Make it in Berlin – Selective Inclusion through labour and unemployment agencies

by Felix Marlow, Sabrina Apicella, Hannah Schultes, Katharina Schoenes, Noel Nicolaus, Nikolas Schall, and Mira Wallis
(Humboldt University, Berlin)

‘We cordially invite you to shape your future in Germany, at the heart of Europe. Come and be part of the “Make it in Germany” story – we look forward to seeing you!’ – With these words, so-called ‘qualified professionals’ are greeted at the internet information portal of the correspondent programme1. As part of the ‘Qualified Professionals Initiative’, started in June 2012 by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Employment Agency, several such programmes officially aim at recruiting migrant workers for sectors and regions of the German labour market that ‘are already lacking qualified professionals’. With one of these programmes named ‘The job of my life’ the initiative also sets a particular focus on young employees from crisis-ridden South European countries2.

There is a lot to add to the picture drawn by these quotations. Obviously, German public agencies are trying to channel migration from the margins to the supposed ‘heart of Europe’. What the above statements don’t mention are precarious labour and living conditions – but these are realities for many people, outside and inside Germany. To add on to this, the financial crisis interferes not only into people’s lives in discursively or geographically marginalized regions, but also in Germany. And so does the European border regime.

As a consequence, we want to ask how such a regime works not only at the margins of Europe, but at a place that is perceived as an “eye of a storm” within Europe and a world shook up by crises, catastrophes and wars. How can we make a useful contribution to a transnational research on this border regime and at the same time figure out its specific mechanisms in the local context of Berlin?

31 July 2014

A guiding concept in our investigation is the understanding of ‘differential inclusion’3 European border regime does not strive to generally prohibit mobility, but strategically hinder it in some. Accordingly, the cases, while encouraging it in others. This understanding opens up the analytical focus for a heterogeneous European space that does not only expand externally, but also internally excludes migrants in its centres through manifold drawing up of borders. The working of a border regime only becomes understandable when putting into relation the different official (non)citizen statuses that subjectivize people according to the right of residence, work permits and social rights.

To shed light on these issues, we return to Federal Agencies. So-called ‘Jobcenters’, which do not only act as job brokers, but also – and most important – process the granting of social benefits. Assuming that a big part of differential inclusion is being (re)produced by these agencies’ practices, we want to focus on the role of Jobcenters as key institutions in the process of filtering and regulating different forms of mobilities. We therefore ask:

How do Jobcenters reproduce selective inclusion and how are they challenged and shaped through practices?

To narrow our focus, we will single out one group: newcomers to Berlin holding the citizenship of the European Union. We do this for two reasons: First, looking at the financial crisis from Berlin, it is relevant to address possible transformations of migration movements and mechanisms of selective inclusion within the European Union. Second, in accordance with the “directive on free movement of workers” EU citizens have the right to live and work in any other EU country. This moves our focus to the question of social rights.

Accordingly, in the first step of our explorations we want to cast light on situations of arrival in Berlin and the migrants’ encounters with Jobcenters. Therefore, we accompany migrants to Jobcenters, contact independent social advice centres, and try to get in contact with Jobcenter employees. We aim to explore how Jobcenters work and which strategies and practices exist among migrants and Jobcenter employees. A second step would then be to analyze these practices and draw a picture of what could be an understanding of a border regime in the middle of what is commonly perceived a centre. One challenge would be to theorize Berlin not only as a sort of “stage” where actors meet and processes of transformation take place, but also how the place itself becomes an important condition of what we observed.

Field work protocol available for download here


1  Internet presentation ’Make it in Germany’; in: (Last access: 28/07/14). 
Internet presentation ‘The Job of my Life’; in: (Last access: 28/07/14). 
3  Sandro Mezzadra / Brett Neilson (2013): Border as Method, or, the Muliplication of Labour, Durham&London: Duke University Press, p. 157ff.