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Immigration policies, state discourses on foreigners, and the politics of identity in Switzerland


  • Yvonne Riaño
  • Doris Wastl-Walter


The role of state discourses in the construction of ‘otherness’ and in the production of inequality has become a major issue during a time of increasing changes in migration flows, of an increased presence of nationalist parties, and of increasingly restrictive immigration policies in Europe. In this paper we examine historical shifts in the representation of foreigners within Swiss state discourses and the effects of these shifts on the integration of immigrants into Swiss society. As state discourses regarding foreigners significantly changed after the First World War, the emphasis of immigration policies shifted from a facilitating to a constraining approach. Überfremdung , the notion that excessive numbers of foreigners can threaten Swiss identity, emerged as one of the most influential discourses in Switzerland and provided the foundation for a quantitative and qualitative strategy of defence against the immigration, settlement, and naturalisation of foreigners. In recent years, however, an agreement on freedom of movement between Switzerland and the European Union has been struck, and immigration policies have once again adopted a facilitating stance. As this applies only to citizens of the European Union, a stratified system of immigrant rights has been continued and perpetuated. At the same time, right-wing parties, which have recently risen to power, have successfully used Überfremdung propaganda to persuade Swiss populations to vote against the relaxation of conditions for the naturalisation of foreigners, thus ensuring that immigrants will be excluded from access to citizenship rights over generations. The politics of immigration in Switzerland is above all a politics of national identity.

Suggested Citation

  • Yvonne Riaño & Doris Wastl-Walter, 2006. "Immigration policies, state discourses on foreigners, and the politics of identity in Switzerland," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 38(9), pages 1693-1713, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:38:y:2006:i:9:p:1693-1713

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