Being one of the few: Professionally successful descendants of migrants from Turkey

Tim Leguijt Fotografie

The successful professionals whose parents migrated from Turkey bestow their success to individual characteristics. They do this for example by employing resources that they draw from their migration background and they are constantly willing to seek opportunities. The structural obstacles and prejudice they came across are not part of their achievement narrative. Ali Konyali shows this in his dissertation ‘Being one of the few’: Professionally successful descendants of migrants from Turkey. He will defend his thesis April, 20th at Erasmus University Rotterdam. 

Drawing on data collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews in Germany, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, Ali Konyali focuses on descendants of labour migrants from Turkey in leading professional positions. He explains how individuals from disadvantaged minority groups negotiate their individual background while developing their professional selves.

Individual efforts

Konyali shows that there is a dialectical interplay between their achievement narratives and the actual experiences of their upward social mobility. Whereas their narratives stress the role of personal characteristics and individual efforts, their experiences indicate restrictive national conditions that cause the emergence of alternative career paths.
They circumvent restrictive national conditions by working in international companies, by employing their Turkish migration background in order to occupy a ‘niche’ with business responsibilities related to Turkey. Finally, becoming independent either by starting one’s own company or by joining other smaller companies with less hierarchic structures is a means for them to overcome the restrictive national context.


Especially the international context of the corporate business sector provides a framework in which individual differences can be employed as an asset. Individuals thereby are able to turn alleged differences that often cause group disadvantage into individual advantage by presenting it as an evidence of competence that increases their ‘employability’. They speak Turkish and can therefore take over responsibilities that are related to Turkey. In addition, they are used to the idea of mobility and display a general willingness to move if the job requirements demand it from them. 


The respondents of the study are continuously confronted with the fact that their individual social mobility stands in contrast to the low-status of the group to which they belong. However, they turn this apparent contradiction into an important element of their professional self-conception.

Studying these exceptional cases of professional success allows one to see how the circumstances that allow the exception are the same as those that prevent this exception to become normal. In other words, a critical perspective on successful individuals is crucial to recognise the structural processes that lead to the emergence of obstacles.

The research of Konyali was conducted within the ELITES: Pathways to Success Project (funded by the European Research Council)...

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