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Real and Imagines Spaces and Places of Queer Migrant Women in Switzerland

Applicant Büchler Tina
Number 128363
Funding scheme Fellowships for prospective researchers
Research institution
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.01.2010 - 31.12.2010
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Keywords (11)

migration; identity; sexuality; intersectionality; postcolonial theory; geography; queer studies; qualitative research; queer geography; feminist geography; Switzerland

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
This project investigates experiences of non-heterosexual - queer - migrant women in Switzerland. Using qualitative interviews and reflexive photography, this project has generated original empirical data on a "group" of an estimated population of over 10'000 that has not received academic (or any other) attention to date. Interviews have indicated that experiences of queer migrant women vary widely but are crucially structured by social status, education, age at time of migration and status of residence. Contrary to popular beliefs, many informants did not migrate to Switzerland on grounds of their sexuality; also, some planned to return to their countries of origin. Despite engaging in same-sex relationships, not all informants identified as lesbian, bisexual or queer, with some married to men in the past or the present. This raised questions about current conceptualizations of sexual identity, which the dissertation discusses in particular detail. Further, many accounts were marked by social isolation and discrimination and pointed to complex strategies to "manage" conflicting identities as women, migrants and non-heterosexuals in everyday spaces such as the workplace, the domestic space, families, and the diasporic or lesbian communities. Lastly, informants' attitudes toward gay marriage varied widely, with legal possibilities sometimes being embraced, sometimes shun, and sometimes used strategically to obtain a legal status of residence.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


"Real and Imagined Spaces and Places of Queer Migrant Women in Switzerland" (Thesis Working Title)Dominant ideas about sexuality shape spaces and places in specific ways - as do ideas about gender, social class, ethnicity, and other categories around which societies are organized. For instance, many Swiss people’s idea of the ‘family home’ is linked to a cohabiting reproducing heterosexual couple. Such codings of spaces and places regulate access to them as well as the way people perceive them and act in them. In turn, people’s interpretations of these codings and their material practices confirm or subvert dominant meanings of spaces and places. For instance, for many homosexual people, ‘home’, dominantly coded as a space of comfort and security, can be alienating and excluding because of the assumptions of heterosexuality expressed by parents or siblings; the homosexual’s ‘coming out’ disrupts these assumptions. In the context of migration, such spatial imaginations become particularly salient since multiple coding systems have to be negotiated.The overarching objective of this project is to examine how ideas about spaces and places shape the everyday experiences and strategies of queer migrant women in Switzerland, and how these women’s perceptions of spaces and places and their practices in turn shift dominant codings of spaces.Four perspectives guide the research:Recovering experiences of queer migrant women. The number of queer migrant women in Switzerland is unknown. They are there, however, visible at events for homosexual women or in the records of the civil registry offices where some of them have registered their same-sex partnerships under the new law that came into effect in January 2007. This presence is pitted against a profound lack of knowledge about their experiences and everyday spaces, a lack evident not only in Swiss but in European scholarship in general. One aim of this study has been to make experiences of queer migrant women visible, which is achieved by basing the research on their own accounts.Differentiating the image of migrant women. By recovering subjects that have been rendered invisible, the research addresses a gap in policymaking, NGO activism, cultural production as well as in some social scientific scholarship centering around issues of migration to Switzerland. These discourses are forging an image of the ‘migrant woman’ which is linked to issues of marriage, motherhood and family on the one hand and on sexwork, precarious work conditions and trafficking in women on the other, an image which mostly remains organized around the assumption that migrant women are heterosexual. The present study questions this circulating image, anlayzing the effects of the heterosexual codings of migrant women’s everyday spaces and differentiating the image of migrant women. These results constitute a knowledge base for more informed debates around immigration and integration policies.Analyzing social norms. Third, I have been interested in how the invisibility of queer migrant women is constructed. Mechanisms of social in- and exclusion offer relevant insights into how dominant groups define the dominant meanings of spaces according to which all members of a society have to live, to act, and to understand themselves. Heterosexuality is one such social norm. The present research draws on the concept of intersectionality to examine this norm, asking how heteronormativity joins forces with other mechanisms of social exclusion queer migrant women are subject to, such as sexism and racism.Analyzing processes of identification. Queer migrant women’s daily negotiations of their often conflicting identities as women, as non-heterosexual subjects and as members of immigrant communities are framed as focal points for the complexity of the ‘doing’ of identities in a transnationalized world.The research inserts itself into the field of geographies of sexualities as well as in the field of queer migration studies, which have developed a body of knowledge about concepts of sexualities across cultures as well as about how these concepts travel around the world.Qualitative methods are applied to generate and analyze the core data set consisting of narrative interviews with queer migrant women in Switzerland and of visual material produced by the research participants. These data are contextualized by participant observation, interviews and communications with experts from NGOs and the government, as well as by an analysis of public discourses addressing issues of homosexuality and migration.To date, the theoretical framework of the research has been elaborated; 50 interviews with 30 research participants and a number of expert interviews have been conducted; the interviews have been transcribed, and their analysis is advanced; public discourses have been subject to a discourse analysis.The main focus of the final year of the thesis will be its write-up. The one-year fellowship at the University of Arizona/Tucson enables me to finish my PhD in a most innovative scientific context and provides me with the exceptional opportunity to discuss my data analyses and theoretical framework with Sallie A. Marston and Eithne Luibhéid, two internationally outstanding and pioneering scholars in my field. The stay also allows me to strengthen my international networks, on which I can build in my continued academic work upon my return.