[Translate to English:] Saisonniers warten am Flughafen Kloten auf die medizinische Kontrolle (CC by Comet Photo AG)

Aliens and the computer

How the computer of the administration programmed the labor migration

Electronic data processing in the federal administration 1964-1982

This study examines the introduction of electronic data processing in the Swiss Federal Administration from 1964 to 1982 at the intersection of the history of computing and the history of administration. It explores the question of why the computer became a common part of everyday life in the federal administration and how it programmed this everyday life. The few studies available on this topic present the introduction of electronic data processing as an attempt – successful or failed – to respond to the growth of administration in the 1960s. In contrast, this study does not focus on the results of administrative automation, but on the transformation process and interprets the latter as an organizational learning process. The emergence of the Central Register of Aliens at the Federal Aliens Police and its transformation from an instrument of economic policy to an information system for migration authorities exemplifies this process and is therefore the subject of this study. Using reports, minutes, correspondence, manuals, and other sources from the Swiss Federal Archives, the study traces the temporally limited spaces of discourse in which the transformation took place. The analysis of these trading zones focuses on the problems that brought different actors with different goals into a discursive exchange and motivated them to coordinate their actions. These trading zones expose the mutual adaptations between computers and administration and show not only why computers and administration influenced each other, but also how technological change and organizational learning processes interacted.

The project is part of the SNF project Trading Zones. Computers and the Swiss Federal Administration, 1960-1990.

Articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes

  • Mähr, Moritz. “The Promise of an Automated Migration Policy: On Planning an Information System in the Swiss Federal Administration in the 1960s.” In Digital Federalism Information, Institutions, Infrastructures (1950–2000), edited by Paolo Bory and Daniela Zetti, 60–89. Itinera. Beihefte Zur Schweizerischen Zeitschrift Für Geschichte 49. Basel: Schwabe, 2022. https://doi.org/10.24894/978-3-7965-4509-2.
  • Espahangizi, Kijan, and Moritz Mähr. “The Making of a Swiss Migration Regime. Electronic Data Infrastructures and Statistics in the Federal Administration, 1960s–1990s.” Journal of Migration History 6, no. 3 (October 8, 2020): 379–404. https://doi.org/10.1163/23519924-00603005.
  • Mähr, Moritz, and Kijan Espahangizi. “Computing Aliens. From Central Control to Migration Scenarios, 1960-1990.” In Data Centers. Edges of a Wired Nation., edited by Monika Dommann, Hannes Rickli, and Max Stadler, 226–41. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2020.


  • Mähr, Moritz. “Wie der Verwaltungscomputer die Arbeitsmigration programmierte. Elektronische Datenverarbeitung in der Bundesverwaltung 1964–1982.” Presented at the Oberseminar Sommersemester 2022, Deutsches Museum, May 30, 2022. https://doi.org/10.3929/ethz-b-000549787.
  • Mähr, Moritz. “The Public, the Private, and the Domestication of the Information System. How Data Protection Governed the Swiss Administration in the 1970s.” Paper presented at the 6th International Conference on the History and Philosophy of Computing, Zurich, October 27, 2021. https://doi.org/10.3929/ethz-b-000512153.
  • Mähr, Moritz. “Auf Magnetband gespeicherte Ausländer. Steuerung der Arbeitsmigration in der Schweiz nach 1960.” Paper presented at the Forschungskolloquiums zur Geschichte der vormodernen und modernen Welt, Universität of Lucerne, July 5, 2019. https://doi.org/10.3929/ethz-b-000390398.
  • Mähr, Moritz. “Auf Magnetband gespeicherte Ausländer. Steuerung der Arbeitsmigration zur Sicherung des Wohlstands nach 1960.” Paper presented at the Panel “Wie wird der Zusammenhang von Reichtum, Arbeit und Migration in der Schweiz in neueren Publikationen und Projekten thematisiert?” (5. Schweizerischen Geschichtstage), University of Zurich, June 6, 2019. https://doi.org/10.3929/ethz-b-000347897.
  • Mähr, Moritz. “Die Fremden und der Computer: Die Entstehung des zentralen Ausländerregisters in den 1970er und 1980er Jahren.” Paper presented at the Migration and Postcoloniality Meet Switzerland Workshop of University of Fribourg, Centre Loewenberg Murten, October 26, 2018.