Weatherhead Research Cluster on Comparative Inequality and Inclusion Lecture


Thursday, April 11, 2019, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Belfer Case Study Room (S020)

"Symbolic and Material Boundary Drawing through Gender and Race: The Public Discourse on Violence and Refugee Movements in Canada and Germany"


Gökce Yurdakul, Visiting Scholar, Weatherhead Scholars Program. Professor of Sociology, Head of Department of Diversity and Social Conflict at the Institute of Social Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Chair, Migration Research Cluster at the Berlin Institute of Migration and Integration Research, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Anna Korteweg, Chair; Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto.


Ronald Niezen, William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies, Canada Program. Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy, Department of Anthropology and Faculty of Law, McGill University.


Ana Inoa


Michèle Lamont, Center Director; Chair, Weatherhead Research Cluster on Comparative Inequality and Inclusion. Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies; Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies, Departments of Sociology and African and African American Studies, Harvard University.


This paper focuses on two moments in the Syrian refugee crises: the events that took place in Cologne on New Year’s eve 2015, where refugee men were accused of sexually assaulting a large number of women and the November 2015 decision by the Canadian government to place single Syrian men at the bottom of the admissible refugee list, after “complete” families, women, children, and LGBTQ refugees (except in cases of private sponsorship). The paper analyzes how public debate activates certain understanding of race, gender, Islam and violence to inform the creation of both symbolic and material boundaries. Symbolically, debate focuses on which refugees can become part of the national collective and on the moral burden of the nation to protect those in need of protection. Materially, the debates turn to maintaining territorial integrity, the disbursement of public funds and access to public resources. In the German case, the Cologne events reinforced an understanding of Muslim men as incapable of respecting the rights of women and became the “evidence” for the apparently misguided nature of Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders. In the Canadian case, the Liberal government had made an election promise to increase the number of Syrian refugees let into Canada from 1,500 over the last two years of the Conservative government to 25,000 in the first few months of a Liberal reign. This was an explicit move to re-position Canada as a humanitarian, welcoming nation. However, the Paris attacks in November 2015 rekindled fears of Muslim terrorists and informed the Canadian government’s decision to close the border and (partially) exclude single men from the “open hearts and welcoming communities” that are the “Canadian way” (