Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Discrimination in the Context of Migration and Mobility. An Epilog.

Open discrimination – as it happened, for example, under the Jim Crow laws in the U.S., which clearly segregated the black population from the white majority population – has been declared illegal in most western countries. Following the adoption of anti-discrimination laws, discrimination has declined yet not disappeared. Rather, it became subtle and hidden. Today, researchers from various disciplines are studying discrimination on numerous grounds and in different social settings, such as the labor market or the educational systems.

A two-day conference organized by Eva Zschirnt, Stefanie Kurt and Carolin Fischer took place in Neuchatel on 23 and 24 March 2017. It aimed at initiating an interdisciplinary exchange on notions of discrimination among scholars from multiple disciplines. The conference provided an opportunity to shed light on different methods and approaches to study discrimination “on the ground”. Following keynote lectures in the mornings, researchers from various disciplines, including economics, sociology, law, and philosophy presented twelve very diverse papers on their work on instances of discrimination. Presentations were followed by lively debates.

In their contributions, participants focused on different areas in which discrimination can be encountered, including the labor market. In her keynote address, Doris Weichselbaumer presented her work on “Experimental Measurement of Discrimination: The Effect of Wearing the Headscarf”. It was followed by a panel on labor market discrimination that addressed hiring discrimination (Ruedin), discrimination at the workplace (Goebel, Rand and Westenberger), labor market reintegration (Auer), and links between self-employment and discrimination (Laufer).

Legal regimes of anti-discrimination law were another area of concern. Here, issues such as the problem of intersectionality looking at race and trafficking (Gauci) and the legal situation of anti-racist criminal law and migration in Switzerland (Steffanini) were discussed, before the example of racial profiling in Switzerland was examined from a critical race studies perspective (Schilliger, Wilopo, Höhne).

This focus on discrimination and law was also reflected in the second keynote lecture held by Marie Mercat-Bruns who focused on “The Limits of Discrimination Law and Systemic Change – Examples Based on Gender” looking at the situation in France, in particular. This keynote led to a more conceptual discussion of discrimination, starting with a presentation on Foucault and discrimination (Plümecke), “othering” in the field of education (Rukonen Engeler) and the discrepancy between perceived discrimination reported in surveys and the actual number of complaints lodged with Italian authorities (Vulpiani).

The last session revolved around discrimination in the educational system. Presentations focused on hostility towards Muslims found in surveys with university students in different countries (Kassis) and discriminatory practices in international education (Hernandez).

The manifold discussions and the variety of papers showed that although discrimination is still taking place, it has become more subtle than it was some decades ago. This trend turns the studying and measuring of discrimination into a challenge, since the phenomenon is no longer as easy to observe. However, the numerous approaches and research methods presented in this conference show that researchers from various disciplines have found ways to study discrimination. Even if one single method is usually not sufficient to examine all the aspects that might cause or characterize discrimination, the combination of diverse approaches and multi-method research may open promising ways forward.

Eva Zschirnt, nccr – on the move, doctoral student on the project Discrimination as an Obstacle to Social Cohesion