migration  Social inequality or a cultural difference? Integration and a political model


In her article Rebekka Ehret presents philosophical and political dialogues on migration and integration in Switzerland and outlines the development of  a political model by the town canton of Basel, thereby delivering a critical evaluation of these political measures on integration.


What is particularly interesting is why cultural affiliation persists as an effective explanatory model. Why is the subject completely missing from a discriminatory and a structural (politically right) general framework, while the business of regulating the acceptance of foreigners is still discussed? Several studies in Switzerland have clearly shown that most of the social problems that foreigners are confronted with are directly related to conditions governing admission policy (Chaudet et al. 2000). Why, following a brief struggle against the deviation model and a plea for a look at the social treatment of inequality as an integration model of conventional modernization, is this practice still going strong? The opposing perceptions of integration (which suggests a stable harmonious balanced welfare system) and non-integration as a welfare system - whose existence is endangered and seen as abnormal with its conflicts and tensions - are revealed as extremities on a continuum. Studies of research on conflict show that the dynamic between integration and non-integration, “the litigation of conflict” (Heitmeyer 1997) basically safeguards social stability in more modern individualized societies, and the force of integration in Swiss towns is consequently accepted as being much more powerful than before. (Wimmer/ Ehret/ Karrer/ Stienen 2000). Owing to its political model of integration the town of Basel is still recognized as “a pioneering canton” (Wichmann und D’Amato 2010) with regard to its forward-looking integration policy; not least because behind the political model is the critical debate questioning how members of society could be defined as ‘the others’. The fact that in recent years there has been a setback is to do with the specific issue of maintaining power and discursive exclusion. The consistency of the ideas and beliefs of the other is constantly changing (Wolf 1999, S. 67) which allows the powers that be to hold on to their well-established status and belief in privileges. Safeguarding this status is more important in periods of economic crisis than in more stable times (Zick, Küpper und Hövermann 2011). Those in positions of privilege, belonging to the community of the nation state exclusively by virtue of their racial ancestry, do not allow themselves to argue in times of economic crisis. At a time when the most dependable factories are being shown to be undependable, average families are paying a higher rate of taxation than millionaires and those responsible for the financial crisis can smooth over their failures, blood ancestry is something that cannot be questioned and populist-conservative parties can totally rely on its symbolic importance. That explains why with the end of the Basel town integration law in 2007 – ten years after the publication of the government programme mentioned at the beginning – the individualistic emancipated vision of migration became a collectivist assimilatory failure. I still believe there is a need to expose the fact that instead of migrants being categorized, they need to be given back the status they have lost, and that this should apply to  individuals in all sorts of circumstances. Categorization is a fertile plain on which division thrives and which causes problems for whole communities, which in turn means that stereotyping and stigmatization increase. In the future it will once more be important to spotlight the problems of the Swiss culture of integration and the majority of society accordingly, so that measures based on factual evidence can be developed and peaceful cohabitation will not be endangered in the long term.



Rebekka Ehret is an ethnolologist and linguist. She taught Intercultural Education and Applied Migration Studies at the University of Basel until 2004 and is today responsible for teaching and research in the areas of migration, integration and transcultural studies as well as the masters course ‘Managing Diversity’ in the Faculty of Social Work at Lucerne Institute of Higher Education.