1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance

Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance in the Public Sector in Switzerland



Switzerland is one of the few multilingual countries in Europe that does not have political difficulties with its linguistic minorities. Yet it would be fundamentally wrong to think of Switzerland as a country without historical conflicts. Modern Switzerland was not created by one homogeneous ethnic people but by different ethnic groups speaking different languages and following different religions. As in other countries, the processes of nation building, industrialization, urbanization and modernization were accompanied by societal conflicts.

But over the past 150 years, Switzerland has been fortunate to find political ways of achieving multicultural understanding; this has been based mainly on two concepts. First, Switzerland renounced the idea of creating a culturally homogeneous nation-state. Instead, from the very beginning of its modern existence, it has been an “artificial” multicultural nation, depending on the political will of its inhabitants with different cultures. Second, Switzerland was able to create a type of democracy that favours and enforces political power sharing between the different cultural groups. This led to social and political integration, peaceful conflict resolution by negotiation, and national consensus among a once-fragmented and heterogeneous population.

The paper is based on both qualitative and quantitative work. While the institutional analysis is mainly qualitative and based on previous research carried out by Wolf Linder, supplemented by the cleavage analysis of Seymour Lipset and Stein Rokkan, the effects of the institutional arrangements on both minority representation and equality are empirically demonstrated with quantitative data. The paper begins with a description of the ethnic structures and cleavages in Switzerland and their development. It then provides an overview of the Swiss political system and its institutional elements of political integration. Finally, the scope and limits of these arrangements are discussed through an analysis of their effects on minority representation and equality.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jan 2006
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8186
    From: UNRISD