Cities, Migrant Incorporation, and Ethnicity: A Network Perspective on Boundary Work

  • Janine DahindenEmail author


In this article, I am interested in the different types of boundaries emerging in a city characterized by a highly diverse population. The analysis of the personal social networks of 250 inhabitants of a small Swiss City—different types of migrants as well as non-migrants—supplemented by data from qualitative interviews brings to light the important categories for the creation of boundaries and the place of ethnicity among them. The inhabitant’s network structures display specific network boundaries that are translated into symbolic and also social boundaries: four different clusters emerge among the population, pointing to their stratified social positioning in this city. Hereby an interplay of nationality, education, local establishment, mobility type, “race,” and religion are the most important structuring factors. It becomes clear that the common ideas of assimilation cannot grasp the complexity of the “categorical game” at place in this city when it comes to migrant’s incorporation.


Cities Ethnicity Boundary work Social capital Social networks Switzerland Transnationality 



Funding for this research was provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation. I thank René Schaffert for statistical support and help with data analysis, Bülent Kaya and Clément de Senarclens for their research assistance. Ellen Hertz, Christin Achermann, Kerstin Dümmler, and Marylène Lieber offered precious advice and critiques on an earlier draft of this article. A first version of this paper was discussed at the CRONEM conference 2009, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. I also thank Susanne Wessendorf who invited me to present my ideas at the IMISCOE/SUSDIV workshop, “Researching ‘Super-diversity’ in European cities” in 2009 in Stockholm, Sweden. I am also grateful for the comments by the reviewers of JIMI which have certainly allowed a sharpening of the argument. Any errors or inaccuracies are under my responsibility.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire d’études transnationales et des processus sociaux, Maison d’analyse des processus sociaux-MAPSUniversité de NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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