Research on Racism in Switzerland

At the Think Tank Gender & Diversity conference "Dealing with racism at Swiss universities" in April 2023, Stefanie Boulila, head of research at the Institute of Sociocultural Community Development at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, began her keynote speech with the rhetorical question, "Do we even have a problem?". The answer of course is a resounding: yes, we do.

The denial, unspeakability and inaudibility of racism in Switzerland and their effects on research on racism

As numerous researchers have shown, the Swiss (higher education) context is characterized by "a state of colonial amnesia and racial denial" (see Michel 2020), which has led to a dehistoricization, individualization and depoliticization of racism to this day. In this context, Boulila (2019) speaks of "anti-racialism" as the predominant paradigm in Switzerland and continental Europe. This designates the substitution of the category race by culture and the ensuing removal of institutional and structural racism from critical analysis (see also Michel 2015).

With regard to the Swiss higher education and research landscape, this has two effects: firstly, a dethematization of institutionalized racism at universities and a resulting "racial unspeakability" (Hernandez 2021) and inaudibility (see dos Santos Pinto 2022), both of which lead to a general non-addressability of racism in higher education and a lack of support when racism is addressed.

To learn more about this topic, we recommend the linked articles above as well the video of the lecture Understanding racial burden and tokenism. A Black feminist critique of Black (in)visibility in higher education by Noémi Michel, given at the University of St. Gallen in September 2022.

Secondly, this colonial amnesia and racial denial results in a lack of institutionalization of race-critical research in German-speaking Europe. Boulila is not alone in drawing this conclusion with regard to Switzerland. Similar findings are reported in an anthology published in 2023 by the German Nationaler Diskriminierungs- und Rassismusmonitor. Established in 2020, the National Discrimination and Racism Monitor aims to permanently analyze the extent, causes and social consequences of racism and to deliver reliable empirical data that serve as an objective basis for debates on racism and to develop effective countermeasures.

The situation described for Germany in their first anthology Rassismusforschung, also applies to Switzerland: "Although research on racism is diverse, it has so far been rather fragmented and only marginally institutionalized. There are no explicit racism-related research and teaching institutions, there are no chairs or professorships for research on racism, no corresponding research centers and also no study programs." (2023: 9, translated and shortened by Fleur Weibel).

With today's newsletter, we therefore provide an insight into the range of research on racism in Switzerland. At the same time, we emphasize the immense problem associated with the lack of institutionalization of critical research on racism and the urgent need to address this gap. This current lack of resources to systematically analyze racism and its societal consequences in Switzerland means a lack of data to effectively counter the mentioned denial and dethematization of racism.

Collected volumes on racism published in Switzerland in recent years:

Jovita Dos Santos Pinto, Pamela Ohene-Nyako, Mélanie-Evely Pétrémont, Anne Lavanchy, Barbara Lüthi, Patricia Purtschert, Damir Skenderovic (ed.) (2022):
Un/doing Race. Rassifizierung in der Schweiz
(Open Access PDF-Download)
Un/doing Race. Racialisation en Suisse
(Open Access PDF-Download)
Zurich/Geneva: Seismo.

Serena O. Dankwa, Sarah-Mee Filep, Ulla Klingovsky, Georges Pfruender (Hg.) (2021):
Bildung. Macht. Diversität. Critical Diversity Literacy im Hochschulraum
(Open Access PDF-Download)
Bielefeld: transcript.

Also explore this current historical laboratory at the University of Lausanne working on Switzerland’s colonial history: Moral and Economic Entrepreneurship: a Collaborative History of Global Switzerland (1800-1900)