Centre for African Studies,
"Switzerland is not a country: Retribalization and municipal politics in Switzerland"
Studying municipal politics in semi-rural Switzerland, my research focuses on the formation and contestation of new political subjectivities during municipal mergers. Municipal mergers (the combining of two or more small municipalities into a larger one) are often promoted from an administrative perspective. Locally, however, they are often seen as a forfeiture of political power and a loss of political self-hood. My research investigates how shared myths, symbols and traditions are invoked in the political arena – particularly by right-wing activists – to shape emergent political identities and consolidate political power.
To do so, my research draws on retribalization, a theory developed to explain the persistence of pre-national or primordial subjectivities in newly independent African nation states. The transposition of retribalization theory onto contemporary Switzerland brings two contributions. On one hand, understanding the way in which traditional symbols, myths and rituals are repurposed and filled with new meanings by political activists helps us grasp the underlying world-views (perhaps even ontologies) through which powerful dynamics of identity formation and in-group/out-group feelings emerge. On the other hand, however, this work aims to contribute to a growing body of symmetrical anthropology/sociology, by circumventing the explicit and implicit differentiation between a modern West and a non-modern (or pre-modern) Global South. By ‘reversing the gaze’, as it were, I hope to uncover insights and learnings about right-wing populism and political identity formation in Switzerland that remain hidden to conventional approaches.
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Elisio Macamo and Prof. Dr. Alain Müller