How is the crisis being perceived in Switzerland?

By Laura Eigenmann, Matthias Luterbach, Rahel Locher, Anika Thym

A research paper developed in the Summer School “Teaching the crisis – Geographies, Methodologies, Perspectives”
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The social crisis in Switzerland
3. Economic dimension of the crisis
4. Shifts in the National Identity
5. Racism and discourses of enclosure
6. Overview and perspectives

1. Introduction

Often, Switzerland isn’t thought of as part of a map of struggles and crisis. We will try to locate Switzerland on this map. The topic “crisis” is being dealt with in a particular and multi-layered way in Switzerland. On the one hand, the statistic key data used to identify the crisis in South Europe, are less distinct in Switzerland than in other European countries: unemployment (3% in May 2013) and youth unemployment (6,2% in May 2013) indicate an existent as well as augmenting precarity, that has, however, been relatively low and stable. Due to the current economic growth (1,1% first quarter in 2013) economists are generally optimistic about the near national future[i]. Furthermore there is hardly any extensive political mobilization related to the topic “crisis” and a political debate about the subjectively perceived consequences of the crisis is missing. Symptomatic for this may be that the biggest Swiss trade union, UNIA, only dealt with the “crisis” at the end of the last decade, using the slogan “We don’t pay for your crisis” [original: “Wir bezahlen eure Krise nicht”]. Another indicator for the lack of awareness concerning the crisis in every day life is that a recent strike organized by the employees in the supermarket Spar against bad terms of employment, neither mentions nor relates to the crisis. Other, rather marginal, protests do make that connection though. On the other hand the crisis and its effects are present within the domestic political and public debate: the expensive Swiss Franc, its currency rate that has been limited in order to protect the Swiss export economy, the UBS rescue by the Swiss government under emergency rule in 2008, the upcoming end of the bank secrecy and the international pressure on the Swiss state, the beginning debate about high salaries and bonuses or the fear of immigration. All of them are being negotiated in relation to the crisis.

It was Michael Hardt who said during the summer school ‘The Struggles are not the Crisis. But the Struggles make the crisis visible’. So we can assume the crisis is not very visible in Switzerland because the struggles are not that visible. But of Course there are struggles: migrant struggles and anti-racism initiatives, feminist struggles, critiques to urban development and squatting, projects against gentrification, student protests, anti-capitalist struggles, anti-nuclear plant struggles and so on. But they never get the visibility and dimension in the Swiss context that they get in other places, as we heard during the summer school.

In our mini study we set out to question how the crisis is being perceived and identified in Switzerland from different perspectives. Methodologically we are led by the assumption that the topic “crisis” itself has to be negotiated socially and that a specific kind of talking about the crisis creates a corresponding reality. They are “fragments of a discourse that pull behind them fragments of a reality, of which they themselves are part of “ [original in German: „Diskursfragemente, die die Fragmente einer Realität nach sich ziehen, deren sie ein Teil sind“[ii]]. The discourses that we get insights into through the interviews are being understood as constituting reality, while they refer to the social sense systems that they are spoken out of. This way the individual statements can be located in their social relations. Referring to Marx and Adorno, we also assume that the crisis has its roots in the contradictions of modern society[iii]. The latter thinks of the crisis as one that has been taking place permanently within the consciousness, since World War I[iv]. Similarly the authors Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt understand modernity as a situation of crisis that they define as a specific never-ending conflict[v]. They are being arranged within “ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out”[vi]. What the specific focus on crisis is being set on, how crisis is being understood, what political project follows it, what problems are being elicited and so forth, is the result of discourses that deal with and handle the crisis. Crises are therefore always concrete forms of crisis that take place within concrete negotiations. Which understandings of the crisis are relevant at one time therefore depends on those negotiations. Like Alex Demirović and Andrea Maihofer[vii] we assume that we are currently part of a multiple crisis [original: “Vielfachkrise”]: different lines of contradictions interlace and they shouldn’t be played off against one another within the debates. The different dynamics and phenomena of crisis are to be thought of as connected with one another within a relation that reproduces itself through contradictions and that go off within different crisis. Although different aspects may be emphasized, the different crisis can influence and strengthen one another. Society is thus constituted as a whole bundle of social power relations and contradictions. Within the framework of our mini study we try to include different aspects of perceiving and defining the crisis, without reducing them to single expressions of crisis. The aim is to give a general idea of the different discourses that are currently present in Switzerland.

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