Project Project
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Switzerland: A Nation-State or a Multi-National State?

Research Fields
Migration, Integration, and Intercultural Conflicts
Project Management
Nenad Stojanovic (Center for Democracy Aarau)
Swiss National Science Foundation, Center for Democracy Aarau, Center for Comparative and International Studies University and ETH Zurich

Theoretical background and objectives

Researchers of nationalism and national identity have long been attracted to Switzerland, a country that seems to contradict some of the fundamental characteristics of a nation-state. Especially the fact that Switzerland has four languages has led some scholars to consider this country as a multi-national state. Switzerland is often presented as a country in which different nations or ethnic groups live peacefully together and thus as a successful model for other multi-national states and "multiculturalism" in general. Others argue that there is no reason to believe that Switzerland constitutes a multi-national state and that a linguistic group that is territorially concentrated does not automatically constitute a group with a national identity. Is Switzerland a nation-state? If no, is it a multi-national state and which elements are missing for Switzerland to become a real nation-state? If yes, what kind of nation-state is Switzerland? Does it constitute a nation-state comparable to those surrounding it or should it be considered as a Sondernation, a "special case"? From another perspective it might be asked whether Switzerland defies some of the fundamental laws of nation-states. While some consider Switzerland as a civic nation or a "nation of will" (because of its allegedly cultural heterogeneity) others clearly observe a case of ethnic nationalism (because of its restrictive naturalisation policy). To what extent is the Swiss case suited to bringing out the limitations of such typologies? Does the Swiss case provide an opportunity to revise existing theories in nationalism? Within the MIT-research programme this project contributes to the study of institutions and the way institutions regulate and accommo­date interethnic relationships and conflicts.

Research design, data and methodology

For an international conference and two special issues we bring together political scientists, sociologists, historians and social psychologists from Switzerland, Western Europe and North America. While some papers aim at making theoretical contributions and undertaking historical analyses, a second group of papers investigates national identities of national and local politicians, the larger population and young Swiss adults. This allows us to study nationalism and national identity in Switzerland from different perspectives.

  • Helbling, Marc/Stojanovic, Nenad (2011): "Switzerland. Challenging the Big Theories of Nationalism". In: Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 17, No. 4, Themed Section "Switzerland. A nation-state or a multi-national state?", guest edited by Marc Helbling/Nenad Stojanovic, S. 712-717.
Project-related events

Helbling, Marc, 07.05.2010–08.05.2010: Switzerland. A Nation-State or a Multi-National State? Workshop in cooperation with the Center for Democracy Aarau, Aarau.