Promotionsprogramm "Transformationsprozesse in Europäischen Gesellschaften"

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Aldina Camenisch



University of Basel
Seminar of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology
Rheinsprung 9/11
CH-4051 Basel

Phone: +41763035637


Further Information

Doctoral Thesis

“The Swiss in China” - a PhD Research Project

A part of the research project „The Swiss Abroad“, led by Prof. Walter
Leimgruber, Seminar of Cultural Studies and European Anthropology at the University of Basel. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The Swiss abroad

Whilst the public and political perception of migration in Switzerland is centred on the immigration and integration of foreigners, it is rarely acknowledged that the country has also a longstanding history of emigration. In fact, the “Fifth Switzerland”, as the Swiss abroad are commonly called, form a substantial part of the Swiss population with more than 10% of all Swiss citizens living abroad in 2012. In the 19th and early 20th century, Swiss emigrants were mainly farmers or workers from poor rural areas who sought to escape economic hardship. Nowadays, the Swiss abroad can be characterized as young, entrepreneurial and well educated.

But research findings are lacking for who the contemporary Swiss migrants are, and why they choose to live abroad. Do they live transnational lives? Have they settled down elsewhere or are they planning to return to Switzerland? How do they feel and live, and which social and economic networks are they belonging to?

The research project “The Swiss abroad” aims at answering the questions listed above. It looks at the contemporary migration of Swiss citizens from an anthropological perspective, and analyses migration and mobility patterns as well as lifestyles and networks of the Swiss abroad. Within the project, Prof. Leimgruber is focusing his research on highly skilled individuals of Swiss origin in several major world cities, and two PhD-projects are studying the case of the Swiss in Northern Europe (Seraina Mueller) and China (Aldina Camenisch) respectively.

The Swiss in China

The People’s Republic of China has become a global key player in both economic and political terms. Since 2002, the PRC is the most important destination for exports and offshore production of Swiss companies in Asia. The number of networks, organizations, and projects connecting Switzerland with China is rising, and in 2013, Switzerland was one of the first European countries to sign a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the PRC.

China is by no means a long-standing major destination for Swiss emigration. But there has been an on-going presence of Swiss citizens in Hong Kong since the late 19th century, and a re-emergence of Swiss „communities“ in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou in the past 20-30 years. Four Swiss Associations and four Chapters of the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce have been established in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The overall number of Swiss citizens in China is rising quickly, having almost doubled between 2004 and 2012, when the total amount reached 4000 persons.

Compared with the whole “Fifth Switzerland”, the Swiss in China are comparatively young – a third of them are even children. The adult population consists mainly of people under retirement age, and males are overrepresented. The statistical information available leads to the assumption, that the Swiss in China are mostly first generation migrants with persisting links to Switzerland, and their children. They seem to be economically active, and most probably also transnationally connected, both in social and economical terms.

The collection of data for this research project has started in Switzerland and aims at gaining a broad overview on the Swiss in China and their specific circumstances at the first stage. This is done by collecting and analysing documents, and interviewing experts on sino-helvetic matters as well as individuals who are or have been living in China. This first exploratory stage of research will be followed by a yearlong field research in China, starting from spring 2014. With a more specific focus on the migration patterns, identity constructions and social and economic activities and networks of the Swiss in China, the researcher will conduct biographical interviews with Swiss citizens and undertake participant observation of activities and meetings of Swiss individuals, organizations and networks. The theoretical framework of the research consists of writings on transnationalism, postcolonialism, and globalization and (cultural) identity.


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Walter Leimgruber, Prof. Gianni D’Amato