Yvonne Riaño

Yvonne Riaño is the President of the Swiss Geographers Association (ASG) and the Chairperson of the Swiss Committee for the International Geographical Union (IGU). She obtained her PhD in Geography from the University of Ottawa (Canada) and has regularly taught at Austrian, Canadian, Swiss and Spanish universities. She actively combines academic research with artistic practices of socially engaged filmmaking. Her 2022 documentary “Weaving Threads Across Borders” seeks to give a voice to migrant women at the border area between Colombia and Venezuela and raise international awareness about the struggles displaced Colombian migrants face due to territorial conflicts between illegal armed groups.  Using a feminist perspective and participatory methodologies, her research contributes to Geographies of Inequality in European and South American societies. Her work contributes to four main fields of research: (a) Social inclusion and social exclusion of highly skilled migrant women; (b) Critical places and critical moments shaping gender- and ethnic inequalities in the labour market; c) Entrepreneurial and transmobility strategies of migrants striving to re-integrate amidst forced return and geopolitical conflict, (d) Self-governance of local resources in low-income Latin American barrios.  Her scientific work has been published in international peer-reviewed journals such as Environment and Planning A; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; Globalizations; German Journal of Economic Geography (ZFW); Globalisation, Societies and Education; Journal of International Migration and Integration (JIMI); Migraciones Internacionales, Oxford Bibliographies, Population, Space and Place, Qualitative Research (QR), and Societies


Research interests and contributions to geographical research

1. Highly skilled migration and gender

The free movement of highly skilled individuals is seen as a key aspect of globalisation. However, much of the literature deals only with labour migrants, largely ignoring skilled migrants in family streams, many of which are women. Using the case of skilled migrant women from Latin America, South Eastern Europe and the Middle East, who enter Switzerland, as "family migrants", Yvonne Riaño proposes the term "marginalised elites", to grasp the precarious situations that many of them face when attempting to reach paid positions that match their skills. She uses intersectionality theory to understand how gender, class and ethnicty intersect to shape inequalities of professional mobility among highly skilled women and men. She uses the concept  of "economic citizenship" to examine women's strategies of resistance. Moreover, she interprets "love migration" as a search for gender equality by migrant women.

2. Transnational networks and multi-local sense of belonging

Owing to significantly increased human mobility and facilitated international communication, the everyday lives of many individuals are not merely bound to a single geographical location, but transcend national boundaries. Yvonne Riaño examines how Latin American migrants create transnational social spaces through their every day cross-border exchanges, the new forms of socio-spatial belonging that such exchanges produce, and the implications of multi-local belonging for the socio-spatial mobilities of the participants of transnational family networks. Furthermore, she also studies the return strategies of migrants, involving single and multiple returns. She has critically examined the policies of the Swiss government to facilitate  the return of undocumented Ecuadorian migrants, and the personal- and family challenges that they face upon returning to Ecuador.

3. Geographical imaginations and migration decisions

Imagination has been recognised as a powerful force in shaping human action. Yvonne Riaño  examines how geographical imaginations, i.e. the diversity of perspectives embodied in human understandings of place, influence the decision of women from Latin America and the Middle East  living in Switzerland of whether to migrate or not, how to migrate, where to migrate, whether to return or not, or to move on.  Her study shows that the women’s aspiration to equality in a partnership, and their idealised views of European men, are key in their decision to conclude a bi-national marriage and move to Switzerland.

4. Migration policies, citizenship and gender

Yvonne Riaño critically examines how migration policies in Switzerland shape the unequal access of migrants to spaces of economic participation. She interprets Swiss migration regimes as a gendered system of stratified rights that creates different classes of citizens among migrants. Whereas migrants in productive activities such as IT-professionals and students  are represented as highly skilled professionals, and given residence and work rights, other migrants, such as care workers, often women, are constructed as "unskilled", and subject to much greater restrictions of mobility (discouraged, made illegal) and to precarious working conditions. Further, she takes the case of  bi-national marriages to examine the impact of family-related migration policies on creating unequal opportunities of economic participation for the Swiss citizen and for the migrant spouse (most of which are women).

5. Cities of the South and network strategies of ordinary citizens

Yvonne Riaño ascribes to the post-colonial orientation that we need to expand our understanding of urban geography by examining the practices of ordinary citizens in cities of the South. Using ethnographic and participatory methods, she maps the network strategies used by residents of "barrios" in Bogota (Colombia) and Quito (Ecuador), formerly rural migrants, to build shelter and infrastructure in formerly barren spaces and create new forms of urban life, at the intersection of multifunctional land-use, extended family networks, original forms of direct democracy,  appropriation of public space for cultural production, and socio-economic exchanges with residents of multiple locales, ranging from the urban, to the regional  and international levels. A gender perspective underlies her analysis of resident' strategies to create and appropriate public space.

6. Methodology

Yvonne Riaño uses feminist participatory methods to  enhance spaces of inclusion and increase scientific validity.  She has developed a novel participatory MINGA method for co-producing knowledge with migrant women. Yvonne Riaño uses a variety of methods of data collection including ethnography, multi-sited research, biographical workshops, community videos, auto-photography, social mapping, mental maps, focus groups, and biographical-, semi-structured- and expert interviews. Furthermore, she uses techniques of content analysis to examine visual and written texts. 




Yvonne Riaño
Associate Professor

Institute of Geography
University of Neuchâtel
Espace Tilo-Frey 1
2000 Neuchâtel


New publication in Journal of International Migration and Integration (JIMI, 2022):

Riaño, Yvonne (2022). "Migrant Entrepreneurs as Agents of Development? Geopolitical Context and Transmobility Strategies of Colombian Migrants Returning from Venezuela". International Migration and Integration. 12(3):77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-022-00959-w (document nr 1)


New publication in Societies (2022):

Riaño, Yvonne; Mittmasser, Christina; Sandoz, Laure (2022). "Spatial Mobility Capital: A Valuable Resource for the Social Mobility of Border‐Crossing Migrant Entrepreneurs? Societies, 12, 77. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc12030077 (document nr 2)


New course on PhD Research Design: Formulating Clear Research Questions (nccr - on the move): 



News - Presenting the "Weaving Threads Across Boundaries" documentary:



Neuchatel, Switzerland (2022): 



Salzburg, Austria (2022): /files/{workspace}/sites/inst_geographie/files/Poster%20convivial%20feminist%20methodology.png


Geneva, Switzerland (2022): 



Bogota and Cucuta, Colombia (2023):





Almeria, Spain (2023):