«The Construction of the Labour Migrant’s Body: West Germany’s Medical Selection of Turkish Labour Migrants (1961-1973) Maria Kramer Abstract ...»
The Construction of the Labour Migrant’s Body: West
Germany’s Medical Selection of Turkish Labour Migrants
Health boundaries may demarcate the nation state without necessarily running
along its territorial borders. Their intention is to regulate the mobility of people and
objects across state borders from a health politics point of view. However,
delineating spaces of liminality, health boundaries do not only restrict, they also
constitute spaces of creative power as immigration studies show. In my paper, I focus on a distinct moment in Federal Germany’s recruitment of Turkish labour in the period from 1961 to 1973: the medical examinations of prospective Turkish labour migrants which were conducted in the German recruitment office in Istanbul to assess the applicants’ work suitability and general health status.
Specifically, I will concentrate on the question of how in relation to the requirements of industrial labour and national citizenship regulations, the body of the Turkish labour migrant was constructed in the medical examinations. Combining concepts taken from the work of Foucault and disability studies, I will trace how a certain category of the labour migrant’s body emerged along the lines of health, disease, bodily ability and disability. Furthermore, I will analyse how this construction process of the body overlapped in various ways with notions of race and gender. I argue that the medical immigrant examination was no neutral scientific endeavour. Rather, in accordance with industrial requirements and national health politics, it served as a selection procedure combining inclusionary and exclusionary power mechanisms with the logic of risk calculation to rationalize, normalize and commodify the labour migrant’s body.
My paper will contribute to the existing research in a twofold way: by introducing public health and body politics as a new level of analysis in the literature on Turkish migration to Germany and by focusing on the neglected field of medical immigrant examinations designed for state-recruited labour migrants, not future citizens.
Public health, body politics, Turkish labour migration, medical immigrant examination.
1. Introduction: Boundaries, Health Politics and the Migrant’s Body 2 Construction of the Labour Migrant’s Body: West Germany’s Medical Selection The of Turkish Labour Migrants (1961-1973) __________________________________________________________________
Lines of hygiene constitute boundaries of rule. 1 The intimate linkage between government and public health finds expression in the existence of health boundaries which may or may not overlap with the territorial borders of a state. Such health boundaries fulfil the role of a ‘watchtower of health’ to preventthe import of matter or people deemed dangerous to the health of the national population. 2 The fear of disease ‘coming from outside’ to invade the nation body is closely connected to the fear of ‘foreigners’. Since the rise of germ theory and the spread of new sanitary and hygienic measures at the end of the 19th century, the body of the migrant has undergone a significant process of pathologisation in public health discourses which has resulted in a scientifically legitimised naturalisation of the link between disease and ‘foreign’ bodies. Consequently, immigrant regulations have increasingly taken the form of health regulations from the late 19th century onwards to enforce the exclusion of undesired migrants with certain diseases or bodily characteristics.
However, health boundaries do not only constitute lines of restriction; as zones of liminality, they also form creative spaces where otherness is managed and where new subjectivities are forged.
In my paper, I will focus on a specific tool for such management of otherness in the context of West Germany’s recruitment of Turkish labour from 1961 to 1973: the medical examination of prospective Turkish labour migrants which were conducted in the German recruitment office in Istanbul to assess the applicants’ general health status and their suitability for industrial work in Germany. 3 As such, my paper will contribute to the existing research literature in a twofold way: by introducing public health and body politics as new levels of analysis in the literature on Turkish migration to German and by focusing on the neglected field of medical immigrant examinations designed for state-recruited labour migrants, not future citizens. 4 Combining concepts taken from the work of Foucault and disability scholars, I will specifically concentrate on the question of how in relation to the requirements of industrial labour and national citizenship regulations the body of the Turkish labour migrant was constructed in the course of these medical examinations. By using the term 'construction of the body', I refer to the phenomenon that our knowledge and experience of the body and bodily reality cannot be directly deduced from a given biological essence, but is rather contingent on social practice and varies therefore according to the socio-historic context. Ian Hacking points out the necessity to differentiate between the construction of an object itself and the idea of that object (e.g. a certain classification, category or 'kind'). 5 Transferring Hacking's distinction to my own case, I am not primarily concerned with the individual reality of the labour migrants’ bodies. Rather, I am interested in how along the lines of health, disease, able-bodiedness and disability a certain idea or concept of the labour migrant's body came into existence in the medical examination. Furthermore, I will indicate how this construction process of the body overlapped in various ways with notions of race and gender.
