'Urban ethnicity' : culture and politics among Eritrean and Egyptian migrants in Milan
This thesis argues that 'ethnicity' can be seen as the interplay between culture and politics in a specific social context. It compares the ethnic identity and organization of two migrant groups, Eritreans and Egyptians, in Milan and their contrasting relationship with the 'host society'. It also assesses the theoretical significance of 'cultural strategy', 'social closure' and the 'social construction of race', evaluating their significance for the concept of 'ethnicity'. The main method adopted is that of qualitative participant research. After a description of the social and cultural background of emigration and of the context of arrival, the thesis analyzes the main differences between the two groups in terms of patterns of employment, legal situation and housing. While these differences may partly be explained by the two groups' different demographic structures, social networks and ethnic identity, the crucial difference is in their different patterns of leadership, organization and political contacts with the 'host society'. The Eritreans have a high attendance at their 'ethnic institutions' because their leaders have been able to draw support from and to establish contacts with, sections of the 'host society' in order to find employment, to obtain sojourn permits and to gain access to public housing. By contrast, the Egyptians have a low attendance at the religious institution that they share with other Muslims, not only for ideological reasons, but also because of the institution's relative lack of resources. Instead, intermarriage is one of the main avenues of social advancement. The thesis concludes that 'ethnicity' can be seen as a 'usurpatory cultural strategy' in relation to the racist ideologies and 'exclusionary' practices of the 'host society'. For the Eritreans it involves the stressing of cultural distinctiveness and social enhancement at a group level. For the Egyptians it involves concealment of cultural difference and social enhancement pursued at an individual level.