Ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity: the social organization of difference

What is diversity?

 A central issue in current political and societal debates is the so-called growing “diversity” and corresponding “ethnic, cultural and religious difference” which characterizes post-industrialized societies. Even now, politicians (and sometimes also academics) conceptualize diversified societies, in general, as composed of a mosaic of groups whose boundaries are defined by the national, ethnic, religious or racial backgrounds of their members.
This common sense “community view” came under fire for its tendency to essentialize culture, ethnicity and any other category of difference. Hence, treating migrant, ethnic or national minorities (or majority groups) as substantial entities to which interests and agency can be attributed. This tendency to essentialize has also been criticized for its underlying methodological nationalism. In order to tackling this criticism we adopted theoretical approaches which are aimed at explaining the role of ethnicity, religion and culture in the social organization of “difference”, rather than treating them as explanatory categories. We understand any form of salient difference as the result of social processes, to which a broad range of actors contribute (i.e. the nation-state, institutions, media, schools, individuals, etc.).

Our focus: A post-migration/post-ethnic approach towards understanding the social organization of “difference” and its effects

In this line we argue that in order to understand the actual place of “difference” and hence inclusion and exclusion in diversified societies it is necessary to go beyond so-called 'community-studies' (about the Turks, Albanians, Swiss, etc.). We strive to address different forms of boundary work as actors undertaken by various actors, as well as investigating social networks through 'cross-cutting-ties-studies’. Approaches such as these allow us to understand how “diversity” is socially organized, (re)produced, both relationally and in the interaction between ‘us’ and ‘them’, in different social fields, power constellations and by different actors, with varying outcomes. We are interested in the mechanisms leading to such boundaries and corresponding “differences”and their effects, as well as in the strategies developed by those being considered as “others”, and stigmatized by the dominant groups in society.
Our research covers the following topics:

  • Strategies developed by stigmatized groups (i.e. Muslims, Albanian speaking migrants) in reaction to bright boundaries and the corresponding exclusion processes
  • The fabrication of differences within institutions, for example in relation to domestic violence
  • The Ethnicization and culturalization processes in relation to “forced marriage”
  • The role of family, ethnicity and gender in cross-border marriages of non-EU-migrants in relation to restrictive migration regimes and ethnicization of migrant marriages in immigration countries
  • Boundary work on behalf of ethnicity, religion and gender among young adults in Switzerland
  • The role of ethnicity, gender and religion in Swiss immigration and integration policies and corresponding variable boundary processes
  • The role of ethnicity and ethnically-defined networks in the development of Somali migrants’ “post-migration mobility practices”, in the light of internal differences based on gender and social class