can begin to temporarily decommodify belonging to develop different, more inclusive visions of urban societies.