Gender Equality as ‘Cultural Stuff’: Ethnic Boundary Work in a Classroom in Switzerland

Kerstin Duemmler, Janine Dahinden, Joëlle Moret

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The idea of boundary work has become a key concept in studies on ethnicity and provides new theoretical insights into the social organisation of cultural difference. People articulate ethnic boundaries in everyday interactions using conceptual distinctions to construct notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This study is based on an empirical case study (ethnographic fieldwork, interviews) with young people (16-21 years old) in a Swiss vocational school. The results emphasise that the moral imperative of gender equality is the most significant category used to create boundaries between Swiss and Albanian migrants. Our study considers boundary work as relational and thus examines the strategies of both the Swiss majority and the (male) Albanian minority. Results suggest that the boundary itself is seldom contested by either Swiss or Albanians, and we argue that the visibility of the boundary (‘brightness’) is closely linked to larger power relations in society between those groups.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Kerstin Duemmler, Janine Dahinden, Joëlle Moret. Gender Equality as ‘Cultural Stuff’: Ethnic Boundary Work in a Classroom in Switzerland. Diversities. 2010, vol.12, no. 1, pp. 19-37, UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595.

About the authors:

Janine Dahinden is professor of Transnational Studies at the Maison d'analyse des processus sociaux (MAPS) at the University of Neuchâtel. Her research interests cover topics regarding mobility, migration, ethnicity, transnationalism, social networks, gender and culture. Her research is transdisciplinary and combines qualitative and quantitative methods. Email: janine.dahinden(at)

Kerstin Duemmler is a research fellow at the same institute. She has published on different issues related to young adults (e.g. health, civic education) and is currently working on ethnic and religious boundary work. Email: kerstin.duemmler(at)

Joëlle Moret is a research associate at the same institute. Her publications and research areas include migration, mobility, transnationalism, and gender. Email: joelle.moret(at)

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