Accepted Paper:

Manufacturing whiteness at Swiss registry offices  

Author:

Anne Lavanchy (University of Applied Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the relevance of whiteness as analytical concept to explore mechanisms of social inclusion and exclusion. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Switzerland, it analyses the way registrars produce legitimate couples as homogeneous entity based on matching fiancés.

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses some contributions and limits of whiteness as study-up perspective and as analytical concept to explore mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion into a national body. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Switzerland, it analyses the way registrars produce legitimate couples as homogeneous entity based on matching fiancés.

Registrars' work is increasingly about the selection of potential co-nationals. The struggle against foreigners' "abuses" has led to the development of bureaucratic technology aiming at tracking down "sham marriages". The analysis shows that the manufacture of legitimate couples takes into consideration the matching of internal (values, affects and love) and external (appearance, skin complexion, origin) markers. But narratives about "lovely couples" do more than articulate notions of homogamy with the necessity to avoid mixedness: they contribute to reaffirm, redraw and reproduce the contours of Swiss whiteness. Socially relevant despite remaining unspoken, whiteness reveals a fluid category that draws boundaries between groups enjoying more or less privileges, blurring the usual dichotomy between nationals and foreigners.

Drawing on this specific case study, my contribution also aims to discuss the relevance of whiteness as analytical tool to understand social configurations in non-Anglo-Saxon contexts. In French and German speaking areas, some social scientists consider necessary to use "race" to avoid blindness toward racialized discriminations while other ones underlined the dangers of doing so as it might rehabilitate popular uses of "race". At the confluence of these linguistic sensibilities, Switzerland offers an enthralling perspective from which to explore such issues, at the core of critical race studies.

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