Fachportal der Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften in der Schweiz

A Web of Care: Linguistic resources and the management of labor in the Swiss healthcare industry

A Web of Care was realised at the Institute of Multilingualism Fribourg/Freiburg. This SNF project examined the conditions under which language skills are used to characterize the desirable personal qualities, job scopes and specific tasks of various workers in Swiss hospitals. This was based on the assumption that patients' and workers' mobility fundamentally changes the role and value of languages in healthcare, raising new questions about the management of language in the industry. In short, the project aimed to uncover the conditions under which particular configurations of language skills and speakers become desired commodities (or just 'desirable'/'valued').

Fieldwork was conducted in national as well as international spaces: a radiation oncology clinic at a Swiss German university hospital, a private clinic specialising in medical tourism, healthcare interpreting onsite, interpreting and medical tourism in India and the recruitment of nurses for Switzerland (and Germany) in the Philippines.

The focus on the intersection and interconnectedness of various field sites revealed how linguistic and health markets intersect and helped us understand how processes and conditions of language valuation are underpinned by tensions between fixity and fluidity. For example, when using professional interpreters, hospitals increasingly expect them to have not only the appropriate linguistic proficiency, they also want them to have communicative and medical knowledge. However, hospitals also often rely on multilingual staff whose primary role is as medical or paramedical professionals. Then again, multilingualism may become an object of speculation, for instance, by healthcare interpreters in India, who attempt to capitalize on their language and communication skills and perceive them as commodities to serve existing or future markets. Finally, the organization and financial valuation of healthcare interpreting and interpreters greatly differs according to who is interpreting, where and for whom it takes place. Thus, the organization and 'value' of interpreting in Russian in Switzerland differs when one is interpreting for a Chechen refugee in a hospital as compared to when one is accommodating rich medical tourists in a private clinic.

Our analyses allowed us insight into when and how multilingual resources and practices became (in)visible in the social order of the clinics and how hierarchical distributions of power operate on the basis of language, with implications for knowledge production.

A Web of Care was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation from 2015 to 2019.

Cover of the book Figures of Interpretation (Feb. 2021) that derived from and was inspired by the project A Web of Care. It assembles portraits of people who interpret languages, cultures, situations, institutions and people and - by unfolding connections and ruptures between space, time and class - invites us to understand systems of power and oppression underpinning the materiality of living.