Child Placements in Switzerland: Victim Narratives and Memory Work

The official recognition of historic injustices committed in the context of compulsory social measures and child placements in Switzerland has triggered public debates over how best to recognise the sufferings of the victims. Victims of these measures have played an important role in debates over compensation, and ensured greater visibility of this episode of recent Swiss history.

  • Project description (ongoing research project)

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    The compulsory social measures and child placements in Switzerland have caused individual trauma for their victims. They have also started a process of collective 'memory work' in the form of critical debates over fundamental political themes such as the relationship between citizens and the State, social injustices, and compensation of past wrongs. This study proposes to analyse the very important role which victims of these measures have played in this process. We will examine the ways in which they have managed to make their voices heard, and ask which voices or issues have not been heard, or been given less prominence in media and political debates (2000–2017). Firstly, we study these questions at a national level, through interviews with key actors of this process (representatives of victim organisations, politicians, etc.). Secondly, we will make comparisons with similar memory work (and silences) in other national contexts: the UK, Canada and Australia.

  • Background

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    The wider context of this study is, firstly, that of the debates (since 2000) within the Swiss public sphere over compensation practices for victims of the compulsory social measures and child placements in Switzerland; secondly, that of earlier public debates concerning victims of eugenic sterilisations and of child removal practices towards the Yenish in Switzerland; thirdly, similar historic traumas and controversies in other countries.

  • Aim

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    This study aims to identify potential future tensions over the Swiss government’s (well-intended) attempts at reparation and compensation. Another goal is to better understand the conditions of long-term success or failure of compensation campaigns for historic injustices, and the obstacles which 'victim-activists' are confronted with in their demands for recognition.

  • Relevance

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    This study will contribute to current social science debates and literature on analyses of collective trauma, national identity, and reparative justice and its limits. From a policy angle, our analysis of obstacles encountered in compensation practices will provide a potential framework for politicians and policy-makers, who are likely to confront similar demands in future. By retracing the role of ‘victim-activists’ in these processes, we will highlight their capacity for resistance and effective collective action, and contribute to greater societal recognition of their role.

  • Original title

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    Victim narratives, ‘memory work’ and the remaking of Swiss national identity: a discourse analysis of the memorialisation of compulsory social measures and placements in Switzerland in comparative perspective.