"Auslandschweizer" in the Making. Social Constructions of the "Swiss Expatriate" in a Longitudinal Comparison (1974–2014)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:00 PM
Room: Booth 51
Oral Presentation
Denis HÄNZI , Institut für Soziologie, TU Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany
A century ago, Max Weber concisely brought Switzerland's character as a "Willensnation", a nation forged out of will, in a nutshell: Only on grounds of a shared belief in the unique nature of their habits and morals, the identity of the Swiss could emerge and consolidate. Based on a mythology of rural-alpine nativeness and isolation, this "belief in commonality" entails both the construction of boundaries vis-à-vis the threatening outside world and corresponding semantics of resistance. Given the recent discussions on foreign "attacks" on the Swiss banking secrecy and the increased charismatisation of the Swiss mountain guide (an idealization of the laudable Swiss) at the present time, it becomes apparent that this architecture of "Swissness" still provides important symbolic resources.

Yet, what about those Swiss who do not live on the very "Helvetic island" but are dispersed all over the globe? First, the paper aims at discerning how the "Swiss abroad" ("Auslandschweizer") is integrated into the overall imaginary of Swissness. It will be stated that the Swiss expatriate is being drawn as a distinct social figure through which, paradoxically enough, the imago of a typical Swiss character is being reproduced, yet reinforced. Second, by means of a longitudinal comparison, it will be shown that since the mid-1970s the social construction of the Swiss expatriate is, although subject to narrative alterations, relying on one basic scheme of Swissness. The paper is based on an interpretation pattern analysis of the "Auslandschweizer" as a figure constructed within editorial writings of the magazine "Schweizer Revue" (a publication of the Organization of the Swiss Abroad and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs). The paper can shed light on the phenomenon that, even in a period for which the term "global age" has prevailed, social constructions of expatriates stay bound to historically grown, nation-specific interpretational frameworks.