Rita Chin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, where she has taught since 2003. She received her Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in 1999 and her B.A. from the University of Washington in 1990.
She is a scholar of modern Europe with particular expertise in immigration, racial and ethnic minorities, and colonialism and postcolonialism. Trained as a European cultural and intellectual historian, Chin has sought to apply these approaches to her ongoing interest in how difference and diversity have played out in modern Germany and Europe. Her research and writing have been supported by the SSRC, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Her areas of interest include postwar Germany, Britain, and France; immigration and migration studies; racial and ethnic minorities; colonialism and postcolonialism; gender; and European Leftism and the New Left.
Chin’s first book, The Guest Worker Question in Postwar Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2007; paperback, 2009) examines the social, political, cultural, and ideological consequences of the postwar labor recruitment for the Federal Republic of Germany. Focusing on the national public debate about the guest worker program and its impacts, she shows how West German society wrestled with the growing presence of large numbers of non-Germans from the beginning of the recruitment process in 1955 to reunification in 1990. She argues that wider discussions in the West German public sphere included not only the official discourse made up of political pronouncements and debates in the legislature and political parties, but also the efforts of minority intellectuals to recast that discourse. Ultimately, Chin demonstrates the ways in which the process of debating the effects of the postwar labor migration reshaped the very boundaries of German identity, culture, and nation.
In the process of finishing her first book project, Chin began to consider the larger issue of “race” in postwar Germany more generally. This line of inquiry resulted in a collaborative book, After the Nazi Racial State: Difference and Democracy in Germany and Europe (University of Michigan Press, 2009), with Heide Fehrenbach, Geoff Eley, and Atina Grossmann. The book sought to open up a major, but hitherto unexplored question: what happened to ideas about race and ethnicity in Germany after Hitler?
Chin has just completed a new book, The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History, with Princeton University Press. This project builds on her previous engagement with postwar immigration and the social, cultural, and political effects of diversity, but takes these issues in several new and more ambitious directions. At the most basic level, the book moves away from an exclusive focus on Germany and offers a comparative analysis of the politics of multiculturalism in Europe. It weaves together the histories of Great Britain, France, and Germany, and includes extended discussions of the Netherlands and Switzerland at key moments. It also addresses a broader readership in order to historicize contemporary social issues such as the current refugee crisis, the so-called Muslim problem, and the putative collapse of multiculturalism. In The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe, Chin offers an analysis of the new common sense that multiculturalism has “failed” in Europe, arguing that this conclusion is deeply misleading. As state policy in the 1980s, multiculturalism was vilified before it even had a chance to take root. As a description of demographic diversity, declarations of multiculturalism’s “failure” disavow the millions of immigrants long resident in Europe. And as a social blueprint, the rejection of multiculturalism obfuscates the ways in which older forms of racism were remade under the guise of intractable cultural differences between Muslims and liberal-democratic European society.