Migration, labor markets and borders

We study the contested emergence and effects of migration and border policies, both with view on transnational cross-border mobilities as well as on internal processes of boundary-making and labor market integration. Drawing on questions posed by Foucauldian studies of governmentality and employing ethnographic research methods, we refrain from conceptualizing migration and borders as pre-given entities, but analyze them as constantly produced in an entanglement of divers actors’ practices, new forms of knowledge production and socio-material assemblages.

How digital labour platforms reshape spatio-temporal patterns of work

PhD project of Mariana Keller

PhD committee: PD Dr. Karin Schwiter, Prof. Dr. Christian Berndt, Dr. Al James

In my research project I focus on the social, spatial, and temporal working arrangements emerging in platform-mediated labour in Switzerland. Matches through digitial communication allow an almost instant connection of employers, consumers, and workers. Online Platforms like Uber or Coople match short-term jobs and workers with the help of code, algorithms, and customized applications. 
While positive aspects of platform-mediated labour are highlighted more critical scholars point to potentially problematic effects. Working conditions and the observation that labour relations are being socially, spatially, and temporally rearticulated in ways that can put workers into disadvantaged positions are discussed. Another crucial and unresolved issue is the question of power imbalances on the platforms, where “the code” and “the algorithm” match labour demand and supply in ways that are often opaque to workers and limit their opportunities for negotiation.
In my project I aim to investigate how digital labour platforms shape low-wage work relations and what impact they have on workers’ lives. Empirically, I will proceed in two steps: First, I will do web-based research and generate an overview of the existing labour intermediation platform market in Switzerland. Second, I will do autoethnographic fieldwork as a worker mediated through a digital platform and conduct interviews with other platform workers. This will shift the focus to the workers’ perspective and will contribute to our understanding of how digital platforms reshape spatio-temporal patterns of work in Switzerland today.

The birth of the temporal border: Tracing the contested emergence of the EU’s Smart Borders Package

PhD project of Simon Noori

Ph.D. Committee: Prof. Dr. Christian Berndt, Prof. Dr. Benedikt Korf, Prof. Dr. Sabine Hess

Practices of border control increasingly rely on digital biometrics in order to sort and filter cross-border movements. But while its effects are well examined in migration and border studies, less is known about the intricate ways in which biometric bordering is politically negotiated and socio-technically put into practice. Therefore, in my PhD project, I trace the contested emergence of one particular scheme of biometric border control currently in the making: the EU’s Smart Borders Package. Proposed by the European Commission in 2013, it aims at digitally registering all third-country nationals’ entries to and exits from the Schengen area, while simultaneously accelerating the border crossing of certain travellers. I argue that unlike other forms of biometric bordering the Smart Borders Package problematises border control primarily on the level of its temporalities and constitutes the speed of border crossings, the timing of control as well as third-country nationals’ duration of stay as distinct objects of governing. Meanwhile, the project’s political negotiations have sparked techno-political controversies that repeatedly brought it to the brink of failure. Yet, these controversies have significantly enhanced the intelligibility and practicability of biometric bordering, contributing to the emergence of what I call the self-service border.

Subjected through work? Refugees’ experiences in accessing labor markets in Switzerland

PhD project of Isabella Stingl

PhD Committee: Christian Berndt, Karin Schwiter

Economic participation of migrants in their respective host-countries is commonly presented as the key precondition for successful integration in other social spheres. However, it has been contested recently that in the case of refugees labor market participation is increasingly linked to the granting of residence permits and other social rights. This trend can be regarded as problematic to the extent that labor market performances cannot solely be ascribed to individual capacities or so called integration efforts. Rather, labor market access of refugees is widely influenced and regulated through migration and integration policies.
Drawing on Foucauldian governmentality theory, this project picks up on the tension between migrants’ individual economic aspirations and politically structured opportunities. It draws attention to how migration and integration policies open up certain fields of possible labor market participation while excluding others, e.g. via integration measures such as job training programs. I investigate the effects of discursive constructions expressed through such policies on individual laboring biographies. To do so, I question how migrants experience being addressed when trying to access the labor market. Further, I explore how these interpellations actually regulate labor market performances by influencing the self-understanding and strategies of respective persons.
In my empirical case, I work with people who were granted asylum or temporary admission in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland. The empirical data is gathered through ethnographical fieldwork with a focus on biographical, narrative interviews. Doing so, I aim at deepening the understanding of how discursive differentiations that are mobilized through migration and integration policies actually play out on the subject level.

Master Theses

·      Selina Herzog (2017) There and Back again. How young people from Spain perceive mobility.

·      Hannah Locher (2017) Supranational management of migration flows: understanding the structures and Hannah mechanisms of the European hotspot approach in Sicily, Italy (Supervision in collaboration with Timothy Raeymaekers, Political Geography Unit)

·      Gordon Bühler (2017) Effectiveness of interactive data visualizations for the public. A case study on refugee data (Supervision in collaboration with Arzu Coltekin, GIVA Unit)

·      Marcel Pauli (2015): Auswirkungen eines flexiblen Arbeitsmodells auf die Beschäftigten am Beispiel einer Unternehmung im Raum Zürich

·      Moritz Schmidt (2012): On the move – Mexican minors, work and the border

·      Martin Hobi (2012): Existenzsichernde Löhne in der Bekleidungsindustrie: Die Herausforderungen der Implementierung aus Sicht von Schweizer Bekleidungsunternehmen und indischen Produzenten (Supervision in collaboration with Marc Starmanns, Political Geography Unit)

·      Michael Plaukovits (2012): Atypische Beschäftigung im Zeichen veränderter Marktbedingungen: Die Auswirkung von Flexibilisierungsstrategien auf die Arbeitsbedingungen im Frühzustelldienst von Printmedien – Eine Fallstudie

·      Sebastian Pfister (2011): Niedriglohnarbeit unter neoliberalen Bedingungen: Das Beispiel der Reinigungsarbeit am Flughafen Zürich