Research in Art & Media
Phone: +41 43 446 65 00
Peter Spillmann and Angela Sanders, Institute for Critical Theory (ith)
Dominik Linggi, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Zurich
Diana Palau, Institute for Critical Theory (ith)
Imagining “Switzerland” in the Context of Transnationalisation
The “Swissness Revisited” research project focuses on how imaginings of “Switzerland” are generated. Specifically, it explores how such imaginings are subject to ongoing change and negotiation in the context of globalisation, transnational mobility, and recurrent discourses of crises. It also examines which kinds of actors are involved in the (re)production of such imaginings. The example considered was how Switzerland presented itself at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. To this end, various persons involved in the initiation, funding, conceptualisation, design, construction, and management of the Swiss Pavilion, and of the cultural events held there, were interviewed and accompanied. In order to establish the desired cross-section of voices and views on imaginings of “Switzerland,” interviews were conducted with both Swiss and Chinese nationals from diverse fields, including politics, public administration, management, the arts and culture, artisans and specialised service providers, cleaning and supervisory staff.
From the perspective of international tourism, imaginings of “Switzerland” represent a complex cultural space that is constantly reinvented and charged with individual meanings by travellers, service providers, and media audiences. Such imaginings have little to do with the country itself and with Switzerland as a nation. Instead, they comprise various different motifs, which are motivated partly by historical, partly by personal events and circumstances. This is somewhat similar to the identity-establishing (and formerly) national images and meanings within processes of transnationalisation. If the “nation” is seen as a cultural entity consisting of language, values, symbols, myths, and stories, then a so-called national identity emerges as a continuously recurrent project of national reconstruction in the sense of an imagined community.
The making of the Swiss Pavilion at the Shanghai world exhibition served the “Swissness Revisited” project as an exemplary, dynamic field of investigation. Within this transnational space, a complex network of mobile actors shared the same objective; within the given time frame, this network formed, expanded, and dissolved again. The key instruments for collecting information within this research venture were ethnographic interviews conducted with the various persons involved, as well as video recordings featuring the interviewees, made in Switzerland and during two research stays in China in 2010.
The research project «Swissness revisited» was financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF Dore) and was practice partner of Presence Switzerland, swissinfo.ch and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Zurich.