Writing code, decoding culture: Digital skills and the promise of a fast lane to decent work among refugees and migrants in Berlin

Philip Rushworth, Andreas Hackl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The digitisation of work poses global challenges but also offers new employment opportunities. This article explores the experiences of refugees and migrants who study at coding schools in Berlin to pursue digital careers. Attracted by the promise of coding as a fast lane to decent work, these newcomers hope to circumvent barriers of the local labour market, such as the need for local language skills and accredited qualifications. But many coding students realise that the fast lane they have entered is not so fast after all, and that it is scattered with obstacles and uncertainties. The ostensibly inclusive tech sector emerges as highly competitive and demands total commitment, passion, and a ‘culture fit’: alongside learning to code, they must learn to decode the behavioural and cultural specifics of an international tech sector. Coding thereby becomes a digital extension of the demands and expectations of national integration. As migrants and refugees hope that digital skills will lead to decent work, respectability, and middle-class status, they experience a contradiction between aspirations that are said to be universal, because anyone can in theory succeed as a coder, and recurring experiences of discrimination and precarity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Early online date3 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • digital skills
  • digital labour
  • coding
  • refugees
  • migrants
  • integration

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