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Blaming Kehl: Muslim Turkish Men and their Moral Journey in the Franco‐German Borderland

Alyanak, Oğuz

Geographical space is more than a Cartesian plane where actors move across coordinates. It has a moral weight that renders each move subject to moral discourse. Yet, rarely does this premise prevent people from exploring spaces that are associated with anything wrong or bad. In fact, we continue to find people in places where they should not be, and doing things that are not just communally shunned but also personally acknowledged to be wrong or bad. Why is that the case? This paper draws on my ethnography on Turkish men who live in Strasbourg and socialize in its German neighbor, Kehl, to examine the role of space in the production of moral and masculine dispositions and practices. Approaching the Strasbourg‐Kehl border as a moral boundary, I examine how crossing the border to Kehl constitutes an integral part of the journey that my interlocutors take in constructing their moral and masculine selves. In this journey, spatial transgressions are not diverted but embraced, and confronted. These transgressions also produce anxieties—mistakes which in moments of self‐reflection lead to regrets. In such moments, two logics come into play: consequentialism and blame. The first builds on Islamic notions of fallibility and nefs, while the latter brings Kehl into the picture as a moral alibi—a space that takes blame for sins. The latter also helps others in the community who fail to prevent men from going to Kehl and transgressing moral boundaries to transpose culpability. In conclusion, I emphasize the need to consider the making and maintenance of masculinities and moralities in conjunction with the lived environments where such identities are formed and performed.
Published in: City & Society, 10.1111/ciso.12419, Wiley