Staged Swissness: iIdeologies of nationhood in Switzerland's Streichmusik
Douglass, Andrea Lieberherr
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In 2014, Switzerland was ranked seventh among the most successful nations in exerting what political scientist Joseph Nye calls "soft power": the ability to exercise power by attracting favor through economic and cultural influence rather than through coercion. This ability is partly due to the way Switzerland redefined its national identity following an economic decline in the 1970s and rapidly changing demographics, resulting in its repositioning on the international market. Indicative of this shift is the adoption of the pseudo-English word "Swissness" into the Swiss-German language in the late 1990s. The notion of Swissness, initially used in marketing Swiss products, has become instrumental in reframing and reshaping the cultural landscape of the nation. This dissertation examines a particular case of cultural nation re-branding through an ethnographic analysis of the revival of Streichmusik (string music). Streichmusik, which was once a localized musical practice of the mountainous region of the Appenzell and the Toggenburg, has become identified as quintessentially Swiss. By considering the role of domestic cultural tourism, I ask how Streichmusik, a visual and sonic representation of Swissness, is promoted and at times commercialized, and how commodification of the musical practice has affected its performance, reception, and cultural significance locally and nationally. In my analyses, I focus particularly on two keywords, Heimat (homeland) and Heile Welt (ideal or idyllic world), as well as local terminology denoting authenticity to argue that Streichmusik and the region offer a restorative platform for Switzerland. The resultant notions of nostalgia and reclaiming a rural utopia, position Appenzell and Toggenburg as an embodiment of Swissness. Based on participant observation and interviews, this study focuses on the voices of performers, cultural institutions, and tourist organizations to demonstrate how the tensions between cultural preservation and marketing practices at a local and national level provide a reimagined heritage in their attempt to (re)brand both the region and the nation at large. I further argue that having found a new place in the cultural imaginary through Swissness, Streichmusik performers articulate differing relationships with domestic cultural tourism and globalizing market forces at a time of shifting discourses of Swiss national identity.
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