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Fear of the Family

Guest Workers and Family Migration in the Federal Republic of Germany

Lauren Stokes

Publication Date - February 2022

ISBN: 9780197558416

312 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $35.00


Beginning in 1955, West Germany recruited millions of people as guest workers from Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and especially Turkey. This labor force was essential to creating the postwar German economic miracle. Employers fantasized that foreign "guest workers" would provide labor power in their prime productive years without having to pay for their education, pensions, or medical care. They especially hoped that the workers would leave behind their spouses and children and not encumber the German state or society with the cost of caring for them.

As Lauren Stokes argues, the Federal Republic of Germany turned fear of this foreign family into the basis of policymaking, while at the same time implementing policies that inflicted fear in foreign families. Workers did not always prove willing to live their work lives in the FRG and their family lives elsewhere. They consistently challenged the state's assumption that "family" and "labor" could be cleanly divided, defied restrictive and discriminatory policies, staged political protests, and took their deportation orders to court. In 1973, the federal court legally recognized the constitutional right to family reunification, but almost immediately after the decision, the migration bureaucracy sought to limit that right in practice. Officials derided family migrants as a group of burdensome dependents seeking to defraud the welfare state and demonized them as a dangerous source of foreign values on German soil.

In this sweeping look at what being defined as "family migrants" has meant for millions at the immigration office, in the courtroom, in the workplace, and in the family itself, Fear of the Family illuminates how racial, ethnic, and gender difference have been inscribed in the neoliberal West German welfare state.


  • First history of the "family reunification," the predominant pathway for legal migration to Germany since 1973
  • Provides new interpretation of debates about race and migration in postwar German history
  • Includes research from over twenty different archives and in four languages

About the Author(s)

Lauren Stokes is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University.


"The best historians make the past urgent. Lauren Stokes's Fear of the Family does just this. She shows how Germany's so-called migration crisis has been underway for over half a century, and its most relevant figure has not been the isolated laborer but the family. An illuminating book with high stakes in a world where kinship networks are forced to carry ever more of the burden of the welfare state." -- Quinn Slobodian, author of Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

"While the history of the Federal Republic of Germany has often been written as centering on the reconstruction of the German family, this book highlights how fear of the foreign family structured West German immigration policies from the 1970s to the present. Deeply researched and beautifully written, this pioneering book inserts the category of 'race' and racialization into the history of postwar Germany. It provides an indispensable historical perspective on current debates about immigration and multiculturalism in Europe." -- Frank Biess, University of California, San Diego

"This is a powerful, illuminating, and tragically timely book. Based on a wealth of fascinating and original archival materials, it teaches us much about the deeply material practices, routines, and policies that have structured the lives of migrant families in Germany. Stokes deftly and effectively moves between a deep treatment of the laws and experiences of migration within the German state and a larger story of families on the move that is all too universal." -- Jordanna Bailkin, University of Washington

"Lauren Stokes astutely analyzes the intersection of race, immigrant status, gender, and family in the Federal Republic of Germany. Brilliantly researched and full of revealing anecdotes, Fear of the Family shows us the gap between the West German state's 'family values' and its fear of the (immigrant) family—as well as the injurious policies that often resulted. This book should be required reading for anyone concerned with social policy, immigration, and the family in the twentieth century." -- Elizabeth Heineman, University of Iowa

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: The "Market-Conforming Family" in the Era of Labor Recruitment
    Chapter 2: The Racialization of Space: Family Housing and Anti-Ghettoization Policy
    Chapter 3: Trickles of Money, Floods of Children: The 1974 Child Allowance Reform and the Birth of the"Welfare Migrant"
    Chapter 4: Are Men Family Members? Husbands, Teenagers, and "False Family Reunification"
    Chapter 5: "Foreign Parents Violate the Rights of the Children": Restricting Child Migration in the Name of Child Welfare
    Chapter 6: Marriage, Deportation, and the Politics of Vulnerability
    Chapter 7: Between Two Fathers? The Foreign Child in Citizenship Reform
    Conclusion Migration Without End