This dissertation is a study of migrant youths in Duisburg, a city in the heart of Germany’s industrial northern Rhine region. It draws together various threads of inquiry – an ethnographic study of the Duisburg-Bruckhausen hip-hop crew Poedra and the artists of Chillichilliwa Productions, debates regarding the primacy of an “exemplary” German culture, the social status and agency of migrant and post-migrant adolescents in a de-industrialized inner city, national German dialogues addressing ethnic enclaves and ghettoization, and media assessments that place migrant youths at odds with a vulnerable German social order - in an effort to tease out the dynamic social and economic relations that define power among young people who inhabit a contemporary German inner city neighborhood.
This study aims to understand how hip-hop, risk, performance, and “being Kanak” are interwoven. It takes as axiomatic the idea that hip-hop culture has played a significant role in shaping migrant behaviors, environmental perceptions, and ways of being in the world that are unique to Germany’s urban communities yet maintain close aesthetic connections to hip-hop’s traditional codes. Underlying the notion that hip-hop is a primary motivator of migrant and post-migrant agency is the broader question of why it has become such a pervasive cultural force among Germany’s migrant populations. I believe the answer lies in an understanding of the ways risk is both perceived and manipulated throughout the ethnoscape and the mediascapes that are the primary terrains for hip-hop performativity.
I theoretically place hip-hop practice among my informants within a broader cultural continuum that examines migrant youths and the musical cultures they celebrate and create through the lens of risk. Throughout Europe, violence, or threatened violence, is a constituent element of migrant life, one that shapes the ways migrants live and construct their communities in the countries that absorb them. At its core, risk is disruptive. It poses a threat to stability and weakens the roots of human relations. Within hip-hop, however, risk can also serve as a creative animus, playing a pivotal role in what Sara Thornton has dubbed “sub-cultural capital” (1996), defining behaviors, stances, and attitudes through with practitioners can gain social standing and approval among their peers.