Locality and Translocality of Welfare - The Placement in Care of Adolescents in Basel in the 20th Century

Miriam Baumeister

Academic advisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Lengwiler

The study focusses on how the placement of adolescents in juvenile shelters in the cantons of Basel and Basel-Landschaft can be located spatially and institutionally in the 20th century. The aim is to render visible and analyze the translocal networks of the placement in suchlike care.

The particular stages of the „asylum/shelter careers“ will be reconstructed and analyzed based on the individual-related records of the shelters and public authorities in the two Basel half cantons. It shall be examined how many placements the adolescents underwent and how these placements were explained. This begs the question what impact spatial arguments and moral assessments had in this process. Which role did the urban-rural differentiation play? Did the placement target to dislodge the adolescents from a certain (social) milieu? Did the placements respect the place of residence or the Swiss principle of (hereditary) origin (Heimatortprinzip) or did the process rather follow its very own logic that traversed local and/or federal lines?

The German term „Fremdplatzierung“ for “placement in care” does have its spatial dimension already semantically inscribed. The words “fremd” which translates into foreign or strange, as well as “Platzierung” meaning placement, refer to the dislocation intended by the authorities deciding. The system of youth welfare contrasts spaces that are characterized either detrimental or instead conducive for the adolescents. During the course of the individual “asylum/shelter careers” as well in the institutional cooperation in between authorities and institutions a network develops. The institutions examined in this study will be understood as nodes in such a spatial network. The relations in between physical and social spaces shall be unveiled and analyzed using spatial theory. It is intended to examine the spatial dimension of the placement in care with the support of geographical and network-analytic tools of digital history and to visualize it using maps, coordinate systems and schematics. In this regard the study also involves in proving the applicability of these methods in historical science.

The study covers different research gaps. On the one hand the placement in juvenile shelters of adolescents since 1945 still needs to be scrutinized. Secondly the body of homes, asylums and shelters for children and adolescents in the cantons Basel-Stadt and –Landschaft has not yet been studied sufficiently nor in relation to each other or the national level. (Switzerland remains always regarded as a highly federalized state.)

The research on the system of youth welfare, especially in relation to the cooperation and interdependence of private and public actors, provides an important contribution to the history of Basel and to its positioning in the history of the Swiss welfare state. The focus on the spatial dimension of the placement in care offers an insight into the relations in between the federal cantons and in that way, also the national level of the system of youth welfare.


(Abstract updated November 2016)