Maria Kramer 3 __________________________________________________________________
2. The German Recruitment Office and the Organisational Structure of the Medical Examination In 1961 a labour recruitment agreement was signed between Turkey and West Germany in the context of severe migratory pressure in Turkey and a distinct labour shortage in Germany due to rapid economic growth. Following the agreement, 638,800 people from Turkey were sent to Germany via the German recruitment offices from 1961 to November 1973 when Germany officially stopped recruitment due to global economic crisis and internal political tensions. 6 The recruitment office in Istanbul functioned as a link between the German and Turkish Employment Services which organised the recruitment in coordination. 7 All Turkish applicants for work in Germany had to undergo a selection process at the German recruitment office including an obligatory medical examination and – in case of qualified workers – a work skill test. Only those who passed these examinations were offered a labour contract. 8 The medical examination had to assess the applicants’ work suitability and general health status, especially under epidemiological aspects. It consisted of three main parts: an analysis of an x-ray film taken of the lungs to check especially for TB, a laboratory test of blood and urine samples to check for infectious and chronic diseases and a clinical examination including a check of the musculoskeletal system, the cardiovascular system, the respiration system and sight and hearing performance to assess the general physical constitution. A fixed list of health criteria issued by the German Employment Service specified reasons for exclusion which can be roughly grouped as follows: insufficient work capability, infectious diseases (especially TB and venereal diseases) and likeliness to become a public charge.9 Whereas for the evaluation of blood and urine samples strict norm values existed, the evaluation of the lung radiographs and the physical condition of the applicant depended largely on the personal evaluation of the physician. Accordingly, the physician yielded great discretionary power in the clinical inspection as to how to evaluate the suitability of the applicant.
The rejection rate oscillated between 7 and 13% until 1971 when it jumped up to nearly 20% until the end of recruitment.10 For both the health personal and the applicants, the examination constituted an ordeal. The physicians, who were mostly male German doctors employed by the German Employment Service, had to examine several hundreds of applicants under great time pressure. 11 For the applicants, the medical examination, especially the clinical inspection which was conducted in gender segregated groups of 10 to 20 persons who had to strip collectively in front of the physician, was a very humiliating and traumatic experience. 12 4 Construction of the Labour Migrant’s Body: West Germany’s Medical Selection The of Turkish Labour Migrants (1961-1973) __________________________________________________________________
3. The Labour Migrant’s Body in the Medical Examination A. Logic of Inclusion: the Labour Migrant’s Body as an Industrious Machine The selection of suitable workers for the German economy was the primary aim of the examination. 13 Producing an importable able-bodied work force for the German industry, the examination functioned primarily as a mechanism of inclusion.
A physician of the German Employment Service’s medical service underscores this inclusionary aim due to economic interests as follows, It would be going too far to exclude all possible health defects on the basis of certain idealistic criteria. The aim of delivering capable foreign workers to the German economy surely could not be achieved that way. 14 In other words, the medical examination was part of a recruitment process of foreign labour, not primarily a tool for immigration restriction. This inclusionary effect of the medical examinations is also made apparent by the fact that the majority of the applicants were accepted in the examination. 15 With the transition to industrial production and the introduction of mechanised work rhythms, a need for normed bodies performing in analogy to machines had arisen at the turn of the 18th/19th century. Able-bodiedness emerged as a compulsory value creating in turn the concept of disability as the population became separated into those forming part of the productive labour force and those deemed unfit to produce. 16 Directed at the detection of bodily ‘anomalies’, the clinical inspection at the recruitment office reflected this industrial requirement of able, normed bodies.
The physicians meticulously examined the ears, eyes, teeth and other organs of the applicants in terms of their functionality, and watched their body movements in search for possible impairments, sometimes while the applicants were performing gymnastic exercises. 17 Apparently, the examination procedure conceptualised the body of the applicant as an industrious machine which had to be broken down into its constitutive organ systems to check one after the other for ‘defects’ and ‘functional disorders’. Also, the motive to conduct the examination in groups was not simply the result of an efficiency calculation. The group examination established a normalising system of comparison which allowed the physician to detect ‘bodily deficiencies’ more easily through direct comparison of the applicants’ body features.
The industrial imperatives of compulsory able-bodiedness and bodily normalcy led to the rejection of all those applicants who violated these imperatives, thereby physically homogenising those included.
Maria Kramer 5 __________________________________________________________________