My research interests embrace migration policy analysis, civic engagement and intergroup attitudes, and democracy and immigration society. Since a few years, my approach to research is predominantly quantitative, using individual as well as aggregate or contextual data. My research aims at a better understanding of the causal mechanisms behind political and social processes, which is why I am very interested in innovative research methods.
In my PhD project (2008 to 2012), I examined subnational variations of immigrant integration policy in Switzerland. Within this project, I collected data on integration policy outputs in the 26 Swiss cantons to analyze the determinants and consequences of this astonishing subnational policy variety on immigrant integration. The results of my PhD research, as well as additional research related to this project were published in an award-winning book, as single- and co-authored articles in Ethnic and Racial Studies (2012), Comparative European Politics (2013), the Swiss Political Science Review (2011, 2015), the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2014), Political Studies (2017), and as various book chapters. Extending the scope beyond Switzerland, my article with Julian Bernauer (West European Politics, 2016) addresses the question whether consensual democracies are really kinder and gentler when it comes to represent immigrant interests across 30 European and North American countries.
In an NCCR on the move project (2017-2018), we expanded this research agenda to an international comparative level, focusing on subnational regions in Europe and North America. In this international collaboration, we studied the regional dynamics of integration regulation in Germany, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium, the US, and Canada (2017-2019). The results were published in a Special Issue in Regional Studies (2020) that I guest edited with Christina Zuber (University of Konstanz) and Verena Wisthaler (EURAC Bozen). Our research shows that regional politics drives policy orientations, and that, through policy feedback, regional policies also influence immigrants’ political integration, shaping their prospects of becoming ‘regional citizens’. Our contribution to this issue with Alexandra Filindra reveals for instance how changing integration policy contexts in US states affect governor approval and voter turnout not just among immigrants, but via spillover effects also their children and co-ethnic groups (Regional Studies, 2020).
In another study, we leverage a national asylum policy reform implemented in the early 2000s in Switzerland. Our analyses using survey and micro register data reveal a beneficial impact of this reform on asylum related migrants in Switzerland in terms of improved labor market integration, language skills and psychological wellbeing (International Migration, 2022, see also our NCCR policy brief on this study).
Looking beyond policies on paper, an NCCR pilot project (2019-2021) explored street level policy implementation, analyzing bureaucratic discrimination against mobile EU citizens. Together with an international research consortium (Eva Thomann and Oliver James, University of Exeter, Carolin Rapp, University of Copenhagen, Christian Adam, LMU Munich), we analysed whether bureaucrats are different from the general population, and how bureaucratic discrimination can be overcome, using survey experiments among bureaucrats and the larger population in Germany (Adam et al. Journal of European Public Policy, 2021). Follow-up survey experiments during the first Covid-19 confinement in April 2020, and one year later, in April 2021, allowed us further to assess the short- and long-term effects of this pandemic on discrimination (Fernández-i-Marín et al. European Union Politics, 2021).
Our currently ongoing international Weave project, co-funded by the Swiss NSF and the German DFG, allows us to add a comparative angle to this research, and to analyze the national scope conditions of this type of bureaucratic discrimination. Together with Eva Thomann (University of Konstanz), Christian Adam (Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen) and our international research partners and fellows, we study bureaucratic discrimination against mobile EU citizens, as well as different instruments to overcome it, in four different national administrative contexts: Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland and Spain.
Civic engagement and intergroup attitudes
Between 2012 and 2015, I was engaged in the project management of the Swiss Volunteering Survey at the Chair of Political Sociology at Berne University. Together with the scientific project leader Markus Freitag, I organized, planned and supervised the third Swiss Volunteering Survey (telephone and online, more than 5700 respondents) in Switzerland, taking place in 2014. My research in this area focuses on questions such as why do certain social groups (e.g. immigrants or young adults) engage less in the civic realm than others? How do pro-social norms (e.g. reciprocity) affect pro-social behavior? What is the relevance and nature of new forms of civic engagement such as online volunteering? Results of this research appeared in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2014), Rationality and Society (2014) and Acta Sociologica (2015). Together with Markus Freitag, Kathrin Ackermann and Maya Ackermann, I worked on the Swiss Volunteering Monitor 2016, which was published in May 2016. Our article co-authored with Kathrin Ackermann using this data scrutinizes the profiles of online versus offline volunteers and the potential of online volunteering to overcome unequal participation (New Media and Society, 2018).
We continue to examine social exchange and support offline as compared to online in a currently ongoing interdisciplinary NCCR on the move research collaboration. Together with Katrin Sontag, Jinhee Kim (University of Basel), Matthieu Vétois and Juan Manuel Falomir Pichastor (University of Geneva), we analyse whether geographically mobile individuals are more at ease with the (forced) digitalization of social exchange and support caused by the Covid-19 pandemic than non-mobile individuals.
Our recenty concluded NCCR on the move project (2018-2022) investigated societal norms as predictors of behavior and attitudes regarding migration among national majorities and immigrants (together with Eva Green, University of Lausanne, and Juan-Manuel Falomir Pichastor, University of Geneva). Our research shows that integration policies embody societal norms of inclusion or inclusion, which not only shape immigrants‘ integration, e.g. their politicial engagement, naturalization intention or (im-)mobility behavior, but also natives‘ attitudes towards immigrants (see e.g. Bennour and Manatschal 2019; Bennour Regional Studies 2020; Kende et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2022, see also our NCCR policy brief; Manatschal 2021; Politi et al. Political Psychology 2021).
Democracy and immigration
From August 2015 to May 2016, I was working on a research project on direct democracy and immigrant political engagement as a visiting postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley. The project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (advanced postdoc mobility grant) and investigated how the democratic system (especially direct democracy, i.e. referendums) affects immigrants’ political behavior. It adressed the following questions : (1) How does direct democracy affect immigrants’ (national and non-national) political engagement? (2) Which role does public opinion play, meaning to which extent is a potential relationship between direct democracy and immigrant political engagement moderated by immigrant-skeptic attitudes and xenophobia? (3) Is such a relationship context-dependent or not? To answer these questions empirically, I focused on direct democracy and first and second generation immigrant voting across the 50 US states (Comparative Migration Studies, 2021).
Our currently ongoing NCCR on the move project (2022-2026) is interested in the erosion or persistence of democratic norms in the context of immigration induced ethnic diversity, e.g. among highly prejudiced (e.g. xenophobic) individuals, but also among individuals embracing egalitarian and pro-immigrant attitudes. To examine these questions, Beyza Buyuker, Alexandra Filindra (University of Illinois), Eva Green (University of Lausanne), and I conducted first survey experiments in the US, Switzerland and Turkey in spring 2021. Together with our new project fellows Mia Gandenberger and Daniska Tampise Klebo we plan to extend this research to the Global South, where we have a particular interest in emerging democracies on the African continent.