Ali Konyali - Sociology

Ali Konyali twists the focus

Throwing a new light on the Turkish second generation in Western Europe


Alma mater is always calling. In 2011, having finished his second Master’s Degree in Malmö, Sweden, Ali Konyali returned to Maastricht University to work as a junior lecturer. A great start to an academic career, you might well say. And that’s exactly what this young German researcher thought, until he discovered this tempting call for a PhD candidate as part of the ELITES - Pathways to Success project (a project focusing on the upcoming elite of Turkish descent in three sectors: law, education and business in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Sweden) at the Sociology Department of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).

“It seemed perfect,” Ali remembers. “The project focuses on second generation elites of Turkish descent: people who have a background similar to my own. Also I had already been living in three out of the four countries in which research would be conducted,” Ali sums up the plusses. “Besides that, the fact that I have never been to Stockholm and I hadn’t lived in Germany for quite some time made it even more interesting to do fieldwork there.”  

Twist of focus

By far the most important incentive to apply, however, was the fact that the project really twists its focus on the subject. Ali: “I have always had an interest in migration studies, but I was also always rather hesitant to study certain groups.


"We look at exceptional individuals who are professionally successful in order to understand their trajectories."


But this project approaches the issue from the other side: instead of looking at those cases of alleged failed integration, we look at exceptional individuals who are professionally successful in order to understand their trajectories and experiences and to see what is going well and why.”

Innovation vs. stigmatization

The fact that there really is a lot to gain from this approach makes it extra motivating. “First of all, you avoid further stigmatization of groups,” Ali explains. “And secondly, you avoid over-researching certain aspects. There isn’t too much literature on professional success or educational or occupational achievement within these groups.

So it’s quite innovative at this point,” Ali continues enthusiastically. “Sometimes you don’t realize it, because it’s really everyday work. But at conferences, you notice that even people in the field are genuinely excited about this approach. You then realize that you’re actually working on something really interesting.”

PhD as a profession

His research focuses on the emergence of Turkish second generation elites within the corporate sector in Western Europe. After two years of preparing and conducting fieldwork in Berlin, Frankfurt and Stockholm, he has another two years remaining to work with the data.

But a PhD project is also really hard work. The ELITES project consists of three PhDs, two post-docs and Professor Maurice Crul, the principle researcher and supervisor.

Ali: “I realize that it’s a luxury, because many other PhD candidates have less time and also have to work alongside their research to make a living. I am not just a PhD-student, I’m actually employed by the university. My project is also my work. In that sense, it’s really perfect.”

A medicine called teamwork


"We support each other in collecting data but we also really rely on each other, which really makes it a group effort."


“We support each other in collecting data but we also really rely on each other, which really makes it a group effort,’ Ali explains. “This teamwork is another reason why it’s such a nice project, because I’ve heard from other students that doing a PhD can be a rather lonely period.”

Berlin calling

Intense teamwork might be an effective remedy for loneliness, but it cannot make up for the fact that Ali misses his girlfriend, who lives in Berlin. Fortunately, his research has arrived at a stage where he can be a bit more flexible. “As long as I have my data with me, I can work from anywhere. Still I prefer to work at the university because it keeps me more focused. But it’s great that it enables me to go over to Germany every now and then, when I don’t have to teach or have a group meeting to attend to.” 

Workwise, he could imagine staying in the academic field, doing more research. “But it could also be that by that time I want to do something else. I sometimes joke that by then I will probably have so much superficial knowledge of how the business world functions, I could run a business consultancy